x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

The Desi approach to parenting

Our columnist gives her views on Desi parenting. Confusing, lax and careless seems to be the upshot.

A few days ago, a story did the rounds on the intenet about a family who visited the Tate Modern in London and used it as a playground. The child clambered onto a multimillion-dollar sculpture while the parents fondly looked on. The mother, when confronted, responded with a swift dismissal and the “kids will be kids” stance. By the time the Tate issued a statement that the sculpture had not been damaged during this incident, the story had travelled far and wide, dividing people into two groups.

The first consisted of people flabbergasted by the parents’ attitude. The second believed children are free spirits who must be allowed to express their creativity.

Not surprisingly, a lot of the desi bunch fell into the second category. For example, a British friend of desi descent (who has recently become a mother for the first time) was quick to pose this question: “Who decided the artwork was worth millions of dollars? It’s not worth more than a child. All he did was climb on it. He didn’t damage it.”

What about parents teaching their kids to respect the property of others – regardless of whose property it is, how much it costs and whether it would sustain any damage?

“Sure, you can teach children manners, but even as adults people forget their manners and do things that they shouldn’t, so I don’t see the difference. Nobody teaches their child to be a killer or a robber, but it still happens. Besides, I have also experienced adults not respecting the property of others,” she replied.

At this point, I didn’t even know what the discussion was about anymore. Were we all of a sudden concluding that teaching children manners was irrelevant because they’ll forget them when they grow up anyway?

Having grown up in the 1980s, I just assumed that – in the absence of western media bombarding parents with ideas on how children should be raised – desi parents did the best they could and that’s why disciplining was more a recommendation than a rule.

However, even in 2014, when you can’t flip channels, browse online or open a magazine without being confronted with tips on how to improve your parenting, a lot of desi parents are still surprisingly lax.

Desis don’t really expect kids to behave like adults. Shouting, screaming and biting being taken in stride is not the exception, but the rule. The exception is a well-behaved kid. The kind who says please and thank you and lets you have a conversation with their parent that lasts more than 30 seconds.

To us, that is a kid whose childhood has been interrupted – and in our circles, you would be hard pressed to find that kid. You would be more likely to find shrieking minions pulling each other’s hair in the name of being allowed to express themselves in an age-appropriate way.

It seems pretty harmless in principle, until you stumble upon the case that started this whole debate in the first place. The difference between freedom of expression and respect for the property of others is not really a concept one can expect a 6-year-old to fully grasp, but it’s worth remembering that the child is usually accompanied by an adult – and if that adult just stands by letting the child literally vandalise a museum exhibit, well, that’s just not very age-appropriate behaviour, is it?

The writer is an honest-to-goodness desi living in Dubai