SOS from the Next Generation: “We need Good Parents!”

Market forces suspended here?

“Good parents are sooo hard to find these days!” exclaimed my teen-aged daughter Dhara recently. She was talking with her tongue firmly in her cheek — I hope!

In recent days, she’s been re-reading our collection of Calvin and Hobbes books, where the world’s most cheeky six-year-old keeps making wisecracks about his own mom and dad (‘Your approval ratings among household six-year-olds are way down’, ‘When are you standing for re-election, dad?’, etc.).

But Dhara’s light comment rang true, generally speaking. As every parent discovers sooner or later, parenting is a 24/7 job that lasts for two decades or longer. There’s no help desk or emergency number we can call. It’s more an art than a science, for which there is no comprehensive, fail-proof guide — even though plenty of advice is available on TV and online (some of it better than others).

Generic advice is helpful but not sufficient. Every parent-child situation is unique, and every parent has to find what works for him or her…ideally, the two parents working in tandem.

Does parenting come naturally? If only it did! I don’t believe in this grandma-knew-best kinda romanticising. For sure, some in our grandparents’ generation got it right, but there were also many who never did.

For something so consequential for the future of our species, there’s no minimum age or entry level or qualification. (As Dhara occasionally asks me, “You didn’t have to take any exam for this job, did you, dad?”. Come to think of it, I didn’t — although, in my case, I did give it a lot of thought first. Honest!)

Dhara with her dad-for-life, Jan 2010

Geeks express it a bit differently. “A human being is the best computer available to place in a spacecraft. . . It is also the only one that can be mass produced with unskilled labour,” said the German-American rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, the brains behind the Apollo project that landed men on the Moon.

Although I can’t vouch for its authenticity, a similar quote from the mid 1960s is attributed to the US space agency NASA: “Man is the lowest-cost, 150-pound, nonlinear, all-purpose computer system which can be mass-produced by unskilled labour.”

I don’t like their cynical analysis of something far more nuanced than their usual hardware and software. But they got a point there. Biomedical sciences have advanced much since the Moon landings, and today some medi-geeks are trying to ‘play God’ in creating life in a lab. I’d like to see how they can get a machine to mimic the 20+ year parenting process…

Making babies may be accomplished by unskilled humans in the right age, but raising babies is most decidedly a high skill, high intensity and highly demanding job. Especially in this day and age, when many kids are more tech savvy than their parents: the Digital Natives can easily run virtual rings around their Digital Immigrant parents.

We have to watch out, though, to listen carefully to what our children are saying to us — and also about us!

By the way, as one of my favourite authors, Roald Dahl, reminded us, “To children, all grown ups are like giants — who tell them what to do all the blooming time!”. (The worst parents in my mind are also created by Roald Dahl’s imagination: Mr and Mrs Wormwood, in his 1988 novel Matilda, which was adapted into a movie in 1996. In the movie, Papa Wormwood tells the precocious little Matilda: “Listen, you little wiseacre: I’m smart, you’re dumb; I’m big, you’re little; I’m right, you’re wrong; and there’s nothing you can do about it!”).

The bottomline: am I a good parent? It’s not for me to judge — but I try hard being one. It isn’t an easy act for anyone, and especially for a single parent that I now am.

Someday, I hope, the one-woman jury won’t be too harsh on me…and may she never need to advertise for a replacement.

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5 Responses to “SOS from the Next Generation: “We need Good Parents!””

  1. Chaminda Says:

    I wonder what she meant by good parents? Did you had chance explore her meaning of “good parents”?

    hum… this is very interesting post Nalaka. I dont have teen age son…but one thing for sure, parenting came naturally to me. It is big mind shift as well. I dont know why, now I do every thing for my son.

  2. Nalaka Gunawardene Says:

    @Chaminda,
    You ask: I wonder what she meant by good parents? That’s a question with a million possible answers, depending on who answers and when. There’s no right-or-wrong kind of duality in parenting, as far as I know.

    When I became a parent in mid 1996, I received lots of well-meant advice from those who were already parents. Some of it was contradictory and confusing, until a wise old lady – both a mother and a grandmother – told me that there is not one single right way to raise a child…but there are about 50,000 ways! She said to choose carefully but take my chances and just stay the course — and not to take all that advice too seriously!

    I’ve been doing that since.

  3. Nandasiri Wanninayaka Says:

    Parenting. It is never enough. Isn’t it?

  4. Nalaka Gunawardene Says:

    A close female friend, who is happily single and professionally engaged, emailed me after reading the blog post, saying:
    “Glad I never considered applying for that job because good, easy kids are also SOOOOO hard to find today !!!!”

    Well, there’s another perspective for you.

  5. Lahiru. Says:

    This is an article that I call as a “ageless article”.Why ?because its relevance is timeless,as long as we exist.I’m no parent and it has only being a few years since I jumped the hurdle of teen-hod.However I agree with your statement that there are no universals in parenting as the standards deffer from time to time,of course if there are standards any in the first place.But I’m of the view that every person should not be allowed to be a parent.I know this sounds very radical and it’s preposition that
    violates human rights which would be limited by large number of social,moral and even legal limitations but I’m for this because people should not be allowed to employ them selfs in the toughest and the most important job in the world without any qualifications in addition to the biological qualifications only to make a mess of it and finally to make a mess of humanity it self.We have seen vast examples where uneducated,low income parents reproduce in dozens to produce one doctor,four criminals and the rest dead half way through.I’m not suggesting that a physics professor would be a good parent than a lay parent since what I mean here by education is that parents should at least be given a basic education on family planing by qualified professionals not by clerics, priest or neighboring parents who made a mess of their own children.This proposal would only be made possible to implement with the help of proper government policies and funding or otherwise it would be limited to wishful thinking of people like me.
    Any ways,in conclusion though there are no universals in parenting there should be some degree of regulation to protect children not only after they are born but also before they are born,by unskilled parents.


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