I am often asked (and I think many parents are), what I’d like my child to become when she grows up. While the question itself is flawed, most educated parents of my generation seem to answer it with this:
I want her to be whatever she wants to be. I want her to be happy.
This response has become a modern day cliché. Whether young parents actually believe it, or say it just so that they are not perceived as “last century”, is another matter. For all we know, the very limited list of “doctor, engineer, lawyer (and subsequently MBA)” as preferred career options are so deep-seated in the Indian psyche, that even the most liberal of us may not know how these still subconsciously affect us. But the fact that we are trying to expand our horizon….and at least “say” that we will be happy/proud parents irrespective of the career paths our children choose, is a step forward.
One of the few (for me, it’s a “few”, as opposed to “several”) reasons why I chose a foreign land as “home”, is the mindset that respects every kind of profession. The mindset that does not associate success with academic brilliance only. All good in theory, and still very cliché. The real test will be if my child grows up and actually takes up something totally unconventional (unconventional for middle-class Indians, that is) as her profession. An even bigger test would be if she is not "extraordinary" (as per the conventional definition of the term).
I have a feeling that most people who say, “Yes, I’ll be happy if my child becomes a dancer…or an artist…or a musician….or an athlete”, somehow believe that their kids would excel at these non-academic professions. They somehow see their children travelling the world, performing/playing in front of packed auditoriums, signing autographs and endorsements. But what if that isn't the case? The intention is not to belittle any profession. The intention is to really dig deep, think and find honest answers. And if the answer is “No, I would not be truly proud/happy”, then it’s time to train our minds to think differently. Because our children deserve nothing less from us. They need to know that we will be proud of them, unconditionally.
A major part of parenting involves helping our children be “the best version of themselves”. To support them in their journey to reach their own potential. “Their own potential” is the key here, and that’s where things often get blurry. Not our unreal idea of their potential…not our hopes of living our unfulfilled ambitions through them…and definitely not our desires to make them smarter/better/more accomplished than every other kid we know.
Parenting is the art/science of nurturing. Finding our children’s interests and strengths, and nurturing them with care, thoughtfulness and respect. Ferrying them around to sports/music/art classes is part of this discovery. What excites them? What challenges them? What makes them happy? What are they really good at? And even if they are not seemingly extraordinary at anything, but can utilise their own potential to the fullest, they are all achievers. They are enough. They are more than enough.
So from the very beginning of our parenting journey, the focus shouldn’t have been on trying to raise accomplished children. Compassionate, honest, responsible, well-behaved children – yes. But not “accomplished”, as we commonly define/understand the word. Because that is beyond our control. The focus should have been on becoming better parents.
Of the many promises I make to my little girl, one is to be a better, more open-mind human being. For she deserves no less. So while she grows up, I will have my own growing up to do… learning and unlearning…facing my biggest fears…criticizing my own thoughts/beliefs….reshaping my mind until I am more capable of appreciating the nuances of parenthood. I promise to let her be my guide. When she shows a clear interest in something, I will know it’s time to explore it a bit more.
That’s exactly how we ended up in the local ballet school. She clearly enjoys dancing. But be it her age or her over-active mind, she quickly loses interest in things. So we now find her running in circles on her own, unwilling to listen to instructions or follow the teacher. Is that her telling me that she’s had enough? Is that her way of saying “Mummy, dancing is not for me. Let’s find something else to do?” If I give in, I’ll probably find something else that would keep her engaged for a few weeks. But what if I am giving up too early on something that could become her true passion? What if I am meant to keep at it, until she overcomes her momentary boredom? The dilemma continues. And so does my exploration of my little girl’s mind.
So, while I have no preferred career paths for her, if there are two things I wish for her, they would be curiosity and initiative. The first would hopefully lead her to her passion, and the second, to a life that she finds truly fulfilling. As for me, may I have the strength and wisdom to be proud of her, unconditionally.