The crucial early years of childhood are called the formative years. It forms the person and once formed, it becomes extremely difficult to change in adulthood. One of the biggest influencers of the formative years are none other than parents.
Hence, I am as fascinated by the subject of parenting as the subject of mind-sets and behaviours. Being a father of a set of teenagers, the question that keeps popping in my head is “When it comes to parenting, are we doing a better job than what our parents did?” There are two ways of looking at it – input and outcome. From an input perspective, we today tend to do quite a bit more. We attend more parent-teacher meetings and ask more questions of the teachers. I don’t recall much parent teacher meetings wherein my father would be in my school trying to find out in detail of how his ward was doing! We also spend a lot more time with our kids whether it be studying, eating out or watching movies. From an input perspective, we seem to be doing better but again that assumes more is better.
Things become fuzzier when we look at the outcome rather than input. Are our kids better behaved in general than what we were growing up? Are they more disciplined? Are they better human beings? Are they happier? Are they less stressed? There are no clear answers to those questions. Many will argue that it has a lot to do with the external environment – that even with good parenting, children today may turn out worse (e.g. unhappy, stressed etc.) purely as a function of things outside our control. While this may be true somewhat, I do not entirely buy this line of thinking. Just like in organizations where management is eventually responsible for the health of the organization, parents are eventually responsible for how their kids turn out as human beings. End of the day, parenting is really about leadership.
Once we take ownership and not blame the environment, it seems that we are not doing a better job than what our parents did. At best, we are doing the job as good as our parents. But why is that? Aren’t all the ‘quality time’ (doubt if my parents even knew of that term!!) helping? What about all the protection we are giving to our kids? We protect them financially, physically, socially, emotionally just so that they don’t fail. Isn’t that helping?
There is a beautiful story of how the eagle helps its young to fly. Once the eaglets were sufficiently grown, they would not fly on their own. The mother, despite her fears, knew it was time. Her parental mission was all but complete. There remained one final task – The PUSH. The eagle drew courage from an innate wisdom. Her children had to discover their wings and they needed to soar. The push was the greatest gift she had to offer. It was her supreme act of love. So, one by one, she pushed them. And they flew!
It seems that in the process of being protective, overprotective rather, we are only hampering the process of our children discovering their wings. We need to learn to let go. However, it’s easier said than done. It runs counter-intuitive to our notion of helping and protecting our children. Instead of helping them to fly, we become the ‘helicopter parents’ – constantly hovering over our children. Helicopter parenting only ends up with doing more disservice to our children.