Of parenting and choices…

पितृदेवातिथीपिता विद्याप्रदानेन पण्डिताग्रेसरं सुतम् ।
यदि कुर्यात्‌सुतस्यैतत् महत् साह्यमुदीर्यते ॥

The best thing parents can do for their children is to prepare them stand foremost in the assembly of the learned.

किंवा तप: कृतं पित्रा प्राप्तुमेतादृरां सुतम् ।
इति लोकै: स्तुत्: पुत्र: पितु: स्यादुपकारक:

The son’s duty to his father is to make world ask, ‘By what austerities did he merit such a son!

After speaking about the qualities of a good householder, and of a good spouse, Tiruvalluvar devotes ten couplets to the virtues of good children, and the responsibilities of the parents towards them. I have selected two couplets that appealed to me the most – one speaks about the duties of parents towards their children, and the other sums up how children can make their parents proud of them.

The best gift any parent can give their child is the gift of learning. This held true thousands of years ago, and this holds true even now.

Notice that I said learning, not education. Today’s focus on rote education does not create thinkers – it creates assembly-line workers. In fact, this system of syllabised education was devised to help people join the factory workforce – and it did work during the Industrial Revolution. This catapulted the world into the 21st century, and brought prosperity to us as a species.

But the factory-based economy is on it’s way out, and the knowledge-based economy has been steadily replacing it. This calls for a fundamental change to the way children are being educated, to prepare them for the new wave of jobs and ways of working that focus on productivity in terms of tasks accomplished, rather than a 9-5 factory stint.

Regardless of the century that we read this Kural in, the meaning remains timeless. The foremost duty of parents is to provide their children holistic education, one that prepares them to stand on their feet and excel in what they do. Learning begets prosperity, fulfilment and a balanced outlook towards life. This is the greatest gift a parent can give their child.

Tiruvalluvar also speaks of how children can make their parents happy. While the author has mentioned a male child, he means both sons and daughters. A parent does not expect anything from their child – but it is the duty of the child to make them proud by learning well, being virtuous and playing a good role in society. The emphasis is not on a give and take kind of relationship – it is about how both the parents and their children can fulfil their respective duties in family life, and thus make a better society.

Even in the Bhagavad-Gita, when Krishna speaks to Arjuna, takes more or less like a parental role. In fact, the role of a Guru is parental.

Just a parent gives guidance, the Guru gives guidance. Arjuna also accepts this, and beseeches Krishna saying that like a father forgives the son, You please forgive me. But Krishna does not dominate and demand, rather he appeals to the intelligence.

In the Bhagavad-Gita there are two streams of thoughts that underline Krishna’s message. One is enlightenment and other is encouragement. Enlightenment tells us what we should do. Not just what should we do, why should we do it? Along with that encouragement gives us the confidence that we can do it. When there is only enlightenment without encouragement, this is, ‘what you should do’, ‘well, I can’t do it’. When actually that enlightenment is alienating. Because people just feel he says it on a high in a model pedestal, and shouts out commands to us. So it alienates.

On the other hand if there is only encouragement without enlightenment, now whatever you do is very good, you’re a nice person, things are fine, then when there is only encouragement without enlightenment, then there is no upliftment. We do not actually benefit the person the way we could have benefited.

These two dynamics apply in a parental relationship as well. Broadly speaking the parents can be classified into 4 categories. Parents are expected to, on one side offer love to their children, and the other side is also offer guidance. Offer guidance also means discipline. ‘This is what you should do. This is what we should not do’. And when children do something wrong, they have to be disciplined as well.

So love and discipline, mathematically – four quadrants.

There are some parents who offer neither love nor discipline. The children live in their world and the parents live in their own world. The parents watch TV all day or have their jobs at which they remain busy, and children do their own thing, so this is last quadrant. This is very unfortunate; offering neither love nor discipline.

The 2nd category is where the parents offer love but no discipline. The first set are negligent parents; neither love nor discipline. This second set are permissive parents. ‘I love you, therefore how can I correct you? Whatever you do, I will keep loving you’. Often this is thought of as if you should love, you should let the person be free, yes that is true. We should give freedom but also there is a responsibility when there is love.

If a mother says that, ‘I love my side and I let my child whatever she wants’ and the child goes and stands in the middle of the road – ‘oh my child wants to be there, I love her and so I let her do it’. Would that work?

Permissive parenting is incomplete. And this often leads to children harming themselves.

Then there is a set that offers only discipline and no love. ‘Do this, don’t do this!’. This is authoritarian and dictatorial. This leads to children rebelling in their teens. There comes a huge gap between the parents and the children. And this is because the children feel that “I was never loved. I was just dominated”.

Authoritative parents are those who offer both love and guidance. Which I feel is the right way to go.

From the Bhagavad-Gita’s point of view there is encouragement and there is enlightenment. That’s similar to love and discipline. Discipline doesn’t mean punishment. ‘You did wrong, so this is the punishment’. No! Discipline also means actually telling why something should be done.

मच्च‍ित्त: सर्वदुर्गाणि मत्प्रसादात्तरिष्यसि ।
अथ चेत्त्वमहङ्कारान्न श्रोष्यसि विनङ्‍क्ष्यसि ॥ ५८ ॥

mac-cittaḥ sarva-durgāṇi
mat-prasādāt tariṣyasi
atha cet tvam ahaṅkārān
na śroṣyasi vinaṅkṣyasi

If you become conscious of Me, you will pass over all the obstacles of conditioned life by My grace. If, however, you do not work in such consciousness but act through false ego, not hearing Me, you will be lost.

Bhagawad Gita 18.58

Krishna gives choices but along with choices he speaks of consequences. By speaking of the consequences he makes sure that Arjuna can make educated, well-informed choices.

The example of permissive parents is there right in the Mahabharata, of which the Bhagavad-Gita is a part. And that is Dhritarashtra. Dhritarashtra was not an evil person. He was very attached to his son Duryodhana who was evil and Dhritarashtra simply couldn’t say ‘no’ to Duryodhana. And because of that Duryodhana manipulated Dhritarashtra.

So here Krishna tells Arjuna that these are the choices and these are the consequences. You have to choose. But you have what it takes to make the informed choice. What better than this?