Friday, October 2, 2015

Middle class parents of urban India

I am watching my peers, with children who are now young adults. Most of my peers are having fairly good relationships with their children. A few are struggling with various conflicts. Watching the birth and growth of these kids who are now adults, I am able to retrospectively see the good and bad parenting techniques of my friends and relatives.
Based on these observations, I am writing these tips below for parents, especially parents of children in urban middle class India .

Allow and encourage your children to do chores around the house. When the kids are 2-6 years of age, or even older, they love to help their parents by doing chores around the house. It's play for them or 'pretend play' and they enjoy it. I saw many folks in my circle, stop the kids form helping them with various comments. A lady from a village, would get annoyed when her granddaughter aged one or two, took the broom to sweep; this old lady would grab it from the infant and put it away. She simply did not recognize or appreciate the child's need for pretend play. Others, would laugh at the child, enjoy it's play but did not treat the sweeping(or whatever activity) with the grave respect the child might have rejoiced in. If these  adults  had responded to the child's pretend play with seriousness and thanked the child, the child would have been thrilled that it's 'help' was useful and appreciated by the adult.

Once the children start school, most of my folks, insisted that their children focus on studies. Many of them did not allow the child to do chores at home, even simple chores, which the child had the capacity to do, without risk. Asking a 7 year old to cut vegetables may be a risk as he  may cut himself; but the 7 year old can surely do a lot of other chores, which have many benefits, a few of which are: doing chores keeps the child engaged, makes the child proud to be able to contribute, increases the child's self-confidence  improves the child's skills such as fine and gross motor skills, planning ability, motor speed, gives the adult time to do other things, etc.

 Most of these middle class children i.e. my peers' children grew up, without doing any chores at home and now many don't even know how to do certain simple chores! I would call  them lazy as they expect their mother to do the chores, though they are adults now! The boys/men expect their moms to do their laundry and cooking till they get married and then expect their wives to do the same, after marriage. When I asked my friends to encourage their kids do the chores, the standard reply to me by their parents was, 'They know to do it;  they can do it later. Now let them study'. The reason why my peers  insisted to me that their kids know is to ensure that  I don't think their kids are stupid.  Some mothers said, "They have to do these chores  when they are married; let them enjoy now".

It saddens me to see my friends, whose kids take their mothers for granted, expect or even demand their mothers to do their cooking, laundry, clean their rooms or iron their clothes. Some even yell and scream at their mothers if the mothers don't do it.

I have also seen that parents in India (and Indian parents in USA & Canada) do all the household work themselves, including the ones like paying bills, buying groceries. They don't involve the children, even if they are now young adults or late teens. for example, I have a friend in India, whose son is 20 and studying his bachelors degree. My friend is busy yet he runs around doing things like banking, paying tax,  paying bills such as electricity bills or running to the company to ask them to fix something, placing order for cooking gas, etc. which his son could do. Yet, he never asks his son and sometimes insists his wife do it, though his son is free or watching TV or on his computer! I simply cannot understand this degree of over-protection or is it love? Why does he ask his busy wife to go to the shop or bank, instead of asking his 20 year old son who is watching TV? I have seen this in many households. I can sort of understand, not asking a young girl in Bangalore, as stepping out these days is such a pain, especially for young women. But not asking a young man, who is idling at home and asking a busy housewife to do these makes no sense to me!
Why should children of the house be involved in these chores from as early as possible?
 (1)They get to be contributing members of the family.
 (2)They learn about responsibility
(3)It makes them learn a lot...know where the money goes; budgeting; know the cost of things and understand inflation, economy, changing prices and why prices change(if they ever think),
 (4)they learn 'worldly' knowledge, which does not come from books but by experience. they learn where the shop/agency is; they learn the process; they learn how to do the paperwork; they learn the art of time management and planning; they learn social skills and people skills...for example, how to be assertive when someone jumps the queue, they learn the most efficient, cost-effective way to do something through practice.
(5)they learn about bureaucracy in India. They may even think of ways to do things better and who knows, if they ever reach a policy making level at work, they may make changes!
(6)doing these chores from young age gives them maturity. I  have seen 60 year old fathers doing the chores for their 30 year old sons who don't want to do these things as it's 'boring', 'they don't have time', 'they hate to deal with government office clerks', etc. Should their dads be doing these things until they die? When are they going to do things for themselves? When are they going to learn that doing things which are mundane, boring , painful, etc. are a part of life?

Parents in India rigidly  separate school education from daily life. They don't seem to think that their children, will understand and remember the stuff they study, if they are allowed or even made to do things daily at home and outside.
I believe that a child who does cooking and household chores and shopping and gardening and taking care of the family pet will understand the principles of biology, chemistry, physics, history and geography and everything else much better.
every task he or she does, involves science, geography, history, politics, economy or some science. Children will consolidate the information learnt in classroom much better if they have practical experience. for example, cooking involves measurement, water, boiling, cutting, use of vessels of different metals and densities. If the child is allowed to work in the kitchen, he will consolidate what he has learnt in class and the classroom learning becomes meaningful and exciting in the kitchen!
I beg my sister to allow her daughters to do some chores at home. But her argument to me is they have to study! her daughters are mid and late teen but they have not done any chores at home till now! It drives me insane, but what can I do? Apart from stop butting into her life!
Also how much can a child study without a break? doing a chore at home, would be a welcome break from mugging the notes non-stop for hours? even the neurons need a break ! they cant fire non-stop for hours! Doing chores would give the neurons time to recover!

Teaching children manners and  smooth interpersonal interaction skills with adult relatives, friends of parents, strangers, the public.

Another thing which really bothers me is that the parents don't seem to make the necessary efforts to teach their children manners & social skills . I have observed that children, even teenagers do not say thanks, excuse me, please & sorry  in interactions. They may use these phrases with strangers or people outside the family to some extent, but never with their own parents and siblings. I am not basing this statement on one or two teenagers and children but based on my observations of many  middle-class, urban, English medium, school going children of literate parents in Bangalore. These are my speculations about the reasons:
I have noticed many are embarrassed about thanking close family or saying please and excuse me. Why should they be embarrassed to be polite is a puzzle to me! Secondly, the language may be a barrier I think. To say, thanks or excuse me or please in Kannada(or any Indian language) seems a bit more effortful than in English and people talking in local languages may feel awkward to use these phrases in English or the local language. Thirdly, many parents themselves don't use polite phrases when interacting with family. The interaction is casual and being rude or boorish is often considered 'natural' or 'funny' and even gets a few laughs .Fourthly,  I have also heard many friends say , "don't thank me' with such a vehemence, that it's really difficult to use these polite phrases with them. Fifth is the lack of use of polite phrases by rural, non-English speaking folks.  I can easily excuse the people from rural backgrounds, non-English backgrounds, lower-economic backgrounds, who don't often use these phrases. six. There is something so alien and strange about polite phrases for many Indians. I once heard an Indian who returned from  USA tell me this. "Don't you find the extreme politeness of the Americans artificial?" He is a very nice, simple, down-to-earth guy who went to USA for a couple of years from his work(he's a statistician). He simply could not be comfortable with  the American style of interaction! He found their please, sorry, excuse me, thanks, the smiling and politeness too excessive for him and he felt it was fake and not real! He believed that the rudeness and curtness of Indians genuine and the politeness of the Americans fake ;  he was at greater ease with the 'real rudeness' in India ; he felt uncomfortable with the   'fake politeness' of  Americans. Fake, by his perception at least.
I do expect, the modern school going generation, English speaking and exposed to so much of TV and movies and education to be more polite in their interactions.
Talking of interactions, I have observed many of my peers children, are not comfortable interacting with their grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, distant relatives, etc. The most common problems according to me are: (1)they refuse to visit their relatives houses with their parents(at time of visiting someone , they want to avoid, they say, they want to study for an exam!)(2)they greet briefly and often greet only after being prodded; they are unable to maintain a conversation or initiate a conversation with their relatives and stand around awkwardly or these days, they play with their mobiles instead of making an effort to talk to the relatives in frond of them.(3) they express no interest or curiosity, they  answer the relatives questions briefly and the conversation becomes slow, full of pauses or dead. I want parents to teach the following basic minimum to their children.
(a) Know  your relatives are on both sides of your family. Know their names, how they are related to you, what they are doing, what are their interests, when you saw them last, is there anything unique to them. (b) Be respectful when you meet, initiate greetings, initiate conversation, initiate interaction at least some of the time. Don't stand around awkwardly, responding to their talk instead of initiating.(c)Be proactive. Offer to help, ask if there is anything you can do for them, etc.(d)  A lot of families have family  politics and  family squabbles going on. Don't poison your kids against the relatives you dislike. I have seen women encouraging their children to be rude to their in-laws whom they dislike or men discouraging their children from interacting with their wife's relatives. This toxicity is unhealthy for the children. (e) Parents themselves,should make it a point, to regularly keep in touch with their close relatives and friends. I am so disappointed with one of my close relatives, who rarely visits her own parents and sister; she visits her uncles, aunts and cousins only on occasions like marriage, death, Gruhapravesha. Consequently, her children have no feelings of  affection or intimacy with anyone other than their nuclear family unit; they don't know how to or what to talk to their grandparents or aunt or cousin; they don't even know their relatives such as their parents' own uncles, aunts and cousins. They sit silently in the few functions they attend and don't mix with their age group. These kids are becoming so socially isolated and socially awkward, it's heartbreaking for me to think what their social skills and manners would be when they grow up and get into the adult world of colleges and career. This close relative's repertoire of excuses include: (1)'I am busy;(2) the kids have exams;(3) the traffic is too bad; (4)They don't come to my house, why should I go to theirs; They don't phone me, why should I phone them; (5) There is no time. What I think is that, for this relative, keeping touch with her relatives and friends is not a priority. If something is important, one can always make time; if something is not, then there is never any time.
In today's world, the number of people are more than ever before. It is so important, we all have the ability to get along with people, as people are in our faces all the time and in every place. We should learn to get along with people; be happy with them and enjoy their company. We should learn to live together in harmony as there is not enough space for each of us to live alone! If we don't have the opportunity to interact with a lot of people and a wide range of people from childhood, we don't develop the skills to deal well with people. We don't learn how to judge people accurately. We don't learn to be assertive. We don't learn to adapt to getting along with different types of people, with different types of behaviours.
I therefore urge, Indians of urban middle class, don't keep your children cocooned; get them out and they will learn to live well.

It makes me mad to see teenagers demand so many things and tasks from their parents as if it's their right and  not say a word of thanks when their parents deliver!  I have seen Indian urban adult children demand their parents send them to expensive courses, demand expensive dresses and jewels, motorbikes and these adult 'children' sound so selfish and narcissistic to me with their demands. If this is the behaviour of  'good' children from 'decent' families, I shudder to think, how the 'bad' children from 'indecent' families would behave! Here are some real life examples. I know of a girl who scored poorly in her PUC (12th grade) and demanded to study medicine and as her marks were poor, her parents had to shell out a lot of money. She ruthlessly and relentlessly demanded they put her in medical school! Her parents took a huge loan and did put her in one and then she demanded they change her medical school ! I have seen many parents of Indian middleclass yield to their kids blackmail and demands and it's drives me crazy, that they don't put a limit to their kids behaviours and demands.
I want all parents I am referring to , to be assertive with their children and not yield to their unreasonable demands. They should clearly state to the child/adult child his or her responsibilities, tell them that they should be able to do things at their age and so do it instead of expecting them to do it for them. They should clearly state their budget and not go over the budget...whether for clothes, jewels, vehicles, college-courses, cellphones, etc. Parents should learn to draw the line. Remember, the happiness your child gets when you buy the latest cellphone he's demanding is only temporary; he has to learn to be happy without the new cellphone(or whatever); he has to learn to become happy to other means. possessing the latest cellphone would give him momentary happiness. Happiness is not a permanent state of mind and soon he will slip out of the state of happiness and want something else to propel him back to the state of happiness. Happiness does NOT come from having material goods but from an inner state of satisfaction.

Another thing which I think Indian urban middle class parents should focus on is teaching the  children to learn about money.

 I am not really sure what is the right time to teach children about money and budgeting; I am not sure how much Indian urban parents should reveal about their income and expenses to the children, without making the children feel burdened with responsibility too much for their shoulders or making them feel guilty.
I am simply thinking aloud here.

HYPOTHETICAL FAMILY: Imagine a lecturer in a college and his wife who's also a lecturer in a college are earning a combined income  about one lakh rupees a month. They have two teenage children  in high school ; the couple  tally their expenses daily and share this information with the children .  The children get to see the expenses and have an idea of how much money is coming into the family monthly and where the money is going out. I believe this will give a lot of valuable information, knowledge to the high schoolers and they will also learn vicariously, the best ways of planning and budgeting.
I imagine these are the expenses in Bangalore
rent//food//waterbill/electricity bill/ gas bill/ petrol and bus pass/school fees/ phone bills for four//food//toileting materials//religious expenses//gifts to family members & friends for functions// savings such as life insurance,etc//loans and interest for vehicles, house building loans, etc// health expenses (now with dengue all over Bangalore, every house I know has been affected!)
If the family, is open about their income and expenses with their children and very meticulous about recording all the expenses, the children will automatically learn a lot, become more thoughtful and reasonable in their demands and WISE.

The peers I know are not open with their children about their income for many reasons such as
They never even thought of this; they never thought of the idea of sharing their income details with their children.
Or they don't want to share as they think the children are too young and then don't know when to draw the line and say, they are old enough now and I can share this information.
Or they don't want to tell the children as they don't think their kids can keep their mouths shut! They may worry the kids will blab to the relatives, etc.
Or they are ashamed they are not earning enough. I know of many women who have no idea about their husband's income!
Or they are taking bribes and  don't want to share this information openly with their kids. I know there are several government officials whose bribe is much greater than their salaries (not any of my relatives or friends!) and how will they explain to their kids?

I believe that writing out the income and expenses in detail and sharing with the immediate family members will help expose the errors in budgeting of the money manager in the family, usually men. If the expenses were made into a pie chart or percentage, the family would know immediately if some area was getting undue amount while another area was being neglected. I know a man who had  terrible money management skills and who was also, very autocratic and bossy that he had his way. He would spend more than 50% of the income on non-essentials such as books and grudge to give money to essentials such as food items and groceries.

I believe that every school in India should have classes for household budgeting and ask the students to come up with sensible budgets for various incomes and expenses for a variety of households. I believe this will help to avoid future mismanagement of money when these students become working adults.

Many families want to shield their children from money worries and other worries. But I strongly believe that this shielding causes more harm than good, in the long run. Once they are 16-18 years old, they should know the true money situation in the home; it will give them an opportunity to grow and become more mature; less demanding as they know the true monetary situation; they will make sensible and financially INFORMED choices.

Some of the stupid financial  things I have observed in my peers families are given below:
  • Pretending they have more money than they actually do.
  • Not telling  'no' to the children's unrelenting demands on money
  • Thinking that if they give all that the child asks,' the child will be happy', 'will study well', 'will 'behave', 'the child will obey', etc.
  • Borrowing money to buy  non-essential things.
  • Labelling luxuries as essentials and buying them
  • Buying to keep up with the jones, though, they don't have money
  • Borrowing without having any realistic plans regarding how they will repay. Not factoring in the interest when they plan to borrow.
  • Being unrealistically optimistic. Not having definite plans regarding repayment but thinking vague things like "I will somehow return": that word somehow drives me c-r-a-z-y!
  • Having poor money management skills themselves.
  • Poor relationship between parents and so :non-discussion of money matters; non-cooperation around money matters; active 'revenge-buying' things when angry with spouse!
  • Borrowing from parents (grandparents  of the children) or receiving financial and other expensive gifts from parents to maintain a life-style, they cannot earn-to-be-able-to-afford.
  • Expecting well-off relatives to take care of some of their needs
  • Expecting the dowry the son brings in to take solve their money problems.
Another issue which I think middle class parents should change about is autonomy for their children.

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