Childcare and You

Childcare and You

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Parenting Styles - West and East, Will the Twain Never Meet?

Parenting styles are not only different in different continents or different cultures, they are different between couples belonging to the same culture, because they are governed by circumstances, home environment, monetary constraints, personal outlook, educational background and competition.

For instance, in India, my homeland, a land of so many states, diverse cultures and many languages, there are different parenting styles in different states, partly influenced by the topography, although the outlook on matters with regard to discipline, education and marriage are more or less the same, throughout the country.

When it comes to discipline, parents don’t hesitate to admonish their children, with a spanking, if the occasion calls for it. As they are responsible for their children’s existence, they are expected to discipline their children in any way they see fit and it is not odd to rebuke them in front of outsiders. Elders reserve the right to chastise their descendants (even if they’re over 50) because their opinion is sought, respected and valued.  

Schools too, have strict rules about attendance, misbehavior, homework, etc., and anyone caught violating them is strictly punished, with caning, sometimes. Some parents give carte blanche to teachers to punish their kids, believing it to be for their own good. Maxim ‘Spare the rod and spoil the child’ is unanimously condoned and parents are roundly blamed for their unruly, cantankerous children.

In the west, however, human rights activists call the shots. Parents cannot rebuke their children leave alone spank them unless they wish to be carted off unceremoniously by the HR activists. Children can call the cops anytime they feel threatened by their parents (or step parents) and their word is believed. Many Indian families I know feel stifled in their inability to administer ‘proper’ punishment to their children for their unbearable mischief, as the painless ‘grounding’ and ‘stay-in-your-room’ methods appear to be ineffective.

The reason, I suppose, for such strict laws in the US could be to protect the child from physical or mental abuse of step fathers/boyfriends/step mothers/girlfriends, on account of a lack of solid family support system.

Whereas, over here, family bonding is the key and a child grows up surrounded by hordes of relations showering him with love and care. He grows up with constant guidance and control and his future actions are governed with an underlying desire to please his parents. The parent-child relationship balance is on an uneven keel, with the parents on the dominant side. He lives with his parents until his marriage, sometimes continues to live with them even after marriage and has kids of his own. If he and his wife go out to work, the children are looked after by the grandparents. Parents naturally expect their children to live with them and look after them in their old age.

In the west, parents let their children leave the ‘nest’ when they turn eighteen. Having brought their children into this world, parents feel obligated to provide them with good education, good values and lots of love, without expecting anything in return. Children grow up with a free will, at liberty to be explicit about their needs and freedom to insist to be heard. Consequently, the parent-child relationship is easygoing and free flowing, without any strain of dominance coloring the relationship.

Classroom discipline in the west is relaxed and democratic without much control over attendance, homework or general misbehavior. The curriculum is vast, proactive and students have a wide range of subjects to choose from coupled with extracurricular activities. Parental involvement in overseeing their studies is minimal and children are independent and pretty much study on their own.

In the east, parental involvement in their children’s studies is strong, so much so, they hover over their children, egging them on to attend tutorials, special classes, tuition etc, in order to get them to the top of the class and leaving them with no time to play or have fun.

However, having expressed these differences, I think, India needs some strong laws protecting the interests of children, in view of the current dismal scenario of untold atrocities committed against young and old alike, in schools, colleges, work places, worship places, and so on. Urban India is changing, the people's mindset has western leanings although rural India remains almost untouched till now. 

Though I have been raised to appreciate the sting of a cane, I cannot wholly subscribe to this form of punishment for every little scrap nor do I advocate parents micromanaging their children’s lives. But I think, children should care for their parents not out of sense of duty but out of pure love because they owe their existence to them and all the hardships parents have gone through for them is immeasurable.

On a closing note, I think it is not important to prove which side has better parenting styles or which parents are good or bad. It is only important to know who are loving and who are not. Raising kids is hard work, fraught with challenges, regardless. As parents, what is important is to nurture your child in such a way that he grows up to be a well-rounded beautiful person, who is happy, dynamic, less stressed and free.

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