A little less self-focussed, a little more caring

I remember last year, we were at my daughter’s friend’s birthday party. It was a ‘Frozen’ themed party. The enthusiastic parents had left no stone unturned in giving their daughter, a birthday of her dreams. A spacious banquet hall of a four-star hotel was booked. They adorned it with shiny silver and aqua curtains, crystal chandeliers, a huge blue Elsa doll birthday cake in the middle of the hall and a sea of every other thing imaginable in shiny blue and silver. But the center of attraction was the birthday girl herself, dressed as Elsa. It all created an ethereal feel for the guests. But later I got to hear from the girl’s mom, how they had a post-party let down. While they had given costly Frozen-themed return gifts to all the kids who attended the party, most of the gifts the girl received were off-the-shelf chocolate bars. They expected better! Apparently, it didn’t matter that the party was a hit among guests. Truth was that both the child and her parents were disappointed!

After attending a couple of such theme parties, my little girl is raring for a grand one this year. Personally, I’ve never thrown a grand party for my daughter because modesty (call it laziness) is more up my alley. Besides, I want to cut back on extra expenditure this year, now that our baby No.2 has arrived. So, I tell my little girl that instead of wasting too much money, energy and time on a one-evening pomp and show, we can have a cute little party at home. My daughter is aghast. She thinks that I am the worst mother in the world!

This got me thinking. Am I raising a self-focused child, oblivious to other peoples’ needs and difficulties? Aren’t our kids growing up with a narcissistic sense of entitlement; that they are special and that they will get what they demand from their parents? We live in a world of selfies, self-absorption and exhibitionism were ‘self’ is celebrated above everything else.

We aren’t teaching our kids enough, to differentiate between their wants and needs. More often than not, we over-indulge them in luxuries even if we don’t come from affluent backgrounds. I remember Saramma aunty from our neighborhood. An astute mother, she had devised an ingenious method of making her kids more responsible. She would assign a certain sum of money for each household chore, like washing utensils, sweeping the floor, washing clothes, helping in cooking etc. The child who did a certain chore would get that fixed sum as pocket money. She would praise the child who has been the most diligent in doing the given job. Each of her children had their own personal piggy banks. By making them willingly take part in household duties, she taught them the value of earning by doing, the importance of saving and self-respect.

Recently, I had deliberately involved my daughter in giving away her old toys and stuffed animals to a nearby charity-run creche. My five year old has problems sharing her stuff with other kids because she has been a single child for the most part of her life. Initially, she was very reluctant. But she changed her mind as soon as she saw little faces beaming in delight upon seeing her toys. I appreciated her for that small act of sharing. And guess what! That simple initiative from my part produced a positive outcome the very next day. Coming from school, my little girl told me how she had shared her favorite snack with the kids in her class instead of eating it all by herself. I have realized that teaching children kindness is after all, not very difficult. Even a simple act such as giving a day off to your domestic help on a holiday and involving your children in cooking for the family can be a worthy lesson in kindness.

I have this ‘foot in the mouth’ condition. Many often I find my little girl using the exact same bad words that I use in my adult conversations, in the exact same tone of my voice. Also, I find myself spending a lot of time with eyes glued to my phone? Sometimes, it gets me thinking. What message am I giving my child? Am I being a good role model for her?

Being a parent is difficult. I know I will get judged by my kids whether I lead them this way or that. Nevertheless, I want to raise them a little less self-focused; so that they may not remain cocooned in their self-absorbed little corners, unable to handle the slightest of life’s challenges.

A shorter version of this article was published in The Hindu Open Page, dated 11/2/2018. http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/less-self-focussed-more-caring/article22715761.ece

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