We call our children our future, yet we do much to suppress their present. In this article, Amina Shakoor explores how the stresses of modern life have changed the way we raise our children and what we can do to give them a more natural, balanced and wholesome upbringing.

Many would agree that being a parent is one of the most fulfilling experiences a person can have. While the most important feeling that any parent can give their child is a sense of being loved unconditionally; for themselves parents could achieve parenting wonders if they simply remind themselves that they don?t have to be ?perfect? parents.

As a parent and teacher, I often find myself telling my children and students stories from my childhood. Like many parents I often narrate nostalgic tales of my parents? unconditional love for me, my experiences of playing freely, the joy of climbing trees, eating fearlessly from street hawkers, and riding a bicycle just to enjoy the wind blowing in my face. Whatever we did, we did with gusto and spontaneity.

On the other hand when I look at the world in which we are bringing up our children, all I see is a chock-a-block daily schedule, a raging war of grades in classrooms and intense parental pressure to ?be the best?. This makes me wonder, ?Do we remember that we were once children too??

Today many children?s day starts with us, the harried parent, running after them to hurry up, get dressed, gulp down breakfast (or even skip it) and rush to school. We drop our little angels ?who may not have turned quite two-years-old ? at the school gate and try not to look back and see if they are okay. As they grow older their days at school become increasingly hectic as they try to live up to the expectations of teachers and parents. They withstand intense pressure, fighting for good grades, regularly facing cut-throat competition and living in an environment where winning is the only acceptable outcome in a mindboggling academic rat race.

A brief run-through of life during my childhood and that of my children and students might open your eyes to the stark contrast. In my childhood I remember being asked to greet our neighbors; today?s children are constantly reminded not to talk to strangers. When we were young a bit of naughtiness was considered normal in a growing child. These days children are expected to display their best manners and at the first sign of a bit of normal childhood mischief we quickly forget that we are dealing with children and instantly label them as ?disobedient?, ?difficult? and ?ill-mannered?. As children we looked forward to trips, the sole purpose of which was to have fun; today my children are taken on ?educational? trips. In contrast to the endless, carefree games we played all day, children today live by the clock and are almost never allowed to ?waste? time. As children we would read ?The joke of the day? in the newspaper; today my students and children are more likely to read the death toll from the previous day.

This brings us to the state of the country that regularly gets in the way. And so today?s children will miss a fun day at school because the Education ministry announces a holiday due to the sugar crises. And when school is on, the same children will undergo evacuation drills to gear up for the day when, god forbid, there is a bomb threat in school.

I think it is safe to say that most of us are only satisfied when our children practice math for hours on end. If it isn?t math, then we are usually most comfortable when they are involved in some activity in which they can eventually win some medal, which of course must be gold. And so school-related work always comes first and any creativity comes dragging its feet near the bottom rung on the ladder of priorities. Sadly we do this even when we know that if we don?t help stimulate and nurture our children?s creativity, it will eventually vanish. The irony is that we call our children, our future while doing much to suppress their present.

p>Parents need to start understanding the idea that learning is fun and more importantly that academic success is not the only thing that matters.

Part of loving our children unconditionally, includes not forcing them to be what and who we think they should be in order to earn our love. As parents we need to be aware that parents?, especially mothers? anxieties, have a definite negative impact on a child?s personality and can lead to insecurities in their personalities as they grow up.

Part of loving them unconditionally also means showing an interest in their games, even if they don?t make any sense. Let their games evolve naturally and curb the urge to end everything with a lesson. Teach them that it is okay to be different and they do not have to follow the crowd and try to blend in.

It is also important for parents and teachers to realise that there is no single right way to raise a child. Parents need a different set of parenting strategies for each child and that should include a set of boundaries which should be subject to flexibility if and when required.

It is time we realise that learning and fun are not time bound. These free innocent spirits should be allowed to explore things of their choice, experience things and events at their own pace and not be obsessively timed and monitored for each activity. They should be taught to explore the world around them. Yes, their boundaries and values must be determined, but not by forcing them into a straightjacket and expecting them to do things our way. We need to teach them to swim and ride the surf and not limit their creativity and independence.

Parents need to remember what fun they had as children and how they discovered themselves and realised their own dreams. And the only way to do this is to remember how life used to be when we were children.

While it is important to acknowledge that times have changed and parents need to modify their parenting style and equip their children with the required skills to survive in this day and age, none of this should come at the expense of their childhood and it should definitely not be for worldly gains.

In the end I would like to share this beautiful poem.

If I had my child to raise once again

If I had my child to raise all over again
I?d build self-esteem first, and the house later.
I?d finger paint more, and point the finger less.
I would do less correcting and more connecting.
I?d take my eyes off my watch, and watch with my eyes.
I?d take more hikes and fly more kites.
I?d stop playing serious, and seriously play
I would run through more fields and gaze at more stars.
I?d do more hugging and less tugging.
By: Diane Loomans

Amina Shakoor is a recent graduate of the TRC-Institute of ECE.

September 2011