THE PAR­ENT­ING PYRA­MID

As mums, let’s pat our­selves on the shoul­der, en­joy our choco­lates and smell the roses for a job well done

New Straits Times - - Opinion - fan­ny­bucheli.rot­ter@gmail.com The writer is a long-term ex­pa­tri­ate, a rest­less trav­eller, an ob­server of the hu­man con­di­tion, and un­apolo­get­i­cally in­sub­or­di­nate

TO­MOR­ROW’s Moth­ers Day cel­e­bra­tion is the per­fect oc­ca­sion to re­flect upon the most im­por­tant part of a mother’s job. While flow­ers and choco­lates are partly in recog­ni­tion of all the cook­ing, wash­ing and count­less hours spent send­ing and fetch­ing, par­ent­ing is, with­out a doubt, the most im­por­tant and most chal­leng­ing as­pect of a mother’s duty.

It might be the big­gest source of pride, or of abysmal anx­i­ety one will ever ex­pe­ri­ence. Yet, it is also the one job that comes with­out cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, de­gree or even li­cence. We are sim­ply ex­pected to do it, and to do it well.

Fret not, the as­tute par­ent will re­joice. Your lo­cal li­brary fea­tures shelves, aisles, en­tire de­part­ments even, filled with rel­e­vant books, guides, man­u­als, mag­a­zines and en­cy­clo­pe­dias, on the sub­ject — the sub­ject be­ing as var­ied as the de­sired out­come it­self.

A child could be raised to be care­free and car­ing, self-con­fi­dent and hum­ble, de­pend­able but re­silient, hon­est yet re­spect­ful, com­pas­sion­ate, com­pet­i­tive, pro-ac­tive and grateful, of gen­eral as well as emo­tional in­tel­li­gence.

By no means do I wish to un­der­mine any au­thor’s author­ity on the sub­ject of new­born nur­tur­ing, a pae­di­atric pro­fes­sional’s per­cep­tion on child health­care or a ther­a­pist’s the­o­ries on a tod­dler’s tantrums.

Un­for­tu­nately, in my hum­ble opin­ion, chil­dren tend to re­write the devel­op­ment play­book as soon as we try to fol­low a scripted nar­ra­tive. My chil­dren never did what any book or guide said they would do. I sim­ply winged it, and I dare say, I winged it rea­son­ably well.

As par­ents, we are kept on our toes, not only by our prog­eny, but also by other, more ex­pe­ri­enced pro­gen­i­tors as well. The next hurdle al­ways seems to be the big one.

“Of course, sleep­less nights with a col­icky new­born are tough, but wait un­til she can walk and grabs ev­ery­thing in sight,” they tell us, or “Aw, so cute, he’s hold­ing on to the table­cloth (with the hot teapot on it), you just wait for the ‘ter­ri­ble two’s.”

“Shar­ing is car­ing,” we are re­minded on the play­ground, while new find­ings ad­vo­cate the merit of young­sters learn­ing to wait pa­tiently for their turn on the swing set. School­ing opens up a real Pandora’s Box of should’s and shouldn’ts.

The early learn­ing years in­tro­duce us to the age of rea­son as much as they bring us to the brink of mad­ness.

“Ha, you know noth­ing un­til you deal with teenagers,” the fore­shad­ow­ing goes.

While the mea­sure of op­por­tu­ni­ties for self-doubt and seem­ingly in­evitable fail­ure is colos­sal, it is also quite universal. What is per­ceived as good par­ent­ing, how­ever, varies widely as it is deeply em­bed­ded in cul­tural sen­si­tiv­ity. Rais­ing chil­dren in a for­eign cul­ture adds new per­spec­tive as well as a vast con­tin­gency for con­fu­sion to the mix.

Un­til we are in­tro­duced to the con­cept of “The Pyra­mid”. Asian chil­dren are, for the most part, ed­u­cated fol­low­ing a tri­an­gu­lar chron­i­cle. At a very young age, bound­aries are fairly wide, like the base of said pyra­mid.

Much seems ac­cepted, a lot is tol­er­ated. I used to watch in awe as a maid ran along­side my neigh­bour’s tod­dler in the park, try­ing to feed the lit­tle one a few mouth­fuls of rice and chicken.

Malaysian pre-school­ers seemed to pos­sess bound­less en­ergy, as they par­take in fam­ily gath­er­ings into the wee hours.

As they grow older, how­ever, their free­dom is cur­tailed. With age comes re­stric­tions.

The older the child, the more re­spect is due to their el­ders; the more life-shap­ing the stip­u­la­tion, the heav­ier the par­ents’ in­put weighs. Pro­fes­sional and bridal call­ings of­ten re­quire parental ap­proval. The fos­ter­ing pyra­mid grows nar­rower with each year.

The com­plete op­po­site is true in a tra­di­tional Western ed­u­ca­tion.

While “chil­dren are to be seen but not heard” is a some­what an­ti­quated no­tion, our nestlings are led on a short leash dur­ing their early years.

Tod­dlers’ ta­ble man­ners and timeta­bles fol­low a strict reg­i­ment, while teenagers are en­trusted with more self-dis­ci­pline and in­di­vid­ual re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

Life and ca­reer choices are mostly tol­er­ated if not un­ques­tioned; the pyra­mid is stand­ing on its tiny tip.

Whether we plan on be­ing au­thor­i­ta­tive, au­thor­i­tar­ian or per­mis­sive, par­ent­ing peer-pres­sure and ever-chang­ing the­o­ries on the sub­ject of child-rear­ing re­quire con­stant com­pro­mise and adapt­abil­ity.

What­ever way our very own pyra­mid points, we cel­e­brate Moth­ers Day (and Fa­thers Day soon too), and we smile at the dis­tant mem­ory of sur­vived sleep de­pra­va­tion, tod­dler tantrums and teenage ir­ri­tabil­i­ties.

Let’s pat our­selves on the shoul­der, en­joy our choco­lates and smell the roses. These to­kens are our de­gree cer­tifi­cate for a mother’s tough­est job well done.

Happy Moth­ers Day.

What­ever way our very own pyra­mid points, we cel­e­brate Moth­ers Day (and Fa­thers Day soon too), and we smile at the dis­tant mem­ory of sur­vived sleep de­pra­va­tion, tod­dler tantrums and teenage ir­ri­tabil­i­ties.

FILE PIC

As par­ents, we are kept on our toes, not only by our prog­eny, but also by other, more ex­pe­ri­enced pro­gen­i­tors as well.

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