April 30, 2023
However, experts in the field of psychology are forever trying to sort this out for the rest of us (and for the sake of children everywhere), and they’ve identified four core parenting styles — authoritative, authoritarian, permissive, and uninvolved. For the sake of this article, we’ll largely be focusing on one: uninvolved or neglectful parenting.
Changing social dynamics
Under the deceptive guise and garb of modernism, coupled with advancements in science and technology, societies across the world are witnessing major cultural and social shifts that are irrevocably harming traditional and long-serving values. Togetherness amongst diverse communities is fast disappearing, moral standards constantly under revision for worse and there is generally a growing acceptance of all that was till the past decades of the nineties, considered not legitimate. Corruption and corrupt practices are acquiring stardom status and the sense of guilt is no more.
On popular talk shows the rich, famous and the unholy, proudly state that to get their work done, they put “roller skates of dollar bills” under the file, to ensure that it gets approved in the quickest time. No shame felt, to either give or receive, bribes. Children, as innocent as they are, until corrupted by the environment, look at these events as diabolically discordant behaviour, while morals taught and imparted in the lap of life are violated upon with no regrets. In this pursuit of both, the honourable manner of earning and the illegal acquisition of wealth, parents have become prone to the needs of their children.
The quest for more is distancing parents from their role, duty, responsibility and obligations towards their children. They have no time. They pay no attention.
What happened to upbringing?
The Urdu word, “tarbiyat” or upbringing, perhaps the nearest word in English language, does not match the impact of the Urdu word. In our society, children were groomed, trained and prepared in the first five years by the mother in particular, and some luckier children had grandparents, uncles and aunts to add to the efforts of instilling, imbibing, inculcating and instituting morals and values. Then the child was handed over to school teachers who would carry on further from where the family had left the task of setting sails in the right direction.
Even the teachers were cognisant of this role that they had to undertake upon themselves for the overall good of the emerging society of the future. By successively abandoning this process, we have collectively, self-destructed ourselves. Both the parents and teachers have disengaged themselves from their responsibilities. There is pronounced dereliction of duty towards the creation of good citizens of the future.
Economic challenges are used as an excuse for this abdication of responsibility. If both parents are working professionals, even then, they must find time to reach out to their children. There is no escape from this honourable task. My parents did so, just as many readers’ parents would have done too, so why have today’s young parents lost interest in their offspring?
This is disturbing, considering that 65% of our population, is below the age of thirty or so. Some of them maybe parents already, others must be in the queue to achieve that regal status. So, shouldn’t the society be concerned how our twenty-year-old would look and behave in 2047, the hundredth-year anniversary of the founding of Pakistan?
Some young students from university contacted me a few months ago. They wanted me to be a guest speaker in one of their programmes. I agreed to do it, only after, I had met the organising committee members. So I invited them to my residence for a cup of coffee. Six students descended in the late afternoon hours. Three boys and an equal number of girls. To put them at ease, I ventured into asking them their favourite subjects, hobbies, the usual stuff, etc. During this impromptu devised agenda, the conversation came around to parents, and the discussion that ensued, left me in astonishment. I asked each of them who they were friendly with, their father or mother? To my shock and dismay, four of them said mother and only two said they were friendlier with their father. The results astounded me, because, it is but natural to be friendly with the mother, but these four admitted that they hardly ever talk to their respective fathers.
What was the reason for this distanced relationship with fathers? The reasons that emerged were fear, incompatible timings, no common ground for discussion and the mother being more willing to listen. A child who is scared of his/ her own father, will obviously fear the world at large and be timid all his/her life. Economics has ruined and destroyed the family unit.
Last week there was an article carried by a leading newspaper from a presumably young girl, who having been recently married was exhorting young girls to ensure that they have an assurance of separate living quarters, post marriage. The writer emphasised that asking for physical space must remain a precondition to saying, yes, to any suitor. “It is heavenly to be away from in-laws,” she wrote. Indeed the society has changed. I pondered how the writer would cope once they are blessed with kids, and then they would desperately need help, that would not be without a cost. I contacted the editor to write a rejoinder to help the young lady and other readers to highlight the many advantages of a family unit. The editor agreed, adding that a lecture on sense of duty, religious obligation, etc. was not needed. I decided not to write.
The modern family
The change has happened. Is it good, possibly yes, but in the longer term, vis a vis impact on society, I remain unsure. Efforts will have to be made to develop a strategy, where economic well-being is inbuilt in the emerging social standards that ensures that the composite demonstrating unbreakable bonding remains intact and unchallenged. The worst families are those in which the members never really speak their minds to one another, maintain an atmosphere of unreality, and everyone lives in an atmosphere of ill-feeling.” (Walter Bagehot).
Once we become parents, only then, do we realise, what our parents meant, when they would express concern, feel the pangs of anxiety and fears, upon for say, late home coming. Presently, parents who are not recipient of grief and disappointment, at the hands of children are the luckiest. Parents must change and respond to the needs of the present era. Undoubtedly, it is far easier to obtain a mother’s unconditional love, but to get it from the father, can be a challenge, especially if the father remains oblivious of the power of his love for his child.
My dad was my best friend despite a few decades of age gap between us. Admittedly there is a demand upon parents to remain cognisant of new developments of all sorts, so as to able to engage with children. The discussion at our dining table with my father would vary from religion to politics, literature to history, humour to political wit and sarcasm, and from films to actors’ trivia. His favourite narrations were Churchill’s wit, retorts between George Bernard Shaw, Rabindranath Tagore, and repartees between Gladstone and Disraeli. The dining table was the focus for togetherness, no one was permitted to have meals in their respective rooms.
Are families today having dinner or meals together with the father heading the table? And with no cell phones to stare at!
If not, let’s restore the togetherness where the child must be encouraged to share his/ her day’s activities, their ambitions, fears, apprehensions, etc. If the family abdicates this responsibility, the child will look to outside world, which may not be a good source of guidance and advice.
Gentle but firm
As a school-going child, rummaging through old issues of The Reader’s Digest in my father’s study during summer holidays, I read the following quip, “The best combination of parents is, where the mother is extremely strict beneath her apparent gentleness, and where the father is extremely gentle, beneath his apparent firmness.” I have no idea if my parents had read this, but certainly they were both gentle and firm.
How can there be a quid pro quo in a parent-child relationship? Parents love unconditionally, children may not. That’s a Greek tragedy. There is hardly a child today who doesn’t consider his/ her father as a perpetual banker to their needs, a cash stuffed ATM, at least my children do.
Parents who have disengaged themselves from their children have actually opened flood gates for them to fall into the deep ravine of decadence. Recently, my wife confronted both the pharmacist and the young 16-year-old girl purchasing strong, over-the counter anti-depressant drugs. She lied that she bought them for her grandmother, but actually would take them with her friends for ‘kicks’! The pharmacist explained how he gets threatened by these children from influential families if he refuses to sell them the drugs. Ice, marijuana, etc. are easily accessible and once addicted, they have full potential to descend into criminality. It is not therefore unusual to find clusters of young boys and girls discussing mental health issues, suicidal tendencies, euthanasia, mercy killing, etc. Parents must remain alert to these signs pointing to drugs.
Spare the rod and spoil the child is an adage of yore, but that is now redundant. Parents must spare the rod, and instead befriend the child. The fear factor can be removed by developing friendship with your kids. They need to express themselves and parents alone should be their audience. Friendly parents have happy and confident children. The closeness gives them strength and confidence.
Children always imitate parents, hence the need to set up a model for emulation. No child is in need of a sarcastic critic, who styles himself to be a father. An angry and distanced father is actually being extremely cruel to his own self. Influence behaviour by cultivating good thoughts in the minds of the children, this can only happen if the lines of communication are open and strong.
Refrain from making the child understand you as a parent, instead spend quality time to learn and understand the child. What is seen and heard at home, sooner or later flies out. Parents can destroy their children by using rebuke and wrong words.
Parents are patterns; like father, like son; like mother, like daughter. There is only one pretty child in the world, and that every mother has it. In the guise of children alone, men and women experience life’s aspirations. Let the parent-child relationship be the strongest, unbreakable, indelible and indestructible.
Parents must have the maturity to leave children with independence to imagine and work out thoughts that are useful for a respectable, virtuous and meaningful living. Govern a family as you would cook a small and tender fish is a Chinese proverb that parents must adopt to bring up children. Human race exhibits complete equality, for every child is loved by parents. Regret will be deepest, if any child by way of behaviour and misdemeanour, robs off the smile that lights up the parents faces.
Let’s arrest the progressive cultivation of the decline in societal standards by befriending our children.
Sirajuddin Aziz is a senior banker and freelance writer. All information and facts are the sole responsibility of the writer