“You hurt my feelings, Mommy,” my 7-year old daughter pouted at me prettily. An apology was clearly expected, but the words stuck in my throat as my own childhood flashed before my eyes.
Raised in a middle-class household in small-town India, the words so easily uttered by my daughter have never once made it past my lips; not as a child, and not as an adult. In fact, even the thought has never occurred. The culture and the environment I grew up in nourished the old saw, “Children are to be seen and not heard.”
This is not to say my parents were not loving and caring souls. But the balance of power was clearly in their hands. Dissent was allowed, but arguments had to be based on facts, not nebulous, touchy-feely, emotional appeals. Usually the outcome was pre-determined, even if my brother and I put on a spirited show.
Fast forward twenty years to my own parenthood. I have become responsible for two precious beings, whose every sigh and every cry assumes momentous importance. Parenting self-help books are clear about the importance of Not Saying No. My children’s budding feelings of self-esteem are fragile objects to be carefully preserved and cherished. And of course, every decision I make on their behalf is open to discussion and debate, even if the interlocutor has a brain that is, literally, 7 years old.
I wonder which generation had it right. We grew up with a respect for authority that helped us in some ways to adjust to the hierarchies in our working lives; but one wonders what impact it had on our entrepreneurial spirit and our appetite for risk-taking.
On the other hand, our parenting approach today is aimed at producing confident and assertive kids, but who’s to say they won’t turn out to be narcissistic, arrogant, and filled with a sense of entitlement?
That’s not my real grouse, though. It seems to me that I learnt young and learnt well the importance of obeying my parents. Yet, as an adult, I am learning to be deferential to the feelings of my kids.
When do I get a say in all of this? When is it going to be my turn?