On minimalistic parenting: How less can be more for your child

Last week, my daughter threw the biggest temper tantrum ever, because her father bought home the wrong lollipop. Not ‘no lollipop’, but the wrong color. No matter how tired the husband is, he always makes time to stop on the way home and pick up a ‘treat’ for our daughter. This has become a little game: when Rumi hears his key in the lock, she shuts her eyes and puts out her hand and giggles with delightful joy and anticipation and he hands over a treat. There is no reason to buy her a treat every day. There is nothing that she needs to be rewarded for. Yesterday, when she threw herself on the floor and screamed till she turned blue because the lollipop was red-and-yellow instead of orange-and-green, I started thinking about how she does not even perceive these lollipops as treats, but as something to be taken for granted whenever her Baba comes home.

We as parents are obsessed with making sure our child gets ‘everything’. Whenever our daughter expresses a wish, a desire or even a mild interest in anything, we go out of the way and occasionally out of our budget to make sure she gets it. On the days that we do put our foot down, she knows that her adoring grandparents will fall for her face and voice, and give her what she wants.

Since when did we become so consumerist? I remember my childhood, where I had to ‘earn’ every single Enid Blyton through good grades, chores done well, or good behavior. Whenever my Mum felt that I deserved one, she would give me a hundred-rupee note and I would walk down to the nearest bookstore on my own. I would spend hours in choosing the book because I knew that the next opportunity would probably come months later. I remember the exquisite agony of waiting for a title I badly wanted and the quivering joy when the book finally made it into my hands.

My daughter needs to wait for hardly a week before her parcel of goodies arrives. Online shopping has made it possible to order a toy as soon as we see the advertisement for it. There is hardly anything that we can’t immediately get. But is all this necessary for our children and their growth and development? The clever marketing gimmicks that are employed, sure make us think so. We are led to believe that a particular toy is absolutely essential for hand-eye coordination, for brain development and so on. And because these strategies play on our absolute worst fear of “Am I inadequate / not doing enough as a parent?” we fall for them and end up buying more so that our children may never lag behind in this ruthless, competitive world.

Except that you sometimes see your child happily playing with a spoon and bowl from your kitchen and ignoring that high quality ceramic tea-set “especially designed” for role-plays. Or talking to a block and pretending it is her little baby and not even throwing a glance at the dozen dolls in the cupboard. Or sifting her hand through the bowl of dried kidney beans instead of playing with her abacus.  Children are essentially creative and have vast imaginations. A little actually goes a long way for hours of blissful play.

What we do when we fill their rooms and cupboards with all the latest toys and gadgets is create stressful and cluttered environments for them. They need room and space and air for their bodies and minds to develop. A new toy is convenient because it distracts our child for a while and we can fall back on the sofa in exhaustion and check our phones. But in the long-term, it is teaching our child nothing about the value of patience, of working hard to earn and deserve something. If she gets everything she asks for, she does not learn to cherish and take care of the things she has. She can throw her blocks around and break her new train knowing that there will always be more. Is this what I want for her?

Instead, what if we focus on replacing new purchases with time and memories? We decided to try that. Her father did bring home something every day, but instead of sweet treats, he got something we could all do such as a ball of clay or glitter and wool. While I would cook, they would sit cross-legged on the floor and make a painting or collage. Sometimes he bought some veggies and fruits and Rumi helped us cook dinner by tossing the salad or mixing the cucumber and the yoghurt. In the last week, she has not seemed to need any noisy toy or App at all. Our home has been peaceful with the TV switched off and our phones away. And it really seems to be doing our daughter good.

The next time you click on your phone App to shop or feel like your child needs the latest toy on the market, remember that all your child needs is your time and attention. As for brain development, a few household items such as spoons and dried beans are more than enough to do the trick.

(A version of this post first appeared on Kidsstoppress on 09.04.2017)

Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo

Rumi’s adoration and loyalty shifted from The Gruffalo to Disney’s Cinderella the minute we got the DVD home for movie night on Friday. It was absolutely lovely for me to watch this movie with Rumi on my feet – I have spent countless hours watching the same movie with my Mum. For all its political incorrectness as regards feminism, it is a really heartwarming and delightful watch. My cousins and I called Lucifer the cat Roostofer and sang along (using completely wrong lyrics) with every song. Now after so many years, I finally watched the movie with subtitles and got the lyrics right! The Cinderella DVD went along to my Mum’s for the weekend and she just sent us this video of Rumi singing the fairy godmother’s famous, fun song.

Here’s the video of Rumi:

And the original one for nostalgia:

When Rumi mothers me

It all started with the loss of a black sweater. It was one of those perfect ones that are soft without being ‘linty’ and super thin but really warm. We were in Phoenix when I saw it at Marks and Spencer and I got really excited and clutched Abhi’s arm and said “That’s the very sweater I’ve wanted my whole life!” Which is only the tiniest bit of exaggeration because that sweater was up there with some things that you  love for no particular reason, that may or may not look good on you but you fancy all the same. I’ve always wanted those long cardigans that you can wrap around your front when it gets cold, and it was the perfect length, available in my size and at a discounted price too! Need I say more? Anyway, THAT sweater was lost.

I get really mad at myself when I lose stuff, and I lose stuff all the time, which means, I am fuming at myself on a regular basis; at least once in every two days. When I misplace something, it upsets me so much that I shed tears of anger and frustration and waste a lot of time being angry and muttering and cursing till anybody who intervenes and helps me search calmly ‘finds’ the lost object right under my nose. (“Devani dole dile ahet ki buttone?” Do you have buttons instead of eyes? – one of my Mum’s favorite lines). It is one of those things about myself that I am yet to fall in love with. I try hard to improve on this. To be mindful and not distracted. To check and re-check. To ‘not forget”. But I invariably lose stuff. And I invariably bawl like a baby and throw useless questions at the husband like “I’m trying so hard. Then why does this still happen?” As if effort is supposed to guarantee success.

And so it happened that the aforementioned sweater disappeared. I was not even aware that I had lost it because I had blissfully assumed that it was in that ever-growing pile of clothes on a stool in our bedroom where clothes, bedtime story-books, extra pillows and other such is routinely dumped. Once in a while I clear that jumble and feel good for a couple of hours, before the next round of dumping begins. Since Fabric Fables has made me busier than ever, that pile is currently a mini-pyramid that sways precariously every time we go near it. The black sweater was supposedly in that pyramid when I wanted to wear it. I rummaged. Nothing. I asked the husband to check. It wasn’t there. The corners of my mouth turned down. “I’m sure it is there somewhere” said Abhi soothingly. A sleepless night followed.

The next morning, the “turning-the-house-upside-down-to-hunt-for-routinely-lost-objects-tigress” in me arose. Cupboards and drawers were emptied and de-cluttered. I enlisted the help of the maids. A few hours later it was clear. The sweater was not in the house. Down came the rain. I was exhausted and angry and heartbroken.

All this while Rumi was watching me quietly. She knew that I was upset. I was trying my best to speak to her calmly and lovingly but she knew, like they always do. I had asked her to play on her own for a while as Mommy was doing something extremely important (eye-roll at my own drama!) When she saw the tears in my eyes, she summoned the courage to ‘disturb’ me and asked me in the sweetest voice there is “Kay zhala Mumma?” “Majha sweater haravla ga. Mhanun mala thodasa vaait vatat ahe.”  (I’ve lost my sweater and that has upset me a little). Then she said in the soothing voice that I normally use to comfort her “Its OK sweetheart. Haravla tar kay zhala? Apan anuya navin. Thaamb, mi shodte, thaamb. Pan saapde paryanta tu majhya maandivar doka thev Tula bara vaatel. Tula kishie deu ka? Huggie?” (So what if it is lost sweetheart? We can always buy a new one. Let me help you look for it. Meanwhile, you can put your head on my lap. Shall I give you a kiss or a hug to make it better?) I was overwhelmed at her capacity for empathy. My tears started flowing like a river.

Rumi went into the room and came out with an old dark blue pullover. Her face was pure delight. “Ha bagh tujha sweater! Mi shodhla. Ata khush zhalis na tu? Happy es na?” (Look I’ve found your sweater! You’re happy now, right?) That made me smile. My happiness means so much to her! And I have so many sweaters too, I’m spoilt for choice. Both realizations hit me at the same time. I wiped my tears away.

Having Rumi around helped me gain some perspective and realize the triviality of my loss; the time that I had spent in being a raging bull while my daughter sat still in a corner could have surely been put to better use. And as with most of my ‘lost’ items, that damn sweater did turn up some days later. But Rumi’s compassion has made a lasting impression in my heart.

On one episode of ‘The Mentalist’, I heard a line that Patrick Jane used to say to his daughter every night: “You are safe, you are loved, you are wise”. I loved it. I use it every night with Rumi: I assure her that she is safe and she is loved and on my part, I am convinced that she is infinitely wise.