Recently, over a coffee with my friend a discussion brewed up on how our lives have turned out differently from what we had planned for ourselves. In a moment of frustration, my friend pointed out that it was all her parents’ fault. I gave her a sinister smile saying, “Yeah! I know PARENTS. Our universal punching bags”.
“No! Really! I mean who were the people who convinced you in the first place that you were capable of anything. That you could be whatever you wanted to be”, she didn’t sound frustrated now, she was talking in a very as-a-matter-of-fact demeanor. “Throughout my adolescence my parents kept resurrecting my confidence by saying that I was special. I was a bright student, always among the top merit holders. I graduated with a scholarship throughout the four years of engineering. I got recruited on Day 0 with a real handsome package. Though I am doing good for myself with a six digit monthly salary, I don’t feel I am doing anything great.” I could see her eyes turning dark as she spoke the story of her life.
“Where’s the problem then?” I asked her. Pulling herself back, she smiled wryly, “Nothing yaar! Just that I feel I was cut out for something more special. Something spectacular! Not this job in the corporate rut, where I feel like just another drop in the ocean.” I waved my hand, “Oh please! You’re doing much better than a lot of your peers. Not everyone is destined to become the Bansal(s) from Flipkart.” Even though I said this, within I knew exactly what she meant.
A large percentage of our parent’s generation was those who moved from rural India to the cities in search of employment and a brighter future for their families. They had just one motive in life – provide all the possible amenities to their kids so that they could make it big in their lives. A part of their grooming agenda was to make their kids confident and ambitious. The kids were made to believe that we were good to achieve whatever we wanted to. We only had to decided and be determined enough to work hard to achieve what we wanted.
Academic excellence was pivotal to professional success and was considered to be the foundation of a bright future. That our generation defied this misconception and found success in the most non-conventional areas is a different matter all together. The crux of the matter was, that we were made to feel special and a unique confidence was infused in us so that we could go all out and give our best.
I took leave from my friend but the discussion and the thoughts aroused thus haunted me for a long time. Further probe made me realize that there were ramifications of the consequence of a generation of ambitious parents. Teenage suicides due to pressure of academic performance were definitely one of them. Often we read news pieces about brilliant students committing suicide because they were stressed due to studies. Parents of such kids are not always pushy or over ambitious. It’s just that in their upbringing, the part where they tell their child that she was special and cut out for special achievements in life has had such a strong impact on her life that she is unable to come to terms with anything that is second tier. This might result in confused adolescents whose tolerance for failure is as low as attaining second rank in the class; in some cases resulting in incorrigible consequences.
Recently, I was in a conversation with a cousin of my husband who has a son appearing for the engineering entrance tests. Just to give you a background, this boy has been a born genius and a topper throughout. He has always been very confident about his preparation for exams. So much so that he would come home and tell his mother things like, “I solved one question wrong. That was 4 marks. So it’ll be 96 this time.” And often he would be correct in his evaluation. Suddenly, one day this boy walks up to his mother and says, “Mamma! How much so ever I prepare for my exam, I may not get full marks. So what’s the use. Let me just be and not appear for the exam.” Though my sister-in-law was able to counsel him and convince him to appear for the exam next day, this set me thinking. Just because a student has been so used to success at his own terms, has he started fearing being a non-topper. Being a merit holder will not do – he wants a 100/100 or nothing. Is this because throughout his life he has been made to believe that he was special and an achiever? We need to introspect.
Another potential consequence could be dissatisfaction and confusion when these kids grow up, as in my friend’s case (or I must confess mine too). A high profile job, a flat in a high profile complex, one pricey sedan suddenly stops giving young achievers any sense of satisfaction and leads them into a mid-life crisis. Some continue to thrive in their routine but cease to live, while there are some who quit their current occupations to find more purpose of their existence. When people decide to tread a different path, some people get successful while others fail. Mismatch of expectation v/s reality and the inability to deal with the change comes with a risk of a psychological disorder. Modern day science calls this disorder as Depression.
You may think that I am implying that parents should not set high standards of performance from their kids. But that is not the case. Parents should definitely set high expectations from their kids, but be considerate enough to educate their children to keep their feet on the ground. My parenting tips would be –
- Tell your children that they are a part of a larger scheme of things and it will be always be so where ever they go. It is possible that they have a very significant role to play in this big set-up and thus prepare to take up the challenge.
- Along with academic and professional success, parents should also focus on spiritual happiness of their kids. Trust me practicing spirituality will go a long way in making your kids emotionally mature individuals.
- Help them appreciate being a ‘Drop in the Ocean’. It is great when kids excel in a particular field (such as academics, sports, arts etc.). Sometimes kids get used hogging the limelight and enjoy their status at the center of the stage. Here again parents need to keep their kids grounded and instead of instilling the “You are God’s gift to mankind” attitude, kids should be taught to enjoy the Christmas while it lasts and cherish the memories as they embark on their journey ahead.
I know of a lot of people who have grown up with a very realistic view of life. Complete your education get a job good enough to fend for your family, get married and life happily ever after. While in my 20s I wondered how they could be so complacent. I thought that one ought to be ambitious and try to reach for the sky at that age. But today in my 30s I am wiser and know better. I now know that not all of us were chalked out to change the world. Most of us were meant to be normal and appreciate the beauty of being one among the crowd and make the crowd special. Let’s create an environment that balances aspiration and realism so that our kids learn, grow, achieve and enjoy every moment of their life.