I grew up in a society where life has a timeline. I think we all do.
But from my culture, these are the expectations: At 22, you should already have graduated from university and few months after, you should already have a job. At 25, you should be earning twice than your age with three zeroes at the end. At 28, you should be married.
At 30, you should have children. At 60, you should already be retired. And the age after that, you should be so stable you’re literally just waiting for death. [Or positively stated, ‘enjoying retirement.’]
Of course it’s a ridiculous timeline. But often, the pressure comes from family members that something has to give eventually, which means many children my age has to yield. If you have a family that is tightly knitted that even your aunts have a say on things, the barrage of questions never stops.
So imagine a friend who just got married for three months at the age of 25, the constant question would always be, “When are you going to have children?” Or once you do have a kid, the question would always be, “When are you going to give him a sibling?”
These family members ‘who cares for you’ are not even thinking about the cost of education or hospitalisation. They just ask these questions for the sake of asking questions. They’d call it ‘life direction’ but if you’re the kind who has an independent mind and be totally honest about it, it’s annoyingly dipping their noses where they don’t belong.
One of the most ridiculous statements I’ve ever heard recently is when an acquaintance said that couples who don’t have children are incomplete. That marriage life was wasted on these people as they were not able to fulfil their mandates. Of whose mandate exactly, I did not even bother to ask. The statement was not only insensitive; it was plain juvenile and uneducated. This is the same person by the way who wanted his son to grow up and become an engineer. Because he didn’t have the chance to become one, at least he can be proud that his kid is one.
If you think about it, it’s never wrong for a parent to wish something great for his kids. It’s never wrong to dream for them, to guide them, to direct them to a path which eventually in the end will guarantee that they are successful in life. Many parents wanted their children to be a better version of themselves and they shower their children with things they didn’t get to enjoy when they were growing up.
All of these are good. Except when kids are no longer allowed to become kids and have a say in their life; when all the children end up doing, is becoming their parents and not forming their own person. Parenting becomes wrong when, because of the parents’ mistakes in life, the kid is forced to live their parents’ lives — a do over of sort.
I’ve seen these many times — a naturally art loving and gifted kid forced to take an engineering course or a football-loving teen forced into academics or vice versa. The kids follow what their parents say to make them happy at the expense of their own happiness.
Many parents these days are blinded by their own ambitions that it’s often already too late when they realise that they are forcing their children to a life they do not want. They only know their mistake when resentment comes into the surface and in their old age, they get blamed for everything that is wrong in their children’s lives.
Family life is complex and it’s even made more complicated by unrealistic expectations. I’m not a parent. Yet. But if I do become a parent, I know a few things I’ll not force on my children.
I won’t let them submit to societal or peer pressure. I will build their confidence. I will support them in all their good dreams and ambitions and will offer help when they ask for it.
I will not be the kind of parent who will force them on things that I want for myself. I will remember not to make them me but rather have them develop their own sense of self and being. I will treat them right and discipline them well while they are still young. I will arm them with all the knowledge I know; teach them what’s right and what’s wrong but that as they live their own lives, I want them to learn from their own mistakes and build even more to the foundation I gave them.
I will admit early on that I will get some things wrong. But raising a child who takes responsibility for his own well-being and direction of his life is something I will never regret.
I am not a parent. Yet.
But I was a child who grew up with other children. I’ve lived with miserable ones and I saw other children who became better parents. Parenting is hard and they say it takes a village to raise a good one. To get it right, sometimes, you also have to listen to what children have to say. They can teach you many things and there is no shame in learning even when you are already old.