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Parenting: Raising Contemporary Children

By Bhagirath Majmudar, M.D. Email By Bhagirath Majmudar, M.D.
May 2023
Parenting: Raising Contemporary Children

Beware of the pitfalls of antiquated styles and values in raising a modern generation whose sensibilities and aspirations are rapidly changing.

Many of us came to this country with the hope of providing better opportunities for our children. We focused on lucrative STEM careers and sent our children to the most prestigious schools. They fulfilled our dreams. We were proud. So far, so good, but then suddenly...

Our children’s aspirations began to change. They are now exploring alternative paths to happiness that do not always include degrees in medicine, law, or engineering. Not only is the younger generation choosing careers in art, music, history, and other non-STEM careers, but many are also experimenting with unconventional choices such as taking a gap year to travel.

This is causing an increasing chasm between a generation raised in the U.S. and their parents who were either born and raised in India or were greatly influenced by the values of their first-generation immigrant parents.

What can these parents do? What must they do? Since love, in essence, is understanding and accommodating, if we truly love our children, our challenge is to bridge the generational gap and support their evolving aspirations.

Parenting considerations of a bygone era no longer apply

As parents, we must acknowledge that the past we have held close as an image of India is becoming irrelevant to the present in this country. Medicine and engineering are not the only career choices anymore. Our young generation is exposed to a whole array of viable options. But many parents, still stuck in the value system of a bygone era, are too concerned about the implication of an uncertain future in what their children may choose. This is a trait we have inherited from our parents and grandparents who spent their entire lives thinking about our future. The fact is that the trajectory of professions is no longer predictable but, rather, it is constantly evolving, and therefore fleeting.

In the words of William Shakespeare, “The old order changeth giving place to new.” As parents, we need to understand and accommodate our children’s changing sensibilities regarding careers. We can take inspiration from our ancient system of Swayamvara, where a prospective bride is introduced to a number of well-chosen suitors but, ultimately, she is the one to decide who she will choose to marry. Similarly, we must facilitate open forum discussions where children can learn about a variety of professions but ultimately pick what they are passionate about. As former President Franklin Roosevelt said, “We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.”

Balancing money with quality of life

Most first-generation immigrant Indian parents grew up in a time and place of scarcity. Financial security, therefore, became the overarching need and goal for this generation. Things have changed now. Parents must reconsider the emphasis on money as the prime consideration for careers. For our growing young generation, money is not the be-all and end-all. They feel that their parents have wasted their lives in blind pursuit of endless money, and they pooh-pooh the lavish lifestyle in which their parents have indulged. They value their energy, time, and priorities; and money demands a high cost for all three of them.

We think that they will learn the importance of money when it is too late, but a ceaseless pursuit of money can undoubtedly be counterproductive as is becoming evident all around the world. The definition of “financially secure” varies for each individual. As parents, we should strike a balance and not insist that our children blindly chase wealth. A thoughtless pursuit of money can have a silken hand but an iron heart.

All study and no play make Jack a dull boy

Schools and colleges now emphasize the importance of extracurricular activities, volunteer work, and personal hobbies. Pushing children only to achieve high SAT scores may not suffice. We must encourage our children to develop their personal hobbies and interests as they prepare for their future. Although such a wide range of activities may seem overwhelming, they can be managed. I have interviewed hundreds of medical school applicants over a period of 26 years. I saw how young people incorporate these challenges in their early life through disciplined management of time. Contrary to our concern, a multifarious commitment may unlock in young people boundless energy, self-confidence, and joie de vivre.

This country will continue to offer them endless opportunities to prosper. Let them choose what they truly enjoy. They have to be the drivers while we must elect to be silent passengers. As parents, we have an opportunity to guide our children and be guided by them. As the saying go, “Shubha Muhurta Saavadhan! Beware, the opportunities are knocking at the door! Carpe Diem.”

Dr. Bhagirath Majmudar, an Emeritus Professor of Pathology and Obstetrics-Gynecology at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, is also a Sanskrit Visharada and Jagannath scholar, the highest academic honor in Sanskrit. As a Hindu priest, he has conducted about 400 weddings, many of them interfaith. He is a poet, philosopher, Vedantist, actor, and playwright. He can be reached at bmajmud1962@gmail.com

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