INDIA ABROAD, OCTOBER 4, 2002
Meera Gandhi and her
family, Kabir, Kanika
Is parenting in the US
different from parenting in India?
Meera Gandhi does not think so
Having recently moved to New York from India
almost 18 months ago I get hit with this question quite
often from friends back home: is parenting in the US
very different from parenting in India?
Well, maybe and maybe not.
India has a built-in infrastructure of grandparents,
family and friends who share the same cultures and
values. Here, it is a challenge to even remember
when it is Diwali and when it is Holi. One has to make
a real effort to hold onto and pass our great heritage
to our children.
For Diwali each year, I usually go to the children's
schools and read from the Ramayana. Then the
teacher and my child would light a diya and distribute
cookies and chocolates. I did mithai one year - but
the little ones found it too strange for them!
However, thinking about this issue on a deeper level,
I have many thoughts.
Parenting is truly something that I consider a
privilege and honor. I often think there is nothing I
can do that will ever be more important than raising
my three children. It is a responsibility that I take very
seriously. This does not change whether we are in
India or the US.
My husband Vikram and I can see clearly that
children in New York, particularly, grow up very
quickly and so being there for them, is crucial.
Knowing that we are there for them - no matter what -
builds trust and encourages honesty.
The oldest child sets the example and the tone for the
younger two so we feel it is never too early to start
disciplining the children. Our way of disciplining is
also a way that we feel will coax the best out of our
children. Good work and study habits is something I
Therefore, all homework must be, completed in an
orderly and thorough fashion. Baths must be taken
on time to develop a strong sense of personal
hygiene. Children know that we are strict about the
ability to keep their bedroom and study tables in a
somewhat orderly state. This is how their little minds
will stay orderly.
Our children are usually not searching for anything.
From the time they are very young we have
encouraged the discipline of packing their bags for
school the night before. Hence, they sleep knowing
that everything is in order.
This, I firmly believe, is key to future success. These
are lessons for life that Vikram and I try to encourage.
Furthermore, we try to practice what we preach and
lead by example.
We try to encourage leadership amongst our three
children by praising our older children if they look
after the interests of the younger ones. This also
builds the bond of love and respect both which are
some time slacking in this fast-paced culture.
We also try to enable our children to maintain
traditions like the concept of respect for elders. This is
put into practice very strongly when grandparents
visit from India.
Our two older children Kiran, 14, and Kanika, 9, have
a strong sense of cultural identity they maintain by
standing up at assembly during Diwali and speakjng
about Diwali. Last year, when they recited the Gayatri
Mantra and aarti at school, they asked if anyone
wanted to come onto stage for tikka. Nearly half the
school wanted to come up and receive a tikka! Many
children left the tikka on and walked around the
school the whole day with their red tikkas displayed
on their foreheads proudly.
We celebrate our children's victories and discuss
their failures. Both are important but neither is dwelt
upon. I place huge emphasis on living for the
At night I say their prayers with them and will often
pray about anything really good or bad that
happened on that day so that it is dealt wIth on the
very same day itself. This enables our children to
process life very clearly as they go through it.
I remember another anecdote about Kiran when she
was was in second grade. I went to school to talk
about Hinduism in India. Kiran, who was only seven
then said, "Mom, please make sure you do not ask
me any questions. Give other people a chance."
Kiran knew I would want her to look good and her
self-esteem was so strong she took it upon herself to
warn me to give her friends all the chances! This
comes from a very healthy sense of knowing your
mother and father think you are the best.
This is something Vikram and I enjoy from our
parents and want to give the same feelmg to our
children. We were once told that this is the strongest
and most effective message parents can send to their
Someone once wrote the best thing that parents can
do for their children is to love one another. We do not
dispute in front of our three children and similarly
settle their dIfferences allowing a maximum of dignity
for all involved. This way they do not hesitate to bring
us their issues.
Overall I have decided that bringing up children here
is almost the same as anywhere. Our parenting
philosophy can be summed up in three sentences:
To be kind to all.
To have respect for all living beings.
And to have faith in God and faith in themselves.
Meera Gandhi, a mother of three kids, is a member of
the board of Digital Partners, a non-profit
organization which taps the power of the digital
economy to develop market based soIutions to
benefit the poor. She has organized fundraisers for
causes such as the motor neurone disease with the
Duchess of York. She's also working with the Asia
Society. In January 1997, she founded the
International Play School in Mumbai and ran it till
June 2000. She handed it over to the American
School of Bombay before returning to the US.