As parents of a 15-year-old boy, we constantly like to remind him of how privileged he is. Not a day goes by that we do not extol his access to diverse resources. This is then contrasted with the sparse and limited options in our childhood. The lack of material things in our childhood is spun in two broad ways depending on whether we want to make him feel guilty of not being productive or demonstrate the lack of social contact among today’s youth.
So it is either the “We can take the horse to the water” speech or “In our days, we spent most of our evenings and holidays outdoors with our friends and not watching Formula One on YouTube” spiel. “Amma, please! I have heard enough about the exquisite eighties and nostalgic nineties,” he says in mock pain with his hands up in the air.
Every now and then, articles on good parenting jolt us. Perhaps, we are overdoing our lectures and pressurising the apple of our eye? A brief pause to introspect ensues on how to balance motivating your child versus gently nudging him. It doesn’t last too long. A roll of his eye when asked to do the dishes is enough to set me off on another one of those “when I was your age” monologues. Often, I wonder if we are alienating him.
Recently, we were driving to a shopping mall. My husband and I were in the front and the sermon was on attitude, drive and effort. As usual, we were completing each other’s sentences and were on a high, since it is pretty easy to feel good while dispensing free advice.
The son, sitting in the back, was mostly quiet and occasionally making some noise that we conveniently interpreted as “my parents know what they are talking about”. Lecture complete, we forgot about the son and got into a lengthy discussion about our newborn nephew.
Suddenly, I hear his voice from the back. “Amma, whom do you love the most in the world?” “Your dad,” I say. Son clarifies, “Amma, I am asking you a serious question.” I confirm, “Yes, and I am telling you my answer”. This goes on for a while. Since it is dark, he doesn’t see my smile. Nor does he sense my tone.
At the shopping centre, it’s his favourite job to find a trolley and push it along as he imagines it to be a Formula One car. Prior conversations forgotten, I get busy shopping. He gets busy fetching things for me in his “race car”. Towards the end, he hands over the trolley to his father, strolls over and puts his arm around me pulling me towards an aisle.
“Amma, did you really mean it when you said you loved dad more than me?” He is serious and sincere at the same time. “Of course not, bangara, you are my favourite. You know that,” I say holding him close. The relief is palpable. No further conversation is needed. He runs off, grabs the trolley from his father and starts speeding towards the billing aisle.
As I watch him steering his imaginary race car through the crowded store oblivious to everything else, I feel happy and relieved at the same time. I am convinced that we haven’t alienated him. Yet.