Of Apples And Oranges (Part 1):Why Comparing Yourself To Your Children Is A Bad Idea

When our children's choices, challenges and competition are all so different from ours, why do we insist comparing ourselves to them?

When our children’s choices, challenges and competition are all so different from ours, why do we insist comparing ourselves to them?

A Satyanararyan puja to which I was invited, had the familiar motley crowd of visitors of all age groups. As we were chatting with our hosts, an elderly lady who had just entered, was asked about the whereabouts of the rest of her household.

Surprisingly enough, instead of a polite rejoinder, she embarked on a tirade in which the lack of planning on the part of her daughter-in-law and ‘obsession’ with her own job was lamented. Furthermore, she also talked about her grandson’s ‘lack of discipline, odd sleeping habits and addiction to electronic gadgets’. She ended this monologue to a stunned audience with the homily, “During our time, we had no mixer, fridge or ready-to-eat foods. But, we managed so well! Our children were better behaved, ate better and were better organised.”

I debated whether to answer for her absent relatives and ultimately, could stand it no more.

I said, “Sorry to interrupt, whatever you say about yourself is surely true. But I wonder if you held down a job, helped your children with schoolwork, ferried them to various coaching classes or were expected to have dishes from other nations in your culinary repertoire.”

“As for your grandchildren, at their age did you have to contend with the rat race and competition that these children do? “ I continued.

‘In My Day We Did Things Differently’

The incident that I just related happened recently. “How unfair!” is perhaps your first reaction when you read it.

The ‘In My Day We Did Things Differently’ refrain is enough to amuse, irritate, annoy, exasperate, bore, anger, infuriate or hurt the person exposed to it.

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Let us now extrapolate this slightly differently.

Your 10 year old is playing football when she/he should be studying or your teenager is sprawled in front of your television, when they should be tidying up their room. How many of us can prevent ourselves from saying at least occasionally to our offspring, “When I was your age, I … ”?

A gap in understanding

Generation gap has many forms. The most common one is feeling superior to the earlier generation or the next one. Every parent does the best for their child and hopes that the child responds with exemplary behavior, good academic performance and obedience.

Each generation has some model of good behavior that they had to adhere to as children, perhaps reluctantly. When they become parents, subconsciously they feel their own child needs to ape certain habits which they followed.

But should we actually equate our childhood priorities with theirs?

A telling example is that of a man who tells his son that as a child he had walked for twenty minutes to save twenty rupees. The son however responds by saying that he would rather spend twenty rupees in order to save twenty minutes!

The irony is that both are right! If saving money was a priority for the father, then saving time is vital for the son.

Get real with your children

Are we guilty of being unrealistic in our expectations of the next generation? We are facing a different set of challenges as parents vis-a-vis our jobs, travel, housework, expenses, etc. as compared to our parents’ generation. We rear our children differently as well.

Similarly, the next generation of children is also facing different challenges and also deals with life differently. They have stiffer competition (which troubles them), more options (which baffle them), a more extensive school curriculum (which occupies them) and demanding parents (who irritate them).

Comparisons are unfair and tend to create resentment. It is as futile as comparing an apple with an orange. Both are great to eat but, are basically different in taste and appearance.

The sandwich generation

In many ways, the present generation of parents is caught in the unique position of straddling two different eras in time and trying to balance both. While trying to do justice to both, we frequently do not know which is better, but admire certain elements and dislike certain elements of each.

However, convenience and utility dictates many of our choices.

Do we wait for the bus like our parents did or quickly hop into a cab?

Do we make meals from scratch, like our moms did everyday or take some shortcuts?

Do our outings take us to the park like our parents or do we make a beeline for the multiplex?

Does our wardrobe shopping occur only on special occasions like our parents did or do we replenish our clothes at every single opportunity?

So the next time we feel the urge to tell our children, “I woke up at five A.M, why don’t you!” Or “I studied for four hours a day, and look at you!” Or “Tidy up your room! I was a darn sight neater than you.” – Let us take a deep breath and leave out the “I did.”

Pic credit: Mike (Used under a CC license)


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