Stop Coddling Your Children; They’ll Thank You For The Life Skills When They’re Adults!

As children, we were aware of the struggles of our parents, and we grew up to appreciate every small act of theirs. Do our children know the same?

At every opportunity I get, I regale my children with tales of their ‘roots.’

One of their favourite stories is how their paternal grandfather escaped Bangladesh during the Partition in the middle of the night in a boat, accompanied by his parents and grandparents. They packed whatever they could in a bag and left the rest behind. That included their hard-earned tracts of land, the house where they were born, and also the elderly members who would not survive the arduous journey. They made it to Assam and began life anew. But it was not easy. As a little boy, my husband’s childhood was harsh. Today, it has taken them three generations to reach where they are presently.

‘Don’t ever forget your roots,’ I remind them.

I, on the other hand, haven’t faced such a severe struggle. My father was a senior-level manager at a steel plant. Raising three girls was not easy, for he also had to support his parents. Yet he managed. We were aware of the challenges that our parents faced. Every dress that was bought for us, every high-heeled shoe that we acquired, every meal that we ate out—we were aware of the hard work and the sacrifices that had gone into it. As children, we were aware of the struggles of our parents, and we grew up to appreciate every small act of theirs.

Both of us have known what struggles look like. We have seen them from close quarters, we have braved them, and we have learned our lessons well.

We grew up ‘rooted.’ What about our children?

They study in air-conditioned schools, commute by AC buses, participate in various paid club activities, have tuition, attend extra-curricular classes, regularly attend birthday parties, receive expensive return gifts, and have cupboards full of clothes and accessories.

They baulk at the idea of eating at a roadside joint. Mere fifteen minutes in the sun make them dizzy. They tell me that clothes cannot be repeated at birthday parties. Birthdays call for extravagant celebrations.

Are they at fault? Well, we the parents, are to blame!

As parents, we always try to give the best to our children. Since we have had our share of struggles, why do our children deserve hardships? It is this mindset that makes us pamper and indulge them. In doing so, we fail to realise the damage that we are causing.

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Let me share an example with you. On a popular forum, a parent put up a post. Her son had been admitted to one of the best universities but was unhappy with the quality of life. The hostel had no private bathrooms. There were no AC, geysers, or washing machines. There was no one to wash his clothes or clean his room. Common toilets, shared rooms, a lack of privacy, and inedible food from the kitchen made the child’s life a hellhole, she said. They finally had to withdraw him from the hostel and put him in an individual flat where he had access to all the amenities. The boy was aware that such a move would cost his parents a lot of money. But he also knew that his parents would never wish to see him live in such misery. They could go to any extent to ensure his well-being!

Who is to blame? It will always trickle down to us, for we have kept them cocooned from the realities of life.

But it’s never too late. The sooner we act, the better it is!

In our case, we chose to bring them back to their roots’ by consciously grabbing opportunities that acquaint them with the realities of life. We began the annual ritual of gifting the children a vacation, which helps them revisit their ‘roots’. A vacation in the countryside, where there are only homestays, is basic and closer to nature. Instead of a pucca dwelling, it’s a mud-walled, double-story cottage. The rooms are not lavish or spacious. There is only a ceiling fan and a pedestal fan. The choices in food are limited. Either we cook on our own or step out to eat at the kitchen run by the locals. There is no TV or Wi-Fi. The network is patchy. There are no helpers to clean the rooms or wash the dishes.

The first time we were there, the children made a huge fuss. Not accustomed to rural life, they were uncomfortable. They were used to travelling by car; they were taken aback when we landed at the railway station. The crowd, the cacophony, and the struggle to board and guard the luggage scared them. But as our journey progressed, we could see the change. They kept their gadgets aside and looked out of the window, enjoying the cool breeze ruffling their hair. The only mode of transport in the countryside is ‘totos’, which are battery-operated three-wheelers. It became a novelty to them. Evenings in the countryside are lonely and eerie. We would sit on the balcony and watch the villagers trudge home.

That October evening, we seized the opportunity to share how our parents’ struggles have shaped us.

Since then, it has become a ritual to go back to the homestay and spend 2-3 days there. My children have grown to appreciate the rustic way of life. We have also taken them to Bangladesh and given them a tour of what their paternal side of the family had left behind in those troubled times. We repeatedly go back to their father’s birthplace in Assam to remind them that childhood is not always rosy and easy.

This is also a way to prepare them for life later on

Once they move out of their home, it would either be a hostel or a paying guest accommodation where they would have to sacrifice, compromise, and acclimatise. This requires life skills. The basic skills of surviving without an AC, a geyser, or a washing machine; sharing the room and bathroom with random students; the sacrifice of ‘privacy’ or individual space; adjusting their palate to the food cooked in the canteen; washing clothes on their own; standing in a queue to use the bathroom; or getting a cup of tea—these will all be a challenge.

Today, we lead two kinds of lives. One is where we enjoy all the amenities that life has given us, and the other is where we constantly remind ourselves that life is not always easy. There are difficult situations as well.

In the last few years, I have seen my children change, and that has put to rest some of my anxieties.

In today’s world, there is no point in coddling our children. Rather than shielding them from the realities of life, expose them. Wait and watch how they respond and cope. Guide them when they stand at a crossroads. Share with them your struggles. Talk to them about the importance of saving and minimalism.

Real parenting lies not in being a sentinel but in liberating our children from the invisible shackles that we have built around them.

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About the Author

S Sen

Sreemati Sen holds a Masters in Social Work from Visva Bharati, Shantiniketan. She is a Development Professional, specialised in Psychiatric care of Differently Abled Children. That hasn’t stopped her from exploring other fields. Years read more...

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