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Published: Mother’s World magazine, April-June 2013, Comment

What’s a child’s play without an elephant and a circus? Should toddlers be left deprived of such pleasures of civilized urban life, and how far are we willing to go into this material carnival…?

What’s happening?

You don’t realize how incomplete your social calendar is until you have a child. The ‘in’ gift for a newborn is either a smart-phone or little black calendar book so that the Mum may then ably ‘manage’ her child’s events and invitations. Because you will have that many, if you have worked the new-mother-society right. You start right from when the child is in your womb, and begin collecting the numbers of other eligible mothers from the gynecologist’s clinic and Lamaze classes. You keep up the work until you reach the pediatrician’s clinic – it’s imperative that you take your child regularly there, to amass the greatest number of mums on your database – to ensure that your child always has a play-date or a party to attend.

No self-respecting mum would keep her newborn or toddler at home to get bored. It is a bit lame if someone calls you up to fix a play-date and you have a free day – your child’s day should be free only in event of a cancellation, which may be surprisingly frequent seeing that children have to cope with a hectic social life. And always have a roster of backups: the kind of people who may be related to you or whose mums are too involved to work in such a systematic approach to child rearing. They would be grateful that you thought of them, even if it is at the last minute. And a play-date isn’t really a play-date unless it is well thought out and planned, describing the educational level, skill set, calibre and hosting skills of the mother. From intricate arts and crafts that pop open in a box and musical events that define the dormant skills in our children to more elaborate ones where a little circus is organized. After all, what is a play-date without a real elephant or a few horses or a juggler and magician? Where ideally, a play-date is meant to be a one-on-one evening to encourage activity in your child with a slight nudge towards sharing and accommodating, today, mothers have confused them with carnivals.

You must go with a gift to every play date or event you attend, and it would be best to have a recycling cupboard and you are likely to get as many gifts, most of which would not match the exacting standards you have for your own kids, but would do very well for the others. You must also maintain a gift diary – who gave you what and of the approximate value. You can’t goof up by returning the same gift to the person it came from, nor must you over-spend on someone who gave your angel a silly little do. Of course, you must expect that the child you are gifting is smarter than their age (even if you are internally wishing they are slow), and therefore give an age-appropriate gift that’s meant for a kid at least a year older. After all, mums know that the age on the box doesn’t mean anything – you need to show off to other mums that your kid plays with older-kid toys.

Now if you have socially arrived, or want to prove that you don’t just exist, you must ensure everything that you gift is personalized. So you will need to painstakingly take every child’s name with the correct spelling – after all, parents are prone to complicated versions of names for uniqueness – and ensure that you get the gifts personalized as per age, sex and party theme. For this purpose, it’s best if you hire a party planner. No sensible mum will get involved in the nitty-gritties herself. Your job is to play mediator – between a demanding child, an exasperated dad (it’s his wallet after all) and a scheming party planner. And as a mum, you must invite the whole town, if possible, because that’s the kind of friend circle your child is destined to have. Your child must know everyone. And by default everyone must know your child. And therein lies the path to fame. Simply – by throwing the party. Everything is directly proportional to a better life. The grander the party, the more talked about it will be. Each child arrives with an entourage – mum and sometimes dad, and the nanny. All of the décor must be three-dimensional, because for your toddler, the world is not enough in it’s meager one or two-dimension-ness. There must be a string of games and stalls and events, because children need options today. There must be a spectacular buffet of palate-teasers – variety for the kids, variety for the mums and a staple box of goodies for the nanny. And if you are unable to provide food for the nanny, you can always hand out envelopes of cash – it’s smart, after all, that’s what the have-nots really value. And when your kids go to playschool, one must ensure that we have one-upped the gifts given by the other kids. If they did one personalized gift, we will do two. Paradoxically, budgets are infinite and money is not an issue when your child’s future social standing is in question.

 What happens when that happens?

Children are picking up material values as they go along: they understand luxury brands before they know the meaning of money or even know how to count. Before the child has held a book, the child has discovered the difference between an iPhone and a Blackberry. Apple was a healthy fruit, today it’s products are prized possessions and bargaining chips. When parents are asked to send their children to school with an object from a letter from the alphabet and the child comes in a Ferrari for ‘F’, when children have come home sobbing because of the injustice and severe humiliation of having to show face at school in a Toyota car when the others arrive in Mercedes’; you begin to question how you can battle the problems of a materialistic society that survives on the luxe market to prove it’s self worth. If a child is linking self-worth to a material good, it won’t be far that we have a society of no-gooders. With the desire to get bigger and better, faster and to prove that we are very ‘with-it’, mothers have begun to forget the basic idea of parenting – the fact that children don’t need more than the most basic tools to learn, an attentive parent to guide them and a controlled foundation from which to build upon and become a better human being.

 What you can do to not let that happen….

But in a world full of negative peer pressure, how does a sensible mother keep her head on her shoulders and bring up a child that the world would be proud to have as an adult? Not a child that wears Burberry and carries Prada with aplomb and has nothing else to say for herself, but a child that values human worth before material gain: to make the child understand that it’s not who you wear but who you are that counts. For a mother to decide to be different from the madding crowd and to stray from those that wish to derail human values, it is important to believe in oneself and have an unwavering faith in doing the right thing instead of doing things right. What does that mean in real terms? Not sheltering your child from the reality of the world for one. Letting your child explore options and letting your child know brands. But through it all, ensuring that he doesn’t begin to value the brand as something to aspire towards, but as a choice. Explain the differences between engine power or threadwork rather than revering a price tag. Let your child understand the value of money. Don’t allow your child to become spoilt because you want him to have everything his friend does, or everything you didn’t. Listen to what he wants. Where do his interests lie? For instance, is he keen on painting or building? Then invest in something that you feel he really enjoys. Keep innovative parties, involve him in the party decisions, deliberations and creative ideations. Ask his help in choosing colours and décor, get him to help with cutting and pasting. It will be a fun activity and he will value it. He won’t compare it to another, if he had a hand in creating it. When you make your child a composer, he is less likely to find the music of another sweeter.

It’s also important to find like-minded people: the madness of many as opposed to the rationality of a few. Whom you talk to – with respect to schools, parties, events and activities – makes a difference to the way you begin to think. Your child trusts your judgement – make sure it’s the right one and based on the right decisions. For instance, a mother may tell you to apply to a certain school, “Because it’s the best!” But it’s very important to understand what that means – find out what is special about the school. You’d be surprised how much people consider things that you may not care for. A school may be great for them because it pulls the ‘right’ crowd, prepares your child academically or even has imported equipment! You need to see what you value and what kind of an education or influence you wish your child to have, and accordingly make decisions. The moment you choose for the right reasons, you will find it easier to attract the right peers for your child and surround yourself with the right influencers. Or at least the ones that match your own thinking. Because somebody’s Potter could be someone’s Voldemort.