I was fifteen and a high school student when my mom caught me reading a novel at bedtime. Unaware of the book I was reading, she immediately called my dad and pointed towards the thick novel I was busy savoring.
Dad stood nearby and, while I was still immersed in my reverie, he almost snatched the book from my hands. I suddenly realized what had happened and looked at him. “What’s the matter?”
“It is not the time for you to read novels,” he sternly instructed me.
“It is not an average novel. It is ‘Godaan’ by Prem Chand,” I asserted, trying to defend my reading.
Dad double-checked the book. It was indeed a Hindi cult novel by legendary author Prem Chand. After confirming its name, Dad’s anger mellowed a bit but he still instructed me with a familiar lesson, “Okay, you can finish reading this one but remember no novels – only textbooks.”
This is how, in my teens, my developing reading habits were wickedly quashed by the academic need (and parental pressure) of studying text books only. This is how I learned my first lesson of parenting (when I was nowhere close to being a parent), let your child read.
20 years later, I am now a parent to a six-year-old and I have set up a small library for her comprising of picture books, story books, and Jataka tales. I encourage my child to read at least one story per day. I will never ask her to “only read text books.” She is free to read as many books as her tender mind can comprehend and for as long as she can.
When I turned 18 and it was time for me to choose a college education, I set my heart on literature because that is what I wanted to study. But doing a B.A. in the late nineties in India was no less than an insult.
“Science holds a bright future. Arts is for the failures,” was a common notion.
Dad insisted on science and I reluctantly enrolled myself in an engineering course that I later hated vehemently. But my time and age to study literature were gone.
18 years later, after having worked and then resigned as a software engineer in reputed MNCs, I now pursue my love for reading and writing. This is the second lesson of parenting I learned. I’ve decided to allow my daughter to choose her field of study. I will never say to her, “Study this because it has better prospects for the future.”
Born and brought up in Northern India, a region that is obsessed with fair skin color, I have memories of being taunted about my dusky complexion and subsequently developed an inferiority complex about my looks. It was mostly distant relatives, neighbors, and acquaintances who were worried that my dark skin color resulted in bleak marital prospects. It sounds strange in a country where most of the people are dark but ironically that is how it has always been.
To safeguard me from being a potential target, my mom suggested that I wear light-colored clothes. Light pinks, light greens, light blues, mauves, and rust-like colors were staples in my wardrobe. I shied away from bright colors like red, yellow, black, and orange. Heck, I still dread neons, magenta, and royal blue shades because I believe they don’t suit me.
While I totally understand my mom’s kind intentions to make me look prettier, I now realize the damage my uniform of light colors has exacted on me. At the age of 35, I am still nervous to experiment with different styles of clothing and colors.
As the mom of a young daughter, I deliberately let her wear all kinds of colors and designs. She seems to be fixated on Barbie pinks and purples but I encourage her to have clothes of all sorts. I will never tell her to wear clothes that make her look better. I want her to feel liberated in her clothing. As a grown-up, she can choose to wear clothes according to her body type but right now, as a young girl, she is free.
Like Charles Dickens said, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Parenting is the easiest and the toughest job. Easy because it works on mutual love and instinctual care but tough because a single mistake can cause lifelong scars.
I am no expert on parenting but I have learned lessons from my upbringing. As a parent, my biggest duty is to instill confidence and emotional security in my child.
Some of the world’s gravest problems can be solved if we raise emotionally secure and well-loved children. The first step is to learn from our own childhoods and not repeat the same mistakes that our parents made decades ago.