The sacred Hindu texts state that the only real obligation parents have to a child is to bring it into this world. Every other obligation is from the child towards the parent because even with a lifetime of seva, the child cannot repay the debt for that one big thing the parents did for it, viz., give it an entry point into this world.
When heard an Indian ascetic tell me this for the first time, I was furious. To me it was like saying that all the bad parenting was fine! However, now when I think of it at leisure I think parent-‘crimes’ apart, there might actually have been some truth to this statement.
Every other day I read something along the lines of ‘what if you’re so busy earning money that you miss your child’s first steps?‘ – or something like that anyway. Yes, what if? How come I never read ‘what if you’re so busy at work that you missed your wife crying at home because your mother said something nasty?‘ Because your wife is not your ‘creation’ of course, and that by default makes her less special and less worthwhile.
Can you imagine how boring it might have been to be born about 60-70 years ago? You would be one among 4-7 children, nobody would know when you took those coveted first steps, had that first scratch, first fight, balanced on a cycle for the first time, and so on. Because you were probably playing outside with all the other kids everyday, since mommy asked you to ‘take the noise outside!’. When you fell, it was probably a sibling, a neighbour or even a stranger that might have helped. And surprise, the world would not have tweeted about this non-event and about your parents’ negligence.
Because that generation had one thing straight – that your child is just one among billions (only about 3 billion, yours will live to be one among 10 by the way). Your child is not the queen bee, just one among billions of worker bees – all unique but really no different from each other. Yes, they knew that they – you – are completely ordinary. And, more than anything else – they knew there was nothing wrong with being ordinary.
What a beautiful, liberating fact that must have been, to grow up with. That nothing is THAT special. Not your baby’s first steps, not your wedding, your first day at work, the first day of the year, because all of these are just another pearl in a gigantic string of events all equally special, or equally ordinary.
This is unfortunately a privilege our children might never have, because they grow up in a world where one has to market oneself to get anywhere and for that, the first prerequisite is a firm belief in a big lie – that one is somehow different, more special than everyone else.
Add to that the fact that they were probably born because their parents needed something to bring more value to their otherwise paling lives, and needed some hope that a little addition will bring that ‘special’ factor in. So they spend the entire childhood letting their life revolve around the child, packing it a different snack everyday, spending hours making it that special birthday cake, fulfilling every desire and leaving no stone unturned in ensuring that it has access to everything that it needs to become its special self.
Barring the abusive type, this is absolutely the worst type of upbringing a child can have. Because one can eventually have therapy to heal from the pain of abuse, but it will take a lot more than that to outgrow this sense of entitlement we’ve given our children. They will spend the rest of their lives moving from place to place, from job to job, relationship to relationship because none of them will make them feel special enough. They might spend their whole lifetime discovering that their entire existence was a lie – they are not special at all. In fact, no one cares.
And actually, people care a lot less today. One, because we are addicted to ‘special’ and the mundane is not care-worthy, but more importantly, because we were never taught to give unless there was some sort of reward. We were praised for every little insignificant thing we did. And suddenly in the real world, the boss, the spouse, the child or the mother-in-law don’t seem to acknowledge anything.
We weren’t taught that everything has to be earned, and that sometimes even after putting in everything you could, you will still fail, and that sometimes you will simply never get that one thing you wanted, and that that’s ok, and you can still be VERY happy anyway.
There is a simple secret to a happy life – one must give more than one takes. But our children might have to go through a great deal of hardship and suffering to come to realise this, because we have left them with so, so much more to unlearn first.