Posted by Kesang Menezes who is a facilitator at Parenting Matters and mother of two girls aged 11 and 15.
We conduct parenting workshops and very often we are asked this question- Why would anyone come to a workshop on parenting? Isn’t parenting something one does by instinct? This is a very valid question but do we even know what in instinct in a world where we are so conditioned? Are we able to get in touch with what is called ‘animal instinct’ which drives every creature to protect, feed and nurture its young?
Of course there is the instinct which causes a mother to immediately respond to the cry of her baby and it is difficult to stop her from doing that. There was a time when the so called “experts” even tried to stop parents from instinctively responding to a crying baby. They said a child should be conditioned to feed on schedule. Thankfully we have moved on from there and the Experts now say you must respond to your baby. But the basic question is- do we need the experts at all or do we all naturally know how to bring up a child?
The truth is that what we think is instinct is actually our conditioning. We bring up children following the patterns of behaviour we observed in our parents or those around us. And these patterns are not necessarily positive. Look at some of the age old statements passed down from generation to generation-
- “She is a small girl, you should give it to her” (this ensures the older child hates the younger one)
- “See how nicely she is eating” (implying why can’t you be like her - again guaranteed to create jealousy)
- “Good girl / bad girl” (If you do what I want you are good, if not you are bad - how inadequate a child must feel)
- “If you do not listen that policeman will come and take you” (we teach them to be fearful and insecure)
- “I am telling you for your own good” (What do you know. You are a mere child - How demoralizing)
- “Spare the rod and spoil the child” - Many of us firmly believe that what a child needs sometimes is a good spanking. Then we lecture children on how it is wrong to be violent.
- “Children must respect elders” - Why are only elders and not children worthy of respect?
Our children grow up on a diet of criticism, blame, comparison etc. Is it not surprising that the world is full of anger and war? Can there be love and sensitivity in individuals who have not been respected and nurtured?
It is not an understatement to say that changing patterns of parenting is what will change the world. When children are brought up with love and understanding there is no doubt that the world will be a better place. Gandhiji in this context wrote to Maria Montessori in 1945 commending her on a system of education which respects the child. He said - “You have very truly remarked if we are to reach real peace in this world and if we are to carry out a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children…”
For this we need to start with awareness- open our minds, be conscious of our actions, break away from conditioning and reinvent the way we parent. We should not be bringing up our children on auto pilot repeating what generations have done. We need to start afresh.