Much is said and written about children and their freedom. We’ve heard of free range parents, permissive parents and helicopter parents. Also about the many animal-inspired styles of parenting- Tiger Mom, Elephant mom etc. Each style of parenting provides a different set of rules with regards to providing independence and freedom to your child. Then there are the many adages and old school – gyan on it (some beautiful but mind boggling ones are in the slideshow below)
You read all that, and look around you to find yourself battling the big bad world every day. How do you keep your child free and safe at the same time? Much has already been said on this topic. I remember an interview in parentcircle of actor Jyotika – a famous name in the Tamil Film Industry, where she also talks about how unsafe the outdoors are today and how her kids have activity classes with their friends to compensate for outdoor freeplay. The key (I gather from what others have concluded) is in moderation and every parent learns where they want to draw the line from experience.
(Since, we are yet to get there with our lil one, much of what comes next is about the origin of my take on freedom for kids – my childhood)
When I was growing up, for a very long time I felt we (my sister and I) did not have enough freedom. We were not allowed to wear shorts, we were not allowed to wear sleeveless clothes. We were not allowed to go on long school trips. We were not allowed to go for late night parties as teenagers. We were not even allowed to speak in a language other than malayalam at home for sometime. We were not allowed mobile phones until we got admission in college. We were only allowed to carry Rs 5 a day as pocket money etc. I can continue…the list is rather long!
These bans got lifted as we grew up, so much of teenage was negotiating on these restrictions. (disclaimer: These seemed restrictive at different stages of growing up, because we were around peers for whom these restrictions didn’t exist!)
Looking back (you knew this was coming right?) I realise I had more freedom then, than I was able to appreciate (not that I became a fan of the restrictions, I don’t endorse most of them even now). I chose what I wanted to study in high school independently. I got to choose what tuitions I wanted to take up. Nobody interfered in my choice of college or degree either. I have never had a job that could be explained in a single sentence and that was perfectly fine too, there was no definition on ‘job’ or ‘career’ or even ‘success’. Raised by a strong believer and an atheist, I had the freedom to choose my equation with the concept of God, worship and everything to do with religion. There were no bans on questioning social constructs. I could choose my hobbies and invest as much effort in them as I wanted. I was free to try and fail a lot. I was exposed to all interests of my parents and elder sister, and never forced to get limited to them. (I can go on…….This list is just as long too!)
So I like to club all of that into the ‘freedom of thought‘. I clearly remember the day in my 6th standard, when we learnt about how the concept of divine was used to bring order in civilisation. (How we diefied the natural elements and basically a simplified lesson on the evolution of religion, worship and civilisation.) I came home and told my father, I am convinced that God is a man-made concept and I don’t mind believing that concept in the interest of order and decorum in society. If my child comes home and says this to me, I would probably be stumped! But he was so calm about it, like it is the most obvious conclusion to come to.
I have had role models like Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela. I was strongly against bursting crackers on Diwali. My parents never laughed when they told people that I want to become Mother Teresa. I was free to design my own ideology and my own goals for life. More importantly, I was free to express them, practice them and shape them within the comforts of my family.
As I understand it, all this set the stage for a more honest and open relationship with my parents some years down the line. We were never told to NOT DRINK although my parents don’t drink, so when I did take it up, I didn’t feel the need to lie about it, or hide it. Sure, I didn’t walk around with a label after I had a shot, but you get the picture. It was okay. When my basketball coach hit me on my thigh, I was able to tell my mother I thought something was wrong about that without the fear of being judged or scolded. (She handled it so well, took it up with the school, more girls stood up after that and action was taken very readily!)
THIS FREEDOM, to voice my thoughts without the fear of judgement or scorn is to me the essence of freedom for children. DaddyM and I have had so many discussions, where we look back to how our parents did it, and wonder HOW EVEN!?! How did they do it? As a parent now, I think it is the most difficult and most engaging form of parenting. Our parents have had to struggle a great deal to get where they are today, and they still found the energy to invest in our thoughts. How?! We keep wondering how will we do that for our child?
We are clear in our mind about one thing. Given the childhood our parents have had, they have provided us with the freedom that really matters, the freedom to think for ourselves. They have even gone a step ahead of the values they learnt and provided us a more ‘upgraded’ environment. It is on us now, to take it even further, and provide that and more to our little girl.
We are not there yet, so we don’t know how we will do a lot of it or what rules we will set of her. We know freedom is not the absence of rules, it is about keeping those rules as a framework rather than a narrow set of do’s and don’ts. The world of today, might stop us from giving her some freedoms, but she will always have the freedom to think and act for herself. She will also know that freedom and accountability go hand in hand.
So, our take on freedom for kids is free thinking. We know it starts at home, it starts with questioning everything including authority. Childhood is not about obedience, it is about creativity and self-discovery. Is it not?
This blog is a part of #LetsDiscussFreedom Blogathon. I would like to thank Sumira Bhatia from Cuckoosnest blog for introducing me. I would like to inturn recommend you to read what Misha from The Freshly Baked Head Blog has to say about the prompt ‘Your Take on Freedom for Kids’.