Friday, January 13, 2012

Challenge of parenting is in Unlearning

Vast overwhelming majority of parents want what's best for their kids. There is no question that every parent shares this intention. But how they go about getting that best differs enormously. Some parents choose to do it in a way that may seem harsh or uncaring. But who's to say that, for those children at that moment, that wasn't the right way forward?
For instance, if you have read the recent Amy Chua's book "Battle Hym of the Tiger Mother", you will be surprised to read that Chua, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, who is a Yale Law School professor, drives her two daughters relentlessly. Chua’s rules for the girls include: no sleepovers, no playdates, no grade lower than an A on report cards, no choosing your own extracurricular activities, and no ranking lower than No. 1 in any subject. And her daughters are successful. And then you read about a suicide committed by a Bangalore girl because her parent insisted that she cannot get anything less than 92%? 
Which is a right method of parenting a child? Or is there a right method at all? The same question has been asked by countless management researchers, "Which is the best style of management'? As researchers found out, this is a wrong question to ask, because there is no 'one universal' method that is right for all situations.

Similarly, a parenting method is right when it is appropriate for a specific combination of culture (Chinese versus Indian versus American), talent of a child ( gifted, normal, artistic, intellectual), type of child (hyperactive, obedient, first child or second child), home environment ( parental background, nuclear family, joint family, working parents) and school environment (traditional, montessori, Waldorf or others). Based on this combination that your child is experiencing, you have to find an appropriate method. There is no one formula for all the possible combinations; you must find your 'unique' formula for the unique combination of your child. 
Finding the unique formula of parenting your child is not as daunting as it sounds. Working with a talented on-the-ground expert who can help you find the 'uniqueness of your child', over a period of 2-3 months, it is technically possible to find the right parenting method that suits your unique child. But there is one bottleneck that only a parent has to surmount himself! 
In my experience of coaching children, i have found that the biggest difficulty in finding the right method of parenting is not learning something 'new', but unlearning of your existing mindware. Our mindware consists of beliefs, heuristics ( thumb rules) and mental dispositions. For instance, we may believe that 'arts is a hobby, it cannot be a good profession', which may affect our child's parenting. We may adopt a heuristic to help us make sense of our child's behaviour. For instance, we may adapt a thumb rule that "if the child is not studying, he has less motivation" or 'if the child is not getting enough marks, he is not studying hard'. For some parents, it is this incompatible mindware which becomes a bottleneck in parenting their child.    
Because, while parenting your unique child, it becomes necessary to modify your heuristics, alter some beliefs and challenge some of your dispositions. This unlearning of mindware, if required, is tough for parents because it requires humility of accepting that you may be wrong, and then put in the necessary effort to learn something new. And both require time, which is in constant shortage. 
I have observed interesting cases of parents who could not unlearn their mindware and therefore could not 'parent' their children well even when they were keen. 

  1. For instance, a Ph.D. technologist parent refused to believe that his 'child is more interested in English and arts than in technology'. Because he refused to acknowledge the uniqueness of his child, he could not help his child. 
  2. A parent's heuristics (thumb rule)'that her child is bored only when the teacher is not good' stopped her from helping her child. She refused to accept that 'her child is bored with biology because he does not find it challenging'. 
  3. One parent 'vehemently insisted' that his child should always study in the morning, because he said that 'morning is the right time to study'. 
  4. Another parent could not help his child in performing well in exams, because he did not accept that he was increasing the anxiety of his child by constantly reminding him of marks.
  5. One parent discouraged his child 'in studying Physics all the time'( despite his talent) because he thought that 'everyone should be multi-talented'.
  6. One parent, believing freedom is good for child, gave 'too much freedom' and spoilt the child.   
Parenting is tough, because you have to 'change' your mindware to 'suit' the unique demands of your child. Unless the parent is willing to unlearn and change, the parent cannot 'parent' his child well. Good intentions of parent are not enough for good parenting.

In short, the real challenge of parenting a child is not learning 'the right method of parenting', but it is about 'unlearning' the mindware in time so that one can discover & practice the right method of parenting before it is too late. Timing is crucial in parenting; not giving 5 minutes of time to your child at the right time cannot be compensated by giving 60 minutes later to the child.

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