Simple living and creative thinking are the catalysts that make parenting a truly meaningful intervention. The eagerness to explore, generate alternatives and the capacity to think beyond the given enable a child to grow up innovatively.
Nivedita Dwivedi is an Independent Writer. She is working in the field of education and—based in Mumbai.
A few months ago, I went for a holiday with my family to a place near Mumbai. It is a farmhouse, and is located at a place that is about a couple of hours drive from Mumbai. It is run and maintained by a couple who stay there. The farm boasts of umpteen varieties of fruits and vegetables and is cultivated through organic farming. The living area of the house is adorned with thatched roofs, cow-dung flooring, bamboo poles, swings and hammocks. The décor boasts of antique wooden furniture, an open kitchen area and book racks. A variety of indoor and outdoor games are kept in the open which can be picked up freely and indulged in. The entire place displays a proximity with nature that is unimaginable in today’s world. The rooms are made up of mud walls and cow dung flooring, and consist of large open (only curtained) windows. There is no television provided in the rooms. The food that is cooked is out of the produce of the organic farm and other organic produce. For the duration of the stay, you are welcomed into the family as one of their own.
During the course of your stay there, be it a single night or an entire week, you will sit and converse with them for hours, eat with them and stay with them as their family member. And it is through the time spent there, through the conversations that take place and through the experiences that you have that you will unravel a lot about life and living. Even if for a day or two, yet you will be transported into a world that once was.
You will open your eyes to the possibilities and alternatives that are waiting to be explored, even in today’s times, only if you have the will to do so. You will understand what it truly means to live in harmony with nature. You will befriend the large variety of animals around you, be it cats, dogs, cows, chickens, all kinds of birds and so on and so forth. You will get a chance to spend time with yourself and your family that you had been looking for. You will play with your kids, read with them and engage with them like you may have never done before – with all the distractions like a television removed from the background.
Through your conversations with the family, you will learn many more details about them. You will learn that they have three children. You will learn that they were also once part of the ‘modern city life’, having corporate jobs and were working insane hours. More than two decades back, however, they realized that it was enough. It had become impossible for them to breathe in the polluted Mumbai air. So they decided to move to, cultivate and stay in the farmland that they had acquired about twenty five years back. Apart from all of the above, you will learn even more noteworthy details. You will learn that they chose to homeschool their children, with their youngest one still in the school-going age. Even more significantly, they chose to let their children have clear choices in the decisions pertaining to their lives. So while the eldest one is teaching at a college in the city, the middle one has chosen to stay with them and looks after the farm.
This is after pursuing a course in hairstyling and working as one, for a couple of years. The youngest one is still in the school going age. Sitting on a chair right in nature’s lap, she is most happy to observe and learn from all that is present around her. Though currently homeschooled, she has recently expressed a wish to be enrolled into a regular school. She wants to enjoy the company of friends. With as equal an ease with which the parents had decided to homeschool her, they now let her go to the school situated near their farmhouse. They say that they want her to make her own choices, to learn from her own experiences and to live her life as she wants to. The only thing that is of value to them is their children’s happiness and peace of mind.
By giving the above example, what is it that I am trying to hint? I want to assure you that I am surely not running an advertising campaign for this family, this farmhouse or this way of life. Rather, I am only trying to say a few very simple things through the means of this example. In today’s hyper-modern, market-oriented culture, what do you think were the challenges of parenthood for the parents that I have described above? Much the same I guess that are for you and me.
However, how they chose to deal with and respond to those challenges is unique and very different from our responses. The first thing that they did was that they created choices around themselves, and were determined and driven enough to live by those choices. Secondly, and importantly, while choosing a certain way of live for themselves, they did not close the choices for their children and allowed them an equal freedom to make their own choices, to have independent experiences, learn from them and live their lives on their own terms.
This is the simplest way, according to me, in which we can counter the utmost challenge of today’s market-driven culture. We need to completely internalize one simple fact, that at any point of time, no matter what the situation, we always have a choice. That this market driven culture and way of life is not a fait accompli. That we may choose differently, and that is fine, as long as we are happy with our choices, as long as those choices give us joy and a sense of contentment. And the more alternatives we keep on finding to this market-driven culture, the more we will succeed in neutralizing the all pervasive influence that it has.
What is it that separates a lifestyle of a typical upper-middle class, ‘rich’, ‘successful’ family from the one that is mentioned above? A few things may be. The air that the family mentioned above breathes, and the water that they drink, is definitely cleaner and purer, the food they eat is definitely healthier. The conversations that they have are meaningful, the harmony with nature that they experience is unmatchable, and the peace of mind and contentment that they exhume is much coveted. They do-not have all the luxuries that money can buy. Rather, they have consciously chosen to forego much of what money could have bought them. Are they any worse for having made these choices? Absolutely not. On the contrary, they are among the happiest people I have ever met in my lifetime.
Today’s culture and way of life tries to push us all into a mad race. The only legitimate definition of happiness that this culture permits is a material definition. Success of an individual is measured only in terms of material wealth. Acquisition of knowledge has been limited to the acquisition of academic degrees. Learning is measured in terms of its usefulness in establishing a stable career for oneself. Professions are hierarchized.
A student of philosophy may well be able to dive with you into the depths of human mind, a student of literature may be able to touch the innermost recesses of your heart, yet they find themselves at the lowest rung of the hierarchy in terms of the material value that is attached to their learning. The parents of these students are treated with utmost pity wherever they go, for their children are now sure to remain deprived of the choicest of material things that money can buy. What then is the challenge for the parents who find themselves in this situation? To not fall into the trap that is laid out for them, and to ensure that their children are able to retain their sense of worth, dignity and self-respect while living proudly with their choices.
The next question that arises is, in today’s scenario, is it possible to replicate such alternatives to market driven ideology on a larger scale? Or can such alternatives be conceived of only as one off examples? In order to visualize such alternatives, the foremost requirement is for us to understand the limitations of this material world and a market driven ideology. Developing such an understanding is becoming progressively easier as these limitations are becoming more and more glaring by each passing day. Even for the leading market enthusiasts, it is extremely difficult to deny the grave harm that has already been caused to the environment by the lifestyle choices of this market driven society. The quest for material wealth and an obsession with possessing more and more has massively deteriorated the quality of life. Humanity has been the biggest loser in this entire bargain. Once this fact is truly understood and internalized by us, it is possible for us to choose much more wisely and to similarly enable our children to make better life choices.
Once the above understanding dawns upon us as parents, it will become only natural for us to look for ways and means that will enable them in making better, more sustainable and wiser life choices. We will then actively and purposefully introduce our children to the vast and endless world of quality books that will help them in navigating through their lives with greater ease. This is because a good book is the best friend, philosopher and guide that an individual can have. A good work of fiction has the ability to provide one with a vast range of experiences and plethora of perspectives. It suitably prepares one to deal with various situations that one may come across in one’s entire lifetime. Similarly, a good work of non-fiction helps create an awareness of the world that one lives in and broadens critical thinking, analytical abilities and intellectual prowess. It also encourages one to contribute actively towards making this world a better place to live in.
Other than books, an exposure to good cinema, documentaries, plays, music etc. has the potential of shaping the personality of a child into a well-rounded individual. The impact created by the audio-visual medium is very strong and long lasting. A good movie or play has the ability of explaining deep nuances of a situation in a lucid and simple manner. It not only results in developing a sound understanding but also leaves a lasting imprint on a child’s mind.
Apart from the above, it is also vital that completely honest and threadbare discussions and conversations on each and every topic are encouraged by parents. As the times progress and the physical environment as well as the nature of society into which a child is born undergoes a change, it is essential to adapt the kind of relationship and bonding that parents share with their children. In today’s times, where information is freely available to the child, it has become necessary that parents develop an open and transparent relationship with their children, so that children feel free to share all their experiences, first and foremost with their parents. Parents need to be able to become the best of friends of their children. Only by so doing can they ensure that their children are well equipped and capable enough to live a meaningful life and make the right choices when faced with demanding situations.
The hyper-modern, market-oriented culture that we live in, may present itself as one that provides multifarious choices, such that we may have never experienced before. However, this culture is the biggest imposter and needs to be exposed as such. By closing all the alternative paths, and by thrusting itself upon the world as the only possible way to live, it is actually stifling the world of all choices. The best gift that parents can give their children, born into this culture, is the gift of a clear thought process that enables them to look through the mirages of this culture, and live a life full of tranquility and joy by making the correct life choices. This, I think, is the ultimate test of parenthood today, and the only one that needs to be passed with flying colors.