Articles

INDIAN VALUES

INDIA ABROAD, OCTOBER 4, 2002

Meera Gandhi and her
family, Kabir, Kanika
and Kiran.

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 insist on.

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 moment.

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 child .

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.

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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.