Sunday, January 20, 2008

Cultivating Values

At times, some casual conversations with Ashwini or with friends take such thought provoking turns, I wonder how it actually started. The other day, we found each other discussing the importance of inculcating the right values in children and the uphill task that its becoming in the world today. It almost scares me, in a horrifying kind of way, to think what if I fail. I know (and I hope) that it'll come to us with time, but at this point I wonder how you talk to your kids without over preaching or in a way that makes sense to them about differentiating right from wrong, one of the core values, what many other values boil down to.

One of the values that we talked about in length was the value of money or your belongings, of what you have. Many a times, I find myself thinking about my own childhood. My parents. struggled, in their own ways, to run the finances of the house. They decided early on that they wanted for me to have the best possible education and would strive hard for that even if that meant, and it did, cutting down on other expenses. They sent me to the best private school in Delhi and they were not the ones who thought that duty ends at that. They invested a great deal of their own time in me as well.

Now going to the best private school meant being surrounded by kids whose families were much better off financially than my own. So while the other kids were picked up, during exam time, in cars, many of them chauffeur driven, at that (thankfully the majority still used the school bus during regular school days), I asked my dad to meet me a block away from school on his two wheeler or better still I tied up with a friend who could drop me on her way home. Or when I traveled sandwiched between my mom and dad on the two wheeler, I beckoned each and every God from heaven to not cross my path with any of my class mates. However much my parents explained to me and I never fought with them because I very well understood that we just couldn't afford it at that time, still the embarrassment that a 12 something year old faces in situations like these is hard to take away. But now when I look back, I think I learnt a lot of lessons in my life from those times. I learnt that my 'friends' still continued to be my friends unfazed by my economic status; that those who didn't want to be seen hanging out with me weren't really my friends after all. I heard, at that time, but realized much later the meaning of the words my parents oft repeated which meant that desire is never ending. You have a scooter, you want a car. You have a car, you want a fancier one, a bigger house after that, does it ever end? Does that really make you happy? What makes you happy is coming to terms with reality, being at peace with what you have and what you don't.

Now 'car' is a relatively big thing and there wasn't much I could do about it at that time. Barbie dolls, like always, were the 'in-thing' with 8+ years girls at that time. I was made to work really hard academically, always within limits and according to my capabilities, to be a proud owner of those dainty little things. And even then, it didn't mean I would get each and every accessory and playset that I would ask for. So while it was okay to buy a doll and a couple of dresses (Rs 300 for the doll + Rs 80 for the dresses - no paltry sum at that time by any standards), the dollhouse which cost 600 bucks was obviously out of question. Once again, many around me were playing with those things and I don't mean spoilt brats but decent down to earth friends of my own. But I am not sure whether they felt the same sense of accomplishment that I did because I had actually earned my reward by working very hard for it.

And this continued well into the college years and beyond. I had to cook Sunday breakfast twice to earn Rs 1000 to be able to buy those Levis jeans for that trendy look in college. Even my B.Ed. degree, the last educational degree that I worked for - the two options were working hard to get into Univ 1, pay a fee of Rs 21,000 or working harder to get into a more prestigious Univ 2 with a fee of Rs 3000 and utilize the remaining balance of Rs 18,000 to buy a new color TV, I had been pleading so long for, to replace the 15 year 'old is gold' remote control-less EC TV set.This still makes me smile :) Of course that was not the only reason (or so I like to think), I did make it to Univ 2.

Well that was then. Not too much money, automatically one realizes its value. What lies ahead is the fact that money is not as much of an 'issue' as it was then. Or rather is it the other way round! My brows started to rise, my jaw to fall in shock when a co-parent in ECFE shared that her 6 year old son asked for an iPod for Christmas. Her reply "I don't even know what that is" cracked me up and helped soothe the worrying being that was me. Kids being targeted like never before by ad makers, peer pressure at its worst, video games and gazillions of other hand held electronic devices finding their way into more and more hands and increasingly smaller ones at that replacing the good old playing cards or even the pebbles and marbles or stamps and coins that we so fondly collected. First hand stories of grade 9 students chipping in to gift a cell phone to the only girl in class who didn't have one (and this I am talking about New Delhi, India 5 years ago); grade 7 students shouting "let's stock up on colas and chips" after being kept away from those for just 2 days while on a confidence building camp; statements like "I don't miss my mom and dad as much as I am missing my servant" on the same camp literally sweep the ground from beneath my feet.


Is it "all about the money" from so early on these days? And like I said the worry is that money is not an issue now. My parents said No to the dollhouse for the simple reason that they couldn't afford it. But being able to say No when you know you can afford it is the tricky part now. Its not easy, not at all. I recently started a 'stars' and 'crosses' chart with Vansh where in, we worked together on a list of 'good'(red) and 'bad'(black) behaviors. A 'good' behavior like not disturbing mom or dad while they are talking on phone for a few minutes or with each other, talking softly without shouting for an hour, etc are rewarded with a red star while shouting at/pushing Jiya or visiting friends, interrupting talks, acting naughty during meals and so on get him a black cross. By accumulating 3 successive stars, he earns himself 15 minutes of TV or laptop time where in he can play at starfall.com, one of his favorite activities. A cross means he has to start again. He is way too excited about racking up the stars and does his own little jig when he 'earns' the TV/laptop time and pronounces it proudly to dad when he returns from work. Now that he understands simple concepts of waiting before doing something, getting appreciation for doing something good, I am hoping to start him on what it means to 'earn rewards for self', 'valuing what you get', 'delayed gratification' (another extremely important one - the right here, right now world that it is increasingly becoming; whatever happened to 'We'll eat out on your birthday or may be even on the weekend'. A delicious meal is just a phonecall away as soon as you feel like it.) Anyways, the point I was making was saying No even when you know you can afford saying Yes. As a mother, I feel bad at times when he has not been able to earn 3 stars before his favorite show 'Doodlebops' begins and have a tough time holding myself back from switching it on and looking at that twinkle in his eye. I feel bad when I say No when he says he wants to own a Fire Truck, his latest craze. Thankfully Ashwini is much better than I am, especially when it comes to toys and other material possessions. Doting - yes, indulgent - no. So even as Vansh wishes to have a fire truck (fortunately he is not yet a stage where he demands that we buy him something), we look for books in the library about those to bring back home and read together, we pretend, much to both the kids amusement and laughter, that we are fire trucks running crazy in the house with sirens blaring and he can of course play with those at ECFE or a friend's place. We'll probably wait a couple more months till his birthday to gift him one, by which time, there's a good likelihood of the craze having changed.

13 comments:

My Memories said...

well said neera....these values r really necessary but tough at the same time to inculcate in our children. A reward chart is a really nice idea, but need to have lot of patience for that, u sure have that being a teacher professionaly.btw which uni u did ur b.ed from?

love
deepali

GettingThereNow said...

A parent after my own heart! I am so glad I found another parent who thinks/parents like us. Really, sometimes I feel we are in minority, teaching these values to our daughter. The "Saying No when you can afford to say Yes" part resonated with me!

GettingThereNow said...

Oh, and thanks for dropping by my blog. I am blogrolling you!

Neera said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Neera said...

Deepali - Oh no!! Even I thought I was the most patient person in the world when I taught. Own kids and that too at home the whole day with me has been a totally different ball game. I lose patience like crazy. The reward chart in fact keeps me too in check. Whatever is not on the chart is not reason enough for me to shout at Vansh. Try it yourself! And I did my B.Ed from Delhi Univ.

Cee Kay - Wow! It is really great to meet like minded parents to traverse the journey, thats life, with. Keep coming back!

dipali said...

What a wonderful, sensible outlook. I seriously felt that I was reading about my own young days:)

jasheena said...

hey neera nice topic....even i sometimes try to reward nathan with some of his favorites but he shows interests only for a while..so i ended up giving him some chocolates(which is bad i know)...

Neera said...

Dipali : Thank you! Great to have u here, really :)

Jasheena: Huh!! It can be very tough I know!

noon said...

I just read this post Neera (I can't believe I actually had never seen your site until only a few weeks back - but feel like I know you so well!).
It's a great post...even in the down to earth and straight forward tone with which you have written it...and I think the hardest part is saying "No" when you can say "Yes".
You will great mother esp since you were a great teacher - I am sure just by virtue of being your child they will grow up to be "good" kids (in the right spirit, not "yes mamma" types). I can see that your parents gave you awesome values and you seem so secure as a person - that will go a long way in making you a great parent as well.

Neera said...

noon : Thanks noonoo! I too, like every other parent, pray so hard that they do. The challenges today boggle too much!!

Kodi's Mom said...

I am just catching up on your archives and I loved this post. I love your system of red and black checks and the relevant rewards. I don't have anything like this in place - the need hasn't arose yet. but when it does, I will seek inspiration from you... :)

Neera said...

Thanks km. I know we need to keep coming up with new ideas to keep the kids on track :) It actually started when Jiya had to be taken to another room to be breastfed at about 4 months, because she was too distracted with Vansh around and I was always switching on the TV for him at that time to prevent him from coming to that room. And the disturbing part when mom dad were talking to each other. This sure did help ..basically catching him being good :)

Suma said...

yes, yes, yes...i found myself nodding at everything. you wrote this so very well, and much better too..:D

i love that statement you said "saying no when you can afford to say yes"

that's exactly what i feel too...i thank my stars that swaraj is not brand conscious or yet compared why we have certain things but his friend has more...except for the dratted soccer shoes... but it's bound to happen sooner or later...by then i hope his value system is well in place

btw, you parenting fundas are great...you are and will be a sensible mom...:D