To the Pakistani masses, parenting basically means having X number of children because it is a matter of pride and prestige. Having a child means you are a fertile, procreative couple with amazing sperm counts and ovarian functioning. You are the star of the family who brings grace and honor to the family name because you did what people have been born to do and have been doing for years before you.
Also, it doesn’t really matter if your meagre salary can barely support one child. You will have as many as come to you. It is after all God’s greatest gift, so why not keep accepting presents from up there, with no look to the future. As a result, so many low-income households have an army of dependents swarming around the small salary derived from a low-income wage. I’m sure we’ve all seen the Greenstar awareness services offered in the country, but what is a green star when compared with our very own, uneducated, child workforce star…A star who will add to the years of intergenerational poverty already in place. For even a minute, if I consider how lives can improve if the burgeoning population is controlled, it leads me to daydreams full of educated, happy, healthy, well-fed youngsters in graduation gowns. So yes, often, being a parent in Pakistan means subscribing to the mindset of procreation without providing, creation with no thought to nurturing. The thought that a child will hardly ever need love, time, teaching, and wisdom. The assumption that all a child might need is a bunch of siblings with a host of health, nutrition and personal development issues.
And what is interesting is that this mindset also seeps into the higher income classes to some extent. Well, we can afford it can’t we, they say. I always wanted a loud, boisterous noisy family around the dining table. Haven’t you seen ‘cheaper by the dozen?’ Ever heard of ‘economies of scale?’ Well, that is why I chose to have six children. They will carry forward my name, and they will take over the 1000 count cotton percale bedsheets business when I retire. And they will all grow up together, easier for the mother too….
Then there are the few educated parents who choose to have a single or at most two children and are subject to ridicule. Hey, only one??? No wonder your child is so serious…you need to have a second one…You have a girl?…You need a boy…You have a boy?…You need a girl…You have both? You need a set of twins to complete the family…You see, a family in Pakistan is never complete until it has a set of evenly matched boys and girls. That’s how we roll. Cool? Yes. Why think of the million starving children in slums and villages, the millions orphaned, the millions uneducated, the millions in very poor health. You see that doesn’t really concern us. We only care about our own little happy family.
So now that we’ve discussed quantity, let’s talk about quality. In today’s world, parents are often working and busy. I see several types all around me. I find them exceedingly interesting and often wonder where I fall. I will discuss mostly mothers as dads who lift or share the parenting burden are still fairly uncommon in Pakistan.
First, there are the career-achiever types. These mothers are so proud of their career achievements they forget to care about the people around them and their feelings and their choices to work or not. A well-groomed, unrealistically smart professional mum who looks down on any woman who chooses to be a stay-at-home mum. I sometimes just try and get them started on parenting to get their views. Parenting magazines? They’re horrified. They don’t have time for all this. Too busy managing my mutual fund portfolio, work is crazy these days. Oh sorry, I guess you wouldn’t know what that means…how are your children? they ask kindly and condescendingly…Interestingly, in my experience, these wonderful people are often unaware of the sacrifices a person may have made to stay at home. They assume only a vacant mind would voluntarily choose to wipe a dirty bottom or clean up puke from their t-shirt. A smarter, more creative mind would obviously want to achieve self-actualization…obviously.
Then the lovely, fluttery, socialite type mothers. I think they’re beautiful. Like tiny little mindless butterflies with enormous compound eye sunglasses, flitting about in wispy designer joras. They titter and they look oh-so-cool in the summer heat. It’s just kind of hard to find common ground to talk about with them. I once mistakenly asked such a paragon of perfection: Hey did you see 12 years a slave? Pre civil war era? Abolishment? Black slavery? And she just gave me the coolest answer. I don’t really watch these kind of movies. Isn’t that cool? So at least she knows they exist. I was heartened. I now generally talk to her about Shah Rukh Khan, Asim Jofa Lawn and Harrods. Such mothers are too fragile to bring up the rather ungraceful, unsophisticated topic of children. For them, children are seen from afar in the handy hands of maids and drivers. One doesn’t come too close for fear of ruining that gorgeous natural silk kurta.
Another parenting-style which I often find is the old-school parent. The involved and strict parent. Mostly found in middle class families these are women who often work hard as well as raise their kids. They have sound values and firm convictions about parenting philosophies. They often espouse the idea of firmly disciplining behavior and propound parenting ideas which are somewhat reminiscent of parents in the 80s. No feet on the table, no eating before washing hands, anything below an A grade is unacceptable and there is no intermingling of boys and girls in our households. Although this militant style is still better than being completely uninvolved, it lacks the nurturing and loving behavior displayed by good parents.
So we finally come to that. Good parenting. What is good parenting? Is there a universal formula that will guarantee our kids will turn out to be intelligent, high-achieving, empathetic individuals? Sorry to be harsh, but no. There is no formula. Only a parent knows whats best for their child. However, there are many things we can do to make our children stronger people.
- Give your child love and empathy. Be kind, and they will reciprocate. Be rude, and they will reciprocate. Raise your hand, and they will raise it to others if not to you.
- Teach your child to express themselves and be confident. Don’t force them to talk when they don’t want to. Don’t push them to say hello to strangers if they’re uncomfortable. But expose them to all sorts of situations. Let them learn from you.
- Children are born wanting to learn and absorb. Create learning environments which engage them in fun activities. Create an environment of questioning, reasoning out, and exploring ideas.
- Never ask them to do something better. Show them they can. Never say come first in the race. Show them how they can win, and help them practice. Never tell them they have to learn a skill. Master it side by side with them.
- Never be rude to those in your employ. Never simper and fawn over those who are your employers. Teach your child to be good to all irrespective of financial, career or family status.
- Give freely and take as less as possible. But instill in your child the ability to know when someone is taking advantage of you.
- Life skills are just as important as academic and career skills.