If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in my stint at parenthood, it’s that there is NO “ONE RIGHT WAY”. Popular books and blogs and articles can dole out all the advice they want, and they are all right, in their own way.
However, the best way to parent, according to me, is to LISTEN to your child. Especially during the early years, if you are intimately involved with your child, you will learn what your child needs and doesn’t. Just like you learn to recognize when the baby is hungry or wet, similarly you learn to recognize signs from your child. It is really upto you to come up with the solution then. There are no hard and fast rules, and there is no answer book.
So a lot really depends on the kind of parent you are. If you look upon your child like a time-bound project (and I know so many parents who do that, perhaps unconsciously), I can guarantee you failure. A child is definitely not something you can wrap up and forget about, it’s an ongoing project and what makes it so interesting and complex is that the child is also changing all the time. So the feedback loop is ever active and you must constantly monitor the system, so to speak.
To give you some examples of what I did with Lil D, I put her into a small playschool within the apartment complex when she was just 1.5 years old. To some parents, this will appear downright criminal! That child ought to be indulging in free play instead of being cooped up in a room, they might think. However, the reason was simply this. Lil D was a very social child right from the time she turned one year. She loved company, she was thrilled going to new places, and she sought new stimuli constantly. She was showing signs of boredom both at home and in the playground. She had explored and satisfied her curiosity in every nook and corner, and was now craving for something more. I found this cosy little playschool the ideal place for her. She got to make new friends, she loved doing various activities with the aunty there, and hated to leave the place.
Similarly, when she was between three and five, I enrolled her into various courses, most of which were high-energy ones involving a lot of physical activity. I did this because she had a tremendous amount of energy which was simply not getting exhausted by the trips to the playground. She was still not into playing with friends, for kids her age were more into parallel play. She would begin to get cranky after some time. The classes were a good way for her to have fun as well as expend some of that energy (which I would have gladly accepted, had she been able to transfer it to me! :D)
Once she was old enough to play with her friends, I removed her from all courses, except the ones she was really interested in. And I’m glad to say that she’s stuck to those ones and still continues to go to them voluntarily. I feel she learnt far more about life by playing with friends rather than by going to the innumerable courses that others her age were attending.
Later on, I moved her from a Montessori school to a regular school. This was not for academic reasons as one might think. In a Montessori school, kids are generally given a free run. This boosts their confidence and independent thinking and works wonders for shy kids. However, Lil D had more than her fair share of confidence and independent thinking! 🙂 What I realized was that she needed a sense of discipline too.
Discipline (self-imposed, that is) is an essential life-skill if one wants to achieve something. In the do-whatever-you-want atmosphere of the Montessori school, this was not going to be easily assimilated. I know a lot depends on the Montessori school and this one was a good school, but I preferred a school that gave her exposure to the “system”, so to speak. We were, after all, not going to move out of India, so I preferred that she learnt to handle the existing system in a good way, rather than be thrust into it suddenly later. So we moved her to a regular school, and I have not regretted that decision one bit.
Even today, she is learning invaluable lessons on prioritization, time management, and stress management. We teach her how to balance out her activities and how to make time for the things she likes and how to complete things she doesn’t like. And I must say she is proving excellent at them. For example, last year, during the Ganesha celebrations in our complex, she had to study for her tests as well. So she says: Mamma, Ganesha comes just once a year whereas the tests come every now and then. So shouldn’t Ganesha get higher priority? Lesson well learnt, right? 😀 😀
I don’t know about the path not taken, obviously. I can’t say I’ve done everything right and this is the way to go about it. But what I do know is that every time we have stopped to LISTEN to her needs, we have come up with the right answers (or at least the right one in our opinion). And that is probably my only rule for parenting.