The Parent Trap
February 23, 2013
Raising your kids the upper middleclass way.
Upper middleclass parents must realize that making it to the upper middleclass is not enough. In our national spirit of nepotism, it is your duty to ensure that your kids inherit what you have and, by the grace of God, maybe much more. For that to happen, you should raise your kids in the right way and impart upper middleclass values at an early age.
The seed is planted right in the childhood.
I had a typical middleclass childhood where "adjust" and "share" weren’t merely words, they were virtues. I had to share everything with my elder brother. For the record, he is five years older and was a foot taller than I was at the time. That wasn’t good because most of the sharing happened on WWE inspired survival of the fittest basis.
I once came into the possession of a 10 rupee Dairy Milk chocolate. I could have eaten it alone but I wanted to show it to my brother and make him jealous before eating it all by myself. My brother filed a complaint with the relevant regulatory authority (my mother) because I was showing off and showing off was against the rules of the house.
My mother intervened and declared that I had to share the chocolate with my brother. I disagreed and soon we were at the negotiation table. I made my case that I should get the full chocolate on virtue of being younger. After all my brother being five years older had quite a big head start as far as chocolates were concerned and I had a lot to catch up on.
My brother had a different take on the issue. He believed that older kids deserved more for themselves because they have bigger tummies. I disagreed on the grounds that chocolates are not a sustainable way of filling one’s tummy and that he should invest more in alternative sources of energy like curd rice.
He lectured me on how adopting alternative sources is not solely his responsibility blah blah blah and at this point, the negotiations failed. (This is exactly how every climate change summit happens by the way) We were back to punching, scratching and slapping for the chocolate until Mom intervened for the second time.
I eventually had to share it with my brother.
It was a profound moment for me. I realized at that very tender age that sharing is a silly, childish, outdated and thankless virtue that should be avoided as much as possible. Do you share your answers in an examination? No.
Does your manager ask you share your appraisal bonus with your teammates? No. When adults by and large don’t share anything, why should kids share? Isn’t childhood after all preparation for being an adult? That, my dear friends, is the first lesson in upper middleclass parenting.
Lesson 1: Give them enough stuff
Parenting is not an easy job but we upper middleclass people have figured out how to handle it with minimum fuss. Research has shown that with separate rooms and enough gadgets, kids will voluntarily lock themselves in their rooms all day and will never fight over anything. Isn’t that every parent’s dream?
This strategy is being used with great success in the upper middleclass neighbourhood that I now live. All the kids have their own comic books, action figures, geometry boxes, gaming consoles, PSPs, Barbie dolls, window seats, Skype grannies, private tutors and always enough chocolates. They don’t have to fight over anything. That is good parenting I tell you.
Lesson 2: Help your kids become Global Indians
Folks, I hate to tell you this but nothing is more middleclass than talking to your kids in your mother tongue, especially when you can say the same things in English. Why would you even want to teach your kids their mother tongue? It is so nineteen nineties!
Now experts might say the mother tongue is the language of our thoughts; that it is through the mother tongue that a baby discovers the world for the first time; that the mother tongue determines the baby’s cultural universe i.e. the myths and folk tales he hears, the literary heroes he looks up to, the lullabies his mother sings, the rhymes and poems he recites, the proverbs that are used, the idioms and metaphors that people use in routine conversations all of which form a cultural vocabulary which makes a person belong; that the mother tongue is the umbilical cord that truly connects a person to the tangible and intangible aspects of his culture but let us be practical.
As citizens of a globalized village, proficiency in the English language is of utmost importance. The earlier your kid learns it, the better. There is no need to be guilty about alienating your kids from their own culture. When they emerge victorious over other vernacular speaking kids in the Group Discussion round of their MBA admission twenty years from now, they will thank you.
Every time I see Telugu mothers talk to their two year olds in English, it fills my heart with joy. These parents understand that the world is a rat race and rats speak in a globally understandable and comprehensible neutral accented English.
Our Management Guruji always says, “Think global, act local.”
Lesson 3: Chicken soup (one by two) for the middleclass soul
Middleclass people tend to look at shopping as a chore that should be done quickly and without much fanfare. Nothing is farther from the truth. Trips to the malls need not be all about pushing trolleys, waiting in lines and trying to find a parking spot. They can be really awesome if you plan properly.
As working parents, you have to constantly invent reasons to spend as much time with your kids as possible. You can do that by converting boring chores like grocery shopping into fun family activities. Malls are great for this because you can shop a little, eat a little, may be watch a movie and bond with your kids all under the same roof.
Malls in India are primarily built for the upper middleclass. The middleclass also frequent malls but those freeloaders are in it just for the free Air Conditioning. It breaks my heart to see swanky international looking malls with overcrowded parking lots but empty billing counters. Even when the sale is on!
Malls are probably the only sector of our economy that is doing well in this country. The farmers are killing themselves, manufacturing is almost dead, small businesses are critically endangered; unemployment is so high that the last time a news channel dared to use that word was in 1991, food prices are up, the rupee is down and inflation is eating into the savings of the middleclass.
But what gives me hope is the increasing numbers of teenagers shopping with add-on credit cards linked to their parents’ accounts. Whenever I see this new generation of urban mall rats armed with consumer power accelerating the growth of our ailing economy, I am comforted with the thought that these people are the future of our country.
With new malls springing up at the unlikeliest of places thanks to the invisible hand of the free markets, things can be bright again but only if we impart the right values to that the next generation can carry this forward.
Kids learn the most from their parents and as responsible parents you have to teach your kids the joy of shopping responsibly. Shopping is the art of transaction. Shopping is not just buying, it is about making choices. And through these choices, we are constantly telling the world who we really are. It is a legitimate form of self-expression and it is your patriotic duty to teach this to your kids by example.
To be continued…
Full Disclosure: I am neither a parent nor a child. This allows me to have a neutral and unbiased perspective towards parenting.