A good way to define good parenting is that it is the art of seeking to help fulfil all essential needs of one’s child so that it can go on to fulfil the purpose of its creation.
Human beings have several types of essential needs. These can be classified into broadly three categories: physical or bodily needs, mental (including emotional and intellectual) needs, and spiritual needs. Good parenting is the art of seeking to provide for all these three sets of needs of one’s child.
Fulfilling these different needs of one’s child is not an end in itself, though. It is, rather, a means through which the child can go on to fulfill the role and purpose for which God has created it and has sent it into the world. This purpose—which is nothing other than the very purpose of human life as such—is described in various religious traditions in different ways: as self-realization, as God-realization, as union with God, as surrender to God, as the dissolution of the false ego, as liberation from the cycle of birth and death, and so on. Despite their seeming differences, these definitions have one thing in common: the insistence that the purpose of one’s life is one’s spiritual evolution.
This being the case, the spiritual evolution of the child must necessarily form the core of good parenting and, indeed, be its very rationale. Good parenting is thus about seeking to attain a balance between seeking to help meet the different needs of one’s child while always remaining aware of the fundamental spiritual purpose of the child’s life.
Attaining this balance is no easy task. Often, parents mess up by overdoing when it comes to seeking to provide for one set of their child’s needs while not giving sufficient attention to or even completely ignoring another set. For instance, some parents pander to every demand of their children when it comes to food, so much so that they turn their homes into virtual restaurants, where children can order what they like to eat and whenever they want to. For some parents, going out for a meal to an expensive restaurant is the only way they know to have a family outing. Some mothers have almost no conversation with their children other than needling them about what they’d like to eat that day, or even the next day! Such parents generally mean well for their children, but they have no idea of the tremendous harm they are actually doing to them. These children inevitably grow up intellectually, emotionally and spiritually gravely stunted since their parents completely neglect their other needs—intellectual, emotional and spiritual.
Another form of imbalanced parenting is when parents enrol their children in all sorts of classes and courses after school, in the hope of widening their horizons and making them more ‘intelligent’. They may spend a fortune on piano, painting or pottery lessons for their children, or for a crash course in golf, horse-riding, French or some ‘exotic’ South American dance form. After they get back from school, their children are kept so busy this way doing so many varied things that their parents have almost no time with them. In the belief that in this way they are doing ‘their best’ for their children, such well-meaning parents actually often cause very serious emotional damage to them by giving them so very little of their own selves, being absent when their children need them to be with them.
Yet another form of imbalanced parenting is when parents completely ignore the spiritual needs of their children. Some parents may provide every material thing that their children demand. They may send them to the most expensive schools and pay a neat packet for after-class tuitions. But they totally fail when it comes to addressing their children’s spiritual needs. In such families, parents may speak (with their children and between themselves) about every topic imaginable but God. Such parents may never pray—not even on waking up or before meals or even when someone in the family falls sick, gets married or dies—and nor do they teach or encourage their children to do so. Neither parents nor children ever attend places of worship. If festivals are sometimes celebrated in such families, they are simply yet another occasion to have ‘fun’ and eat ‘good’ food and have a ‘good’ time, rather than being an occasion to think of and thank God and help the needy. In such families, parents may invest a fortune on buying books for their children—all sorts of books, from nursery rhymes, cartoons and fairy tales for little kids to detective stories, romantic novels, crime ‘thrillers’ and multi-volume encyclopaedias for the more grown-up ones—but they would never procure a single scripture for them, nor even just a leaflet about God or religion. As a result, these children grow up completely bereft of any spiritual moorings, their de facto religion being sheer hedonism, and self-centred pleasure their god.
Little do such parents know what grave damage they are doing to their children by starving them spiritually. If, as all religions tell us, the purpose of human life is to evolve spiritually so that we lead a God-oriented life in this world and are suitably prepared for the world that comes after death, such parents, by completely neglecting their children’s spiritual needs, are doing them the most terrible disservice. It is nothing short of criminal. After all, what could be worse than being complicit in denying one’s own child the possibility of fulfilling the very purpose of its life, of its very creation? What more damage could one do than to spiritually cripple one’s own child so badly that it ruins its life in this world and in the life after death, too?
Balancing the multiple sets of needs of a child is far from simple. It is a very delicate task. There is always a tendency for parents to bend to one side, focussing more on one set of needs and neglecting the others. Hence, it is very useful for parents to take time off every now and then to reflect on how far and how well they are seeking to address all these various needs of their child and in this way meeting the responsibility they have assumed for the child that God has placed in their care.(Published on 26th June 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 26)