A common childhood local game in Bihar, played at a time when children enjoyed sundry games, elicited peals of laughter and mentioned some coveted professionals—engineer, doctor, collector (read someone who has beaten the civil services exam), magistrate and minister—going on a walk on extended palms. Usually there were five professionals walking one finger each. Apart from tickling the senses, the game was a way to drill deep into the psyche of children the importance of acquiring such positions in life.
Local games and practices are often meant to impart a set of knowledge or tenets that the society expects children to follow when they grow up, since a lot of what we are is the sum of what we grasp from our surroundings and families as children. Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky wrote about how social interactions influence the learning process and argued the role of culture and society in the shaping of thoughts and ideas.
While social influences play a large part in the choices our children make—which perhaps explains the range of new-age careers that are taking off—some of it is also guided by how and in which direction we as parents steer them. A child who is encouraged to explore newer options is likely to not just consider engineering and medical as career options after high school; these are still popular options among a large part of Indians.
Our roles are, therefore, key to how our children’s lives shape up. But imagine giving your children the time and space to choose a direction of their liking, subjecting them to intense competition in the process, but not being able to fund them when the time comes.
If you think that’s not a possibility, take a moment to look at how education costs have spiralled over the last decade. For most courses, the fees have gone up 100 per cent in this period. Sounds scary? If yes, then the projected cost we worked out for the future will throw you completely off balance if you don’t start saving now. If your child is young, then the monthly cost will still be manageable, depending on the course you are eying, but parents of older children may need to look at a combination of saving and scholarships.
In that race, however, striking a balance with your own needs, such as retirement could become the differentiator between a fulfilled life and one that becomes a burden not just for yourself, but also for your children. A qualified advisor once told me about a gentleman who sold all his assets and took loans to send his child abroad for higher studies. With nothing to hold on to, his future had become uncertain, and he became completely dependent on how his child’s career, not to mention the attitude, would turn out to be. Children can no more be your only investment for retirement.
Let them live by their own rules if you want to live by yours. That reminds me of the lines from Bob Dylan’s famous song, The Times They Are A-Changin’. “Come mothers and fathers/ Throughout the land/ And don’t criticise/ What you can’t understand/ Your sons and your daughters/ Are beyond your command/ Your old road is rapidly agin’/ Please get out of the new one/ If you can’t lend your hand/ For the times they are a-changin’”