The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Spare the child

For many young couples, parenting is not something that happens on its own. It needs to be worked out — and with enough respect for the child. A report

Hitting a toddler is banned. It is always better to show a positive attitude. Never use foul language. If you drink and smoke, tell your child that what you are holding in your hand is a drink, and the white stick between your fingers is a cigarette and children should stay away from it. Follow a good book on child psychology. Treat him like your friend. Write blogs on motherhood, fatherhood and parenting.

It’s not that rules have relaxed, but new-age parenting for young urban couples is far different from, well, parenting, thanks to an information boom in the sector. Knowledge drawn from traditional sources, didima or dadima or the extended family, is passe. They have been replaced by books, the Net, peer groups, the couple’s individuality and the children themselves, who are knowing and demanding. It makes parenting not something that just happens, but a management mantra.

Things to do

“For a lot of young couples parenting is not just something that should be left to instinct. It is something that needs to get done and be done effectively,” says Atashi Gupta, a city-based psychologist. “Hence many turn to books, not just on parenting but also on child psychology.”

It starts at the very beginning.

“I read five books on pregnancy, childbirth and pre- and post-natal depression when I was pregnant. There was nothing I didn’t know. In the operating theatre, I was completely relaxed,” says Sharmistha Pal, a private insurance company employee and an enlightened mother. “And I knew I was going to have a boy before the birth, because they had done up the baby’s cot in blue, the boys’ colour.”

Web wisdom and books

Websites add to the knowledge. Among the numerous parenting websites, several are Indian. One of them,, copiously lists the several ages of childhood.

“Planning a baby”, says the website, involves sex education, fertility issues, “preconception” and adoption. “Parents of babies” should know what “new born care” is — it’s “all about crying, diapering and grooming, bowel and bladder, bathing, baby’s sleeping, laundry”. The “baby’s diet” involves information on “all about breast feeding, bottle feeding, introduction of solids”. “Child development” includes physical and intellectual development, teething, motor skills, speech-hearing-vision, social behaviour, toilet training. The advice extends up to teenage.

“Earlier parents were not aware of proper parenting guidelines. But today’s mums are conscious about the right way to bring up a child,” says Anasuya Mandal, mother of two, who runs a kindergarten school.

“I think books help parents to know their children better. I follow a book called Time Life Series: Early Learning Programme,” says Tandrima Bhattacharya, a working mother of a two-and-half-year old child.

The bookstores admit the rising demand of childcare books. “The sale of such books has gone up in the last five years,” says B. Kannan, store manager of Crossword. The perennial favourite of the parents is Dr Spock, a renowned child psychologist. Other books in demand are Johnson’s Baby and Mother Care, What to expect series. Some books by Indian authors like L.C. Gupta’s Mother and ChildCare are also available. “But clients mostly hunt for books by foreign authors,” says Sridhar Ranganathan, store manager, Oxford Bookstore. The books range from Rs 200 to Rs 1,000.

Wisdom from the books can challenge the family doctor. “Conflicting information from books read before pregnancy and the doctor leads to unnecessary mental stress,” says Gupta.

Several young parents are having a tough time balancing the new-age tips and age-old wisdom. Who does one listen to' One’s mother, or friends and the printed word' “Parents are caught between keeping up with modern practices, the growing demand of children and conflicting advice,” says Gupta.


New-age parents Debanjan and Anasuya Mandal with their children. Picture by Bishwarup Dutta

But every young parent seems to agree on certain things. “Parents should not be threatening, but be friendly with their children,” says Rupali Dutta Majumdar, mother of 12-year-old Prantik. When the child misbehaves, the prescription is patience. “If my child is misbehaving, I explain to him the consequences of doing so. Being strict doesn’t mean that I have to hit or scold the child,” says Soha Maitra, an NGO-worker and a mother of a four-and-a-half-year-old.

The elders, however, not exposed to such tolerance, are prone to bewilderment.

“In the nuclear family, the role of parents has changed,” says sociologist Prasanta Roy. “They are apprehensive of emotional repercussions if they are too strict. So corporal punishment is out. No one asks children questions like why are you on the telephone for such long hours.”

He points out another reason. “Ads are aimed at children as upcoming consumers and they have a role in making choices for themselves and for the family,” says Roy. It leads to early sovereignty for the child, he says.

Children are more aware. “My daughter will not listen to anything if it is forced on her, but explain it to her logically, and she understands,” says Poushali Mittal, mother of five-year-old Vandita. She feels that while earlier children were more content spending time with themselves, now they crave for attention.

Especially if the parents are working. “I go out to work, so does my husband. My daughter hardly gets to spend time with us. As a result when we are at home she becomes very demanding,” she says.

“I can’t check mail without her coming up and demanding to play games on the computer. She resents the attention shifting from her,” says Poushali.

Sometimes parents are over-involved. “Possessive parents often do more bad than good. The child loses self-confidence and becomes more dependent on his parents,” says Tapashi Mitra, psychologist. “The child becomes rebellious.”

Ways out

Not that there aren’t ways out, assure some. New-age or not, rules don’t work beyond a point.

“It doesn’t matter whether one consults books to raise a child. Parents should always try to have a balanced attitude. A child should be made aware of the limits of his or her demands,” says Soha Maitra.

New support systems are evolving. Mitul Sarkar, an e-learning consultant, left journalism and night shifts for her son Aritro, seven. But when she had to stay in Mumbai for four months for work, her husband, a journalist himself, was a great help. “When I was in Mumbai, he took on Aritro’s responsibility.”

But as she also points out, it is still women who have to adjust their lives when the kid arrives. Sarkar had started a blog called ‘Mum’s the Word’, which is lying in neglect now.

Updated Rule book

Always try to explain things to your child
Have a positive attitude and don’t scold the child in front of outsiders
Question the child about his or her likes and dislikes
Do not shower costly gifts all the time
Do not always oblige
Be patient and do not get angry about small things
Do not highlight the child’s weaknesses
Try to be a good friend to your child, more than a good parent

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