As the lockdown and the so called process of unlocking were divided into different phases, so is the case with parenting which too is divided into different phases. Probably, I know what should have composed good parenting in this period, but I miserably failed to engage in it.
Initially, I found myself excited and looking forward to the opportunity of being able to and having the time to engage with my son and teaching him things that I always wanted to teach, it also made be happy that now I was going to have the opportunity to spend quality time with him.
I started telling him stories, we started playing some board games such as chess, carom and engaged in a couple of other indoor games. I started teaching him mathematics and science in my own way.
He was reading books and engaging with literature at his own pace, without any pressures what so ever. There was no pressure at all in an otherwise pressurised situation. We were a bit worried looking at the way things were deteriorating in the outside world, but inside the home we were happy. More or less I was connected to my son in all aspects of life.This was probably the time when we engaged in good parenting. As the lockdown continued, we understood the situation better.What I did realise was that we should have done better parenting and that I had failed at the task miserably.
I am a physicist by training and my training compels me to look at everything from the perspective of causality. The quality of our parenting reduced as the lockdown progressed. This happened primarily because of a few causes, (i) as online teaching started it began to take up a lot of my time as a teacher and my son also became quite preoccupied with his own school lessons. The school started bombarding him with meaningless homework. One of the teachers went to the extent of giving her students a scanned notebook comprising of 42 pages of handwritten notes and asked the students to copy it in their own writing.
As a parent, I felt that if in addition to the academic pressure that was already exerted on my son, if I try to burden him with anything more it would become too much for him to handle. So I stopped teaching him like I had done in the earlier days and even refrained from engaging with him via stories. (ii) During the lockdown, like everyone, our daily routines were topped and altered completely, from committee meetings to webinars that lasted beyond official hours, I had too much on my plate. Even some of my son’s teachers scheduled their classes for the evening hours. This left us both with little or no time in hand to cherish together. We were hardly free at the same time to indulge in discussions, shared activities etc.(iii) Growing concern about my family back in my hometown added to our worries during the lockdown. This was in addition to growing work insecurities and policies that could affect work conditions, the risks of being infected with the virus etc which collectively took a toll upon our parenting.
In short, a kind of depression developed, fear of being infected stopped us from going out, my son started gaining weight and risking his eyes with growing screen time and a monotony seemed to prevail all around.
Books were not available, both home-work and tests were now online, classes were online and even a host of engaging games and activities were available online. And I wouldn’t be surprised if like my own son, children across the world find the activities and games available online to be more engaging than those done or played in person in homes and playgrounds
We realised that not all was quite right and there was something which was inherently wrong amidst it all. But despite a growing awareness, we surrendered to the situation and accepted the status quo.
Moreover, the uncertainty about the duration of the pandemic or how long it was going to last and a continuous increase of the period reduced my initial enthusiasm of utilizing this period for sharing stories from my own life such as those about my teachers, friends, colleagues, inspiration ,failures and success with my son. The abnormal became the new normal and somewhat like a machine we started following whatever life threw at us. I became somewhat like a chain smoker who knows that smoking is injurious to health but still smokes. I knew that the way we were leading life, confined to the four walls is dangerous for my son, but still we were doing the same.
And herein came the third phase, a thinking mind, always insisted me to change the pattern. From a chain smoker, I became an occasional smoker. Still I could not create an ideal situation, as I didn’t have any control over the school and the homework, but to some extent I learned to control my schedule and my wife realised that she can use our son’s interest in computer for her research. She started working on a new problem which involves a lot of computation, and my son who is in class tenth became busy working with her. It was like a game for him, and perhaps, this was more exciting than usual computer games. We stopped trying artificial things to keep life normal, along with other stories, I started sharing my concerns and tensions, too. Nowadays we speak a lot on everything on the earth, starting from the latest web-series to politics, sports, cinema and careers such as that of doctors, teachers etc. Without any conscious agenda to give a message or teach a lesson, we have been engaging intensely with our son. We started sharing some household responsibilities with him also. For example, today he has cooked chilli paneer for all of us, sometimes he helps us in cleaning vegetables and other such household things and each time we work together we talk a lot. We often talk useless stuff but we talk a lot and I try my best to listen to him with appropriate attention and to not discard his points without proper argument. At the end of a couple of months of lockdown, parenting a teen to me is to share everything, from responsibilities of the household to concerns about relatives at the home-town, his fear of unfinished homework to my fear of not being able to finish my research work or getting full salary, his ideas about the universe to the challenges people faced during World War II, his crazy ideas of new devices, vaccines, theorems, laws of nature to subjects like racism.
It is important for us to talk enough, listen to each other and discover one another’s point of view. I feel that it’s impossible for a parent to become a substitute of the child’s friends, but perhaps one can try to become a companion with whom the child can freely speak his/her mind.
Parenting at this time is difficult, but the most difficult thing is to control our own anger/frustration/depression. None of those should reduce our patience and affect our responses to the queries, needs and wellbeing of our kids. We need to be conscious about that. The rest follows automatically if we speak our hearts out, speak out our worries, fears and dreams, share our work and refrain from overburdening the child.
Dr. Anirban Pathak is Professor at the Department of Physics, Jaypee Institute of Information Technology, Noida, Uttar Pradesh.