Arianna Huffington said it best: “If you look at the best research on parenting, what it comes down to is who you are.” You are their first role model, their first teacher and the only person they ever want to be like, until, of course, they meet Superwoman.
When I look back at my childhood, I have great memories of not what I had but a lot of time with my parents and cousins, unstructured time with my peers, my mom’s home-cooked food and homemade delicacies to ring in every festival. Both my parents worked and a cold lunch at 2pm was ready when I came back from school. What has stayed with me are not the presents and its memories, but the values, the grit and the perseverance they taught me.
We were never taught gender equality through books but by watching and observing. I remember my dad teaching us science and maths after coming home from work at 9pm or taking us to Marine Drive to talk about tides, the moon and the beautiful almond flowers that dropped there as we walked. He helped my mom dress us up each morning, put our tiffins in our bags, dropped us at school and even delivered our lunch on his way to work.
My parents never spelt out their duties, but worked to make us their priority. The strongest memory of my childhood was that my parents were there for me despite working, and I felt secure. I cherish the holidays we took as a family because that meant unlimited hours of treks, table tennis, carrom and playing cards with my dad. The destination was never at the forefront.
The presents were few, but we had abundance of their presence. They had little time, given that they both worked, but we stayed in a joint family and perhaps with fewer distractions, there was always more time.
Today as busy parents we fill our child’s time slots with gifts, education and entertainment that money can buy versus what we actually need to give—our time. The time we have today is limited, given that both parents must work to make ends meet and live their ambitions. I have never shied away from being a full-time working mom and never want to blame my kids for giving up on my dreams.
Let’s look at a few things that make it exciting, harder and empowering for us millennials versus our parents.
We want to be equal and break stereotypes: I know how parents resonate with us when we share quotes on our Instagram feed like, “When dads watch their kids, it’s called parenting and not babysitting.” We expect equality.
We are more than parents: We want to pursue our passions whether it is a hobby that turns into a career or fitness or travelling. We want to be more than parents and that is okay. We are not a generation of people that wants to make sacrifices or have regrets either.
Paradox of choice: Anything that you throw at Google, like why does my child have a rash, even at 2am, gives you a billion results in 0.12 seconds and it is adding to the confusion you already have. If you need a baby monitor, there is one with audio, video, soft voice, with lullaby and without one and with phone access and without. Without a doubt, we are raising a generation of empowered and informed parents. But with all this information and choice, we need to, as parents, not forget our intuition and know our child. We need to understand that there is a far stronger connection and bond that technology may fail to create.
Risk takers: Millennial parents are not scared to take risks, whether it is experimenting with a way of upbringing, like going off an essential food product like dairy and raising vegan kids, trying a different method of education altogether, letting kids pursue their passion like sports and pulling them out of conventional day schools and choosing sports schools or even risking their own set jobs to pursue their passion or embark on entrepreneurship.
Perfecting the art and the urgency to fix: If you are often caught using the phrase “but our generation was so diligent and hardworking”, it is because as millennials we are born to be perfecting every piece that we own and our work is our pride. When these perfect people want to raise perfect kids who are just as diligent as they are it may be hard because kids are not projects and there is no syllabus to achieve the perfect score. When we struggle to ‘fix’ them, it causes a lot of anxiety.
A distracted juggler: As millennial parents, our aim is to perfect the art of multitasking and then pay up for a session of mindfulness. We are a breed that takes pride in sending that important client email while the kids are howling in the background and we give them an iPad to quickly get done with the email only to snatch it back the moment we press 'send'.
Templates and spreadsheets: Our life as kids and most of the life skills we learnt were not from structured play but playing with cousins who were older and bullied us fondly or with peers and friends in the building. Our childhood missed the structure and perhaps there were no templates to download back then to make it perfect. I must share here that when I had my little one, and I downloaded a breastfeeding app, my mom almost laughed at the fact that I keyed in the amount of time I nursed and how the app helped analyse it. She urged me to take a nap or do my laundry instead and just feed on demand. Practical and simple advice!
Raising a Vitamin D3 deficient generation: We find these deficiencies strange only to realise that a lot has changed and I am guilty as charged. With my kids on a four-week D3 supplement, I sit and wonder where did I get mine from? Perhaps because my mom screamed and begged me to come up each evening while I was playing in the building. I am equally thankful for the sachets, all the substitutes and especially the advanced medical care that we have as millennials. Kudos to our paediatricians who are available on call or WhatsApp 24/7.
Out of the closet: We are privileged to find out about symptoms and signs earlier on to ensure we provide our child with the best care versus letting them suffer through their lives. We are not afraid to ask for help or take our less-abled child in public for the shaming that comes with it. We are more empowered and more connected to know that this too can be addressed.
Value the intangible: In the quest to give the best and provide the best, we have started accumulating all that we don’t need and then we get caught in a hamster wheel where we need a bigger house because we can't fit everything in. We value the number of likes and followers and spend hours of family time to take that perfect picture to please people who we’ve never met.
The perils of a sandwich generation: The millennials definitely have a tough job and I am sure every generation went through this, but it means taking time out to nurse your ailing parents and take care of your kids, too.
Tick tock: Not the new Chinese app that’s getting people crazy but time is precious and millennial parents have the least of it. For my mom, when I came home and shared my stories of the day, I know she was looking forward to each one of them. But I know when I call my kids at 2pm during lunch, my next statement after “Hey, how was your day?” would be a series of instructions and a job list that needs to be accomplished before I am home. I also realised that for my mom, I was a priority, just like it is for our kids, a moment of being fully present because for them there are no distractions like us.
Fit in: Millennial parents are constantly trying to fit in with their social setups, from the classes their kids take, to the school their kids make it to, to the summer holiday destination they picked and whose guest list they made it to. All our decisions are largely governed by the circle we would fit into than what our child really wants to do or what is right for them. We as millennial parents are alpha parents and we need to be in control.
Ease the addiction: Do you ever remember our parents discussing screen time at every opportunity they would get with their friends? No, they had better things to discuss. But for us we are all so intimidated by the screen time concept and how others are getting it right. As a kid, I remember just watching two shows one of which was Dekh Bhai Dekh and one was One Minute Games. And I am on your side here before you dismiss me and say, but our times were different. Absolutely we have more OTT apps today than we had shows to watch as kids. But what did matter and is a constant is that we watched those shows as a family. And today, when I watch movies or shows, I watch it with my kids. It’s a conversation starter for us. If you want to ease the addiction just let it be the start of engagement for you and your child.
While we may turn to the internet for everything, there are certain aspects that unfortunately need expert advice and cannot be outsourced or shared on social media.
As an early millennial parent, I perhaps miss the trial and error of parenting with the art of having a sure-shot answer to every solution. We rely more on technology to give us answers and they seem to pacify us more than what our parents tell us. The phrase—Mom, you don’t know because your times were different—is a stronger part of our narrative than any other generation. I am keen on seeing how we do as parents and how this generation that is raised by so many different hands—the biggest one being technology—turns out to be.
Zaveri is founder and CEO of kidsstoppress.com.