In my travel across America and other parts of the world, I came across many people who are concerned about raising kids, especially if they are away from their homeland. Typically, parents fear their children will never know the culture they themselves grew up in, and might not make them a respectable and successful individual. Born out of this insecurity, for the most part, is the motivation enforce rules and a strict discipline.
There are myriad cultural differences between India and the US in ways of going about things. For instance, when I had my first son, Neil, he had his independent room even when he was just a few months old This is in stark contrast to India where the child is under constant care and watch of some elder. I remember my mother was visiting us after Neil was born. I would not hold the baby all the time, or pick him every time he cried, as I believed it was not necessary. But mother saw this as a very strange and cruel behavior towards the infant. Per me, it makes no sense in classifying one system as right and the other wrong. Rather, it provides us with a great opportunity to choose the “best practices” in all cultures.
My experience is that kids rebel when forced into doing something or dictated to follow rules. I was well aware of this, and always used more creative and persuasive methods. Like, I knew my kids were good readers. So instead of instructing what books to read and what not to, I would simply keep the right books around them making them readily available. They would pick them up sooner or later to read. That’s how I would gently I would work my way, and it worked well.
Another thing I learnt young is kids be treated and interacted with as adults. My father was a simple man with modest ambitions. He however was a great delegator; he assigned me to take important decisions and responsibility, including making a deal for our new home, while I was but a teenager! This made me think and act responsibly. I do the same thing with my children. The fact that American society promotes “individualism” does help in the process. As a practice, we do not hand out decisions at home; we as a family try to clearly discuss the issue, take opinions from everyone and come to a unanimous decision.
I remember, after living in St. Louis for over two decades when we wanted to move to Miami, FL, my younger one, Samir, rebelled. He didn’t want to leave behind everything he had – his friends, his circle, his environment – and move to an entirely new place. He was quite stubborn, and couldn’t stand even the idea of change. I thought about it for quiet some time as to how to help him understand. It then dawned upon me that, though I had provided him with best of everything, I had not prepared him for a very important thing: to face and handle change. And so, this move became all the more important. We did move shortly after, and gradually Samir adopted to new environment. Looking back, he feels this was certainly the best for him.
A few days back I saw Neil writing his Statements of Purpose for applying to business schools. I was tempted to read his SOP and give my inputs. I could have used my influence to get him in the country’s top institutions. But I refrained. I knew that by doing so I would provide him with “crutches” and not train him to take needed efforts, or make his own informed decisions.
In spite of these apparent cultural, traditional and social differences, it boils down to the same fundamentals, anywhere. Train children to face the real world independently and develop a strong sense of self-confidence. Imbibe in them a sense of rights and wrongs, and an ability to take informed decisions. Once the fundamentals are well founded, irrespective of where you are under the sun, the peripherals will take care of themselves.