Walking a fine line

Was reading this article about a Harvard psychologist talking about raising nice kids and it triggered a memory of  an incident, years ago when my parents were visiting and we took them out to dinner.

The Brat (he must have been about 2.5 years old) wanted to go to the toilet and the OA and G’Pa took him to the toilet where he kept up a constant chatter. Basically he was reiterating all that I told him when I was toilet training him.

Wait your turn. Don’t open up your pants until you reach the toilet. Make sure you aim into the toilet – don’t want to leave it dirty for the next person using. Be careful when you zip your jeans so that you don’t get any important bits caught in it. Wash your hands nicely. With soap. Again. Dry them.

This had his father and grandfather in splits and they didn’t notice that they had an audience. Then he thanked his father and grandfather for helping him to use the toilet. When they were done, the gentleman (a foreigner) walked up to my son and gravely shook hands and introduced himself, as though he was talking to a grown up. And then he gave him some money (I forget – probably Rs 50 or something) and said he had never seen such a well mannered child, so to please buy him some candy with it.

The OA and G’Pa of course protested and said money was not required, the praise was enough. The gentleman must have been worried that he was giving offence in a foreign land and the OA and my dad didn’t want him to think he’d breached some form of etiquette when the poor man was trying to do something nice. They kept refusing it and then he made a winning argument. He said there are very few well behaved kids these days. And good behaviour, even among adults, rarely gets rewarded. In fact, most often, your good manners, your civility, they are your undoing. They are the reason someone pushes ahead of you in a queue, someone cuts you off on the road and so on. So he’d like my son to know, that once in a while, people do notice and good behaviour doesn’t go unnoticed.

They let the Brat accept the money.

One of the issues with letting kids accept money/ gifts from strangers is that it goes directly against our teachings of not accepting candy from smiling strangers. And I keep telling them kids day in and day out, not to take sweets from strangers. Not to follow someone who says Mama is calling them. And so on.

This also bothers me because it means we’re bringing up our kids to be inherently distrustful. That the default setting is that a stranger is untrustworthy, dangerous. This goes against my grain because I’m a rather trusting person myself. I’ve let all sorts of people into my home, readers who don’t blog and so on. I’ve had good experiences and bad, but I wouldn’t change that for the world.

I realise this is yet another reason I hang around working from home when my babies are soon to be 7 and 9. Because I want them to be independent and I want to watch them make decisions, while I watch from afar.

They know that they’re not to open the door if Mama is in the toilet. Not to answer the phone and say that Mama is not home. But if I am home, they answer the door while I stand a few feet away and watch them engage with strangers. I watch them cross the road. I let them buy groceries from the neighbourhood store and bring home correct change. And I know I can only do this because I am watching them with a hawk’s eye. Ready to swoop in, in case of danger.

Had I left them at a daycare, they’d not be allowed this engaging with strangers. Had I left them home with a maid I’d give very strict instructions that they’re not to answer the door, mess around in the kitchen, or do anything that required the maid’s judgment and quick thinking. I just would not be able to trust anyone else to make that judgment call.

As the years go by and examine by choices and parenting, the layers peel away and I realise things that I haven’t been able to articulate earlier. For now, this small simple act of letting them trust others while their mother watches on, is an important one for me.

A week or two ago the Bean accepted and signed for a courier for me. I watched her run her finger down the sheet, find my name and sign carefully.  The delivery guy looked at me in puzzlement, wondering why I hadn’t bothered to do anything, leaving the child to painstakingly drag a chair to the door, ask who he was, open the latch, climb down and sign and then climb up to lock up again.

I think teaching them nuance was important. You can talk to people, you can get to know them, as long as Mama or Dada is close by. We’re such a generation of harried, helicopter parents, hovering around and not giving our kids room to grow and build their  own equations with the world around them. It’s a delicate balance and I can’t claim to have found it, but for now, this works for me.

16 thoughts on “Walking a fine line

  1. Here’s a secret from our household. I’m a 23 year old grown (ish) up girl. My mum still tells me “Lock the door if you are alone”, “Don’t let strangers in” and the very very epic “If someone says Amma or Appa aren’t well, don’t listen to them”. I feel like saying “I know, I can call you, duh!” But then, parents love to do it. So I let them. Love your blog, btw. And in love with your children. Totally adorable.


  2. This delicate dance is very important. Sometimes when I get my 2 year old to open candy by himself requires me to keep my hands together forcibly… Ofcourse I can do it faster but there is something abt letting him take the lead.

  3. Agreed. The key, though, is being around the kids while they are interacting.

    So, no Diwali post or pics this time?
    Wishing you and your family a ver happy Deepawali.

  4. What has always been the toughie for me in parenting is finding a balance. What’s good. What isn’t. What age is right to get introduced to stuff more complex than the ABCs and being a SAHM I too wonder if the time I spend (sometimes unwillingly) is being utilized to do enough or not. I know kids keep an ear out for the stuff we say. They may not act on it when we need them to but they *do* listen and that’s how they learn.

    I guess our paranoia about the world at large doesn’t always have a bad side if it still teaches our kids to do something purposeful and grow in the process. Within line of sight, of course 🙂

  5. Bravo! You are the parent I want to be in my next life. I try to one in this one too but I think I’m getting nowhere close. Where I live fear and apprehension around strangers is the default setting and for perhaps good reason given how isolated people make themselves here. Even a simple smile directed at a toddler can be misconstrued in an instant so much so I’ve stopped smiling at bonny babies or cooing at them. I worry that V is overly parented and cocooned by M and me and therefore has hardly any interaction with rank strangers worried as I am already of the many adults in his life in form of coaches, teachers, extras, friends’ parents etc.

    And how cute was a 2.5 year old Brattie chattering the way he did headed to the loo. Why didn’t you bottle him up right then and keep him that way forever haan?:-) Too much cuteness in one fella I tell you.

  6. When I was growing up my mom was always super paranoid about strangers. I would walk from home to my bus stop and chat up with every slightly familiar face. It used to drive her crazy and I’ve been ticked off plenty! I don’t have kids yet, but as an adult now I am already freaking out about letting children interact with strangers and neighbor “uncles” and “aunties”.

    I like what you do, though. Hopefully I will be at least half as sensible as that when the time comes to raise my own!

  7. Well behaved kids are indeed rare, great job MM. There is always a constant struggle in giving them enough freedom and keeping them safe. It was great of the foreigner to reward good behavior.

  8. Beautifully expressed, MM. As I have said many times earlier here, I adore the way you parent your kids. I would want my child/children to walk that fine line between trust and distrust so wonderfully, too. I hope I am able to do that as well as you have.

    PS: We had a baby girl last week. I haven’t been writing since, but it looks like my blog is soon about to become a mommy blog too. 🙂 I can relate to your posts more than ever now.
    I haven’t been reading much, either. Your blog is the first one I turned to, to read, when I needed a break for myself today, in the midst of all the feeding and time-keeping and potty cleaning and nappy changing. Phew!

  9. Agree with your sentiments, but this part had me in splits :
    ” I’ve let all sorts of people into my home, readers who don’t blog and so on.”

    Btw, what about readers who rarely blog ? 🙂

  10. The title of the post summarizes it very well… Walking the line. How much is too much and how little is too little?

    When my sister and I were young girls, we apparently invited the guy who replaces the gas cyclinder into the home and served him biscuits and what not. My parents freaked out, when they learnt about it and we thought we were being polite and well-mannered! Jeee!

    You know..i’ve always said the hubby and me will be kick ass parents and now that I am actually pregnant, I’m freaking out about all this !

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