Democratic Parenting: The Way Forward?

Posted: April 6, 2012

A democratic parenting style is upheld as an alternative to authoritative parenting, but what do Indian moms feel about democratic parenting today?

By Maitreyee Chowdhury

Times have changed vastly since the days when children would listen to everything that a parent said and obeyed it without questioning. Indian moms are fast discovering that the authoritarian way of parenting that was largely prevalent in the olden days, needs to take a back seat. But, adopting a democratic parenting style is no walk in the park either.

Parenting according to today’s needs

Perminder Singh, an entrepreneur from Bangalore, says of her college going daughter, “I never impose restrictions on my daughter’s night out timings, if I am convinced that she is managing her studies well. I have given her basic values, which I hope she will fall back on. If I were to impose restrictions on her I know she will revolt. Besides, whatever she can do at night, she can also bunk college and do during the day, without my knowledge. Having said that, I do ensure that whenever she is out, security is never compromised and if they are partying there is someone responsible with her. “

Perminder’s idea of parenting is mixing practicality with the ideals of democratic parenting. In a matter of fact way, she says that one does not have to be in the CIA to know that after a particular age, children may experiment with sex and there is precious little that you can do to actually stop this given today’s urban culture. She states, “I’d rather tell my daughter that if you are having sex, make sure your partner uses a condom,” because her own safety is something any smart child will understand. She adds, “I have also told her that if she wants to experiment with something or take on a new fad, she needs to inform me about it or consult me, so that I am in the loop and can help her if there is a problem, but I have warned her that if she does not follow this dictum, much as I might love her, if she lands in trouble, I will not budge to help her”. In Perminder’s case, while she has a very open relationship with her daughter, she has made it amply clear to the youngster, where the lines are drawn.

Democratic parenting is far tougher; because it is not only about the parent, but also about how the child perceives such parenting.

Why democratic parenting is cool but hard

Most Indian moms following a democratic parenting style have no examples to fall back upon and it comes with a fair share of experiments as well as accidents, bad tempers, lack of patience and the impulse to fall back upon what they have seen their parents doing.

Most parents learn about parenting while on their job and it is easiest to fall back on what you saw your parents doing in a particular situation. But what happens when the slate is completely wiped clean and you have no reference points? There are a lot of frustrations that Indian moms go through, because a democratic parenting style needs patience and what with busy careers and hectic schedules, it is definitely not easy. 

A democratic parenting style is far tougher; because it is not only about the parent, but also about how the child perceives such parenting.

Pamela D ‘Souza a homemaker from Kolkata, with a teenage daughter Tina studying in one of the city’s most prestigious colleges says that she has only one rule, “Never lie to me and I shall never stop you from doing anything you want. At the most I shall tell you about the pros and cons of a situation and leave the decision to you.”  She recounts an incident where her daughter and her friends had decided to celebrate a birthday in a pub. All the other girls decided not to tell their parents that they were meeting in a pub but Tina informed her mother about the party and where they were. The girls in their excitement had missed out on arranging for transport late at night.

When they emerged from the pub close to midnight, there was no transport available and they found themselves the cynosure of some hooligans in the area. The girls were in a fix since they couldn’t call up their parents too! It was Tina, who called up her mother and thankfully, soon the girls were brought home to safety. After such an incident, many parents would forget about the charm or novelty of democratic parenting! Pamela says she had to bear the brunt of her husband’s anger because of the risk she took with her daughter in bringing her up this way. The road obviously is rocky but Pamela says she is willing to take the risk, although her worries are that much higher now.

Drawing a fine line in democratic parenting

Some Indian moms might think that democratic parenting is about being agreeable to children on everything. But ideally it is not so; while being friendly with your child, he/she must always know where they need to draw the line. Younger children often don’t understand this mid-way path and given a little lee-way, are quick to take advantage. Once the child has grown up and a certain pattern is established, things tend to fall into place. Lying to get away with something and not owning up to mistakes are the first things to look out for. In such cases, being friendly may not always be the solution, because the child needs to know that there are consequences of lying to one’s parents.

Bargaining is something children learn very fast. ‘If I do this, can I have this?’ is something most parents have heard. While keeping practical difficulties in mind a parent must make the child see the reason behind certain suggestions and why not everything can be bargained on.

Many parents think democratic parenting is about being agreeable to children on everything. But ideally it is not so…

Piyali Callahan, a homemaker staying in the US practices democratic parenting, with her two children Ryan and Sahana. In a freewheeling chat she says:

“I am definitely parenting my children differently than I was parented in the sense I give them choices. I let them make a choice most of the times and let them also know that bad choices will have consequences. They can choose to talk back or misbehave but they will lose a privilege. It seems to work for them.

But it is tiring; I often feel it was so much easier to ‘tell’ them how it is going to be. And don’t get me wrong, there are times when after explaining my reasons 3 or 4 times I do say, ‘Do it because I told you to!’ 

No matter what the name, it is important to teach your children to make their own choices, while also not easing up on the role of a mentor. While parenting is one of the most pleasurable jobs, it can also be one of the most daunting ones, but with some trial and error, you can surely learn the ropes.

*Photo credit: psicoloco (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License)

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