In the last seven years, I have evolved from a helicopter mom to a borderline tiger mom to a free range mom (I have my own definition of free range here). I hate to label myself but I can’t deny that over time I did fall in these categories. Looking back, I have been thinking why and what made me behave in a certain way.
I had quit my corporate job to raise my son. It was a conscious decision as I didn’t have family support and I wasn’t ok leaving him with a house help. And they say that the first 5 years is the most crucial time in terms of development. I also wanted my son to be able to express everything to me without any fear.
When he was a baby I let him experiment, I gave him support but let him try. He was free. But in his toddler years I became a bit over protective and was hovering over him all the time. I was constantly ensuring that everything happens in order and on time. I started helping him with everything. I lived by the book. I made him do a lot of stuff which I thought is important for his development even though he rejected it. I went through serious separation anxiety when he started play school. Helicopter parenting is said to be symptomatic. I now realise that probably I was somewhere trying to justify and over compensate for my not “working”. I didn’t think that looking after my child and house 24/7 was good enough so I ended up putting in more energies (even if it killed me physically) on my son.
However, I’m glad that I never gave in to the demand of an iPad and ensured he plays in the mud and gets wet in the rain without the fear of his falling sick.
On the face of it, I was doing everything right (or so I thought) but something wasn’t right.
When Kabir was 4, I enrolled him for Kumon – English and Maths and ensured he does his worksheets everyday, even if it was very frustrating for him and for me. He was learning fast for sure but the joy that should come with it was missing. It used to leave us sulking and cranky.
I enrolled him for skating and football by the time he was 5. Even though he hadn’t displayed much interest in either. Apart from Sundays, he didn’t have time for much free play left. School – activity – homework – one hour of play time – sleep, was the routine of a 5 year old! On certain days he used to be excited but on most days I had to drag him.
Around the same time, I happened to read the controversial book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” . I didn’t agree with the book one bit. I hated it. But wasn’t I doing the same? As per the author of the book a child will never reach his/her full potential if we don’t push enough, punish them and be strict. But at what cost?
By being a disciplinarian, I was robbing him the joy of being a child. Of freely running around without a care in the world. At one point I felt I was taking away that twinkle from his eyes. I spent many sleepless nights.
There is a Parle G ad jingle that captures the essence of “letting your child be” so beautifully.
Roko mat, toko mat, nikalney do paav, joorabey bahut hai;
Kitaabon ke baahar, kitabein bahut hai….
It struck a chord.
I have realised now that he has to learn and become his own man through his experiences and not mine. To me free range doesn’t mean forcing a child to become independent when he’s not prepared. It means letting him develop at his own pace. It means not forcing anything on the child at all. It means unrestricted free play. To me it means parenting from a slight distance and instilling the right values at the same time. And to let the child make his own choices. I noticed a drastic change when I consciously adopted this style. He started expressing himself by drawing comic strips which he used to be conscious about in the past. His is a world made of scary dinosaurs, pokemons, silly aliens, funny boys/girls, weird minecraft characters, dragons, sports car and legos.
Parenting is the toughest job in the world, it’s tougher when you are constantly bombarded with what-to-do and what-not-to-do, what’s-good-for-your-child and what’s-not. It’s tough to not get carried away when a lot of children around are being measured on how well they can skate, play football, play an instrument, top in Kumon/Abacus and in turn that becomes the definition of successful/good parenting.
But aren’t we happiest being ourselves, when we truly love ourselves? Then why can’t we let our children be. As parents, we should follow our instincts and not confuse our instincts with what everyone is saying/doing around us. Honestly, I haven’t felt greater joy than letting my son be himself.