Academics and academic success. Oh boy, these bring back some weird memories. Of aunties with braided hair fussing outside Exam halls. Commercials on TV where the mom pours out Bournvita with a semi manic gleam in her eyes; her child working away into the night. Rote learning, rulers slapping little palms and the Rank systems at school.
“Tune kya answer likha?”
“Yaar iss baar na, pakka fail.”
“Mumma, can you please not show Papa my report card,”.
Growing up in the 80s and 90s, I’ve seen the worst of what academic expectations can do to a young child. My mom never pressurized me to study. At least not overtly. She made the occasional, “look how well XYZ is scoring, maybe you can do that too” comment, but nothing worse than that. But I remember friends who couldn’t eat until they had done their homework perfectly. A classmate who’s mom dropped in during lunch every day (EVERY DAY!) to quiz him on Geography/Science. Class toppers announcing snottily that they probably got one answer wrong. Teachers hitting students who weren’t grasping the sheer horribleness of Log tables. I’m sure you have a hundred such memories of your own.
So many of us were brainwashed into thinking that book knowledge and scoring high marks were to be our Top Priorities. If we succeeded at that, then maybe some socializing/extra curricular stuff would be allowed. And having fun? Ha! That was for the backbenchers and the “losers”. Many an Indian mom has warned her child to study or else he/she will become a wastrel like that Pappu who failed fifth standard twice.
I was no different. I learned to believe the only way to a successful and happy adulthood was to be academically excellent. I coincidentally loved studying, so I did great at exams and years later, got into the profession I wanted to. I was every mom’s dream and every teacher’s pet.
And that’s exactly what I DON’T want for my children.
My 8-year-old son has autism. I write about him often here and how he struggles with his own challenges. So, the other day, I went to a job fair for Special needs Adults, where adolescents and adults with Autism/CP/Down’s and other disabilities are coached about their job prospects and how best to succeed. Now remember that a lot of these individuals have struggled hard throughout their school years. Some of them have trouble reading; some can write but only on a tablet/computer. Some are brilliant at Math/Logic but have poor Reading comprehension skills. Many are absolute academic Geniuses, but applying that knowledge within a job will be difficult. And a few really have issues with basic stuff like writing their name or interpreting a paragraph.
But everyone one of them has a potential job waiting for them. I saw reps from large Companies like Microsoft/Google/Apple standing around, talking ever so patiently to every family. Asking and offering advice about internships and how they’re excited to offer unique, customized jobs to these amazing Individuals. A worried mom was speaking with the Microsoft Rep about how her Autistic Son loves Coding, and the Rep responded with lots of information on their special Program for Coders. A few feet away, two adolescents with Autism were chattering excitedly with a Huge Gaming company about being beta testers for a new Videogame. Graphic Designing/Programming/Data Management/Art Scholarships/Inclusive Music Programs. And so many more career choices.
My heart! I stood there looking around, filled with emotion and hope. Because right here in the 21st century, we are finally at a place where every child, irrespective of their skill set has the potential to have a meaningful career with real, paying jobs. A world where academics no longer dictated whether you would be successful in life. Your passion and unique talent/interests did. Imagine that!
Often on here, I’ve seen moms post queries about their toddler not reading or writing yet. I get that all the concern comes from a good place. I’ve been there, right where you are. Stressing about my son’s limited speech and my Daughter’s lopsided writing. Seeing friends enroll their kids in Taekwondo and Bharatnatyam and Ballet and Sanskrit. Trying to cram as much “learning” as possible into a 24 hour day. It’s downright horrifying how intense some parents get.
But every time I feel that self-doubt creep in, I remember to take a deep breath. My kids? They are exactly that. Children, not performing monkeys. They will learn at their own pace. Some skills will come to them overnight whereas for some they will have to practice harder. A particular hobby may motivate them to pursue it further. That’s great! But certain abilities may never be easy for them. And that is just as ok. We as parents, have to judge when to push and when to step back. Of course, we want to challenge our child and inculcate in them, a desire to learn.
But learning isn’t limited to schoolwork and Karate class/Dance/Piano lessons. Learning happens when you play with them. When they watch you model patience and compassion. When they figure out how to button their shirts and how to bake cookies.
Cleaning up toys, tickle fights with siblings, backyard rough and tumble games, learning to wait their turn at Monopoly. All these are just as important as addition and fractions. Maybe even more. So let them experience everything their childhood has to offer. They’ll grow up into confident, content adults who know exactly what they want from life.
I had a meeting at my son’s school yesterday. He does half a day in a special class and half in a regular one. We talked about how much he’s enjoying time in both classrooms and all the friends he’s made. The teacher worried that he wasn’t getting a lot of academic work done. I told her I didn’t care.
“Let him be 8. Just by being among accepting friends, he is learning a lot more than we could ever teach him.”
Then we both shook hands, and I walked away, proud that I was finally doing parenting right. 😎
Disclaimer: This is my parenting philosophy. In no way am I degrading anyone else who chooses a different approach. Every child learns differently and what works for my kids may not work for yours. So please understand that this post doesn’t intend to offend anyone. If anything, I mean to reassure you that no matter where your child is at now, her/his future will be amazing!

Photo by Robert Collins on Unsplash

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