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     Volume 7 Issue 7 | February 15, 2008 |

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Straight Talk

Playing it By Ear

Nadia Kabir Barb

When I became a parent, I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. No matter how many books you read or how many people you talk to about their experiences, at the end of the day you are the one who has to take the decisions regarding your children. The most daunting thing is that each and every decision you take has a direct impact on your family. Even the decisions that seem trivial and inconsequential have an effect on the wellbeing of your children. I am sometimes overwhelmed when I stop to think that starting from what I am feeding my children, i.e. whether it is nutritious in content, to which school I am sending them to, i.e. single sex school, co-ed school, whether it is private or public, to what values I am instilling in them etc. will ultimately be an intrinsic part of who they are. I think it is only when you become a parent that you understand the enormity of the role you have decided to undertake. Not that I am trying to scare off any potential parents with this article!

Sometimes I wish that there was a book giving us guidelines and telling us exactly what to do in each and every circumstance but sadly we have to use our own judgement and do what our instincts dictate to us. How are you supposed to know if you are doings things right? How are you supposed know where to draw the line between being a prudent parent and an overprotective one or a tolerant parent and an indulgent one.

We all have our individual opinions about what type of food we give our children. Some parents try and stick to a highly regimented diet restricting the amount of sugars and fats their children are eating, not allowing them anything which they feel is nutritionally harmful. At the other end of the spectrum there are parents who have no qualms about letting their children eat whatever they want, including chocolates, fizzy drinks, crisps etc. whenever they want. In the UK, many households do not have a balanced diet as fruit and vegetable do not feature highly, unhealthy snacks taking their place. This of course can lead to all sorts of physical ailments such as, vitamin deficiencies, skin problems, tooth decay, obesity etc. Although most of us try our best to strike a happy balance between the two, it is not always easy. I think unintentionally, we tend to feed our kids, foods that we ourselves prefer to eat. Not being much of a salad person myself I do not insist that my children eat salads regularly but vegetables at mealtimes are non-negotiable! As far as sweets and snacks are concerned, I personally feel that if you let your children eat them in moderation it is easier to control than if you have an outright ban on them as they may go to school or a friend's house and eat them without your knowledge, which kind of defeats the purpose, don't you think?

When children start going to school, you have to acknowledge that they will be exposed to external stimuli. Even if you provide a very sheltered home life, you cannot control what they hear or see outside. I know my children think I am rather strict about what films or TV programmes I allow them to watch and even my husband comments that I am a bit of a hardliner but I would like my children to be children for as long as possible. Why expose them to sex and violence if you avoid it? Why accelerate the process of transition between childhood and adulthood? If a film has a 15 rating which means the film is unsuitable for children under the age of 15 then none of my children are allowed to watch it. Obviously they have tried in the past to change my position on this by telling me that a lot of their friends watch whatever they want to, with no success. It reminds me of a time when we were on holiday and my three kids were spending time with our friends' children. What I did not realise is that they were all watching a horror film in the other room. The outcome of this was that for the next week or so, all three of my offspring stuck to me like superglue. If they could they would have accompanied me to the bathroom. Thankfully their attempt at rebellion backfired and since then I have heard minor grumblings but no major complaints about my censorship.

A few years ago when my eldest daughter was only 11, one of the other parents in her class commented on how her daughter was going to be walking to school on her

own. Her view was that if at the age of 11 her daughter could not get to school and back by herself, she would think there was something wrong with her! Some of the other parents agreed with this statement while others, myself included, found it incredibly callous and were rather shocked as we felt that eleven was too young to let them walk around the streets of London or take public transport. Their view was it would make their children independent and ours was that we were trying to keep ours safe. I guess there is no right or wrong -- different parents look at the same thing with different perspectives.

It is only now when my daughter is almost fifteen that she comes home from school by herself a couple of days a week. After much debate, we let our 12 year old son walk with his friends from one of their houses to another. This nearly changed a few weeks ago when I was chatting with my kids and my son told me about an incident where two of his friends were mugged by two men while walking from one of their houses to the newsagent. The frightening thing is that it was a perfectly safe residential area the boys were in and not a particularly secluded road either. The men told the boys to hand over their mobile phones and iPods. As the boys were only 12 years old, they were naturally terrified and did not try to run or pretend they had nothing in their pockets which in incidents such as this is actually a sensible thing to do. Luckily they were allowed to go once they had emptied their pockets. Before I had time to voice my horror at this story, my eldest daughter interjected that these muggings seemed to be becoming more and more common as one of her friends had had a similar experience. In the case of her friend, they had been walking down a main high street when they were cornered by one just one man. In this instance too, the man managed to intimidate the kids into handing over everything they had and then let them go. My initial instinct was to tell them they were never going to be allowed to venture out of the house without one of us until they reached the ripe old age of thirty! However I have relented and reduced the age to twenty-five. See I can be reasonable.

Parenthood is truly a rollercoaster ride and I for one seem to be playing it by ear and hoping that I am doing a relatively good job -- only time will tell. As parents we make choices, which we feel are the right ones for our children, and will be in their best interests and hope that our children turn out to be happy, healthy, well adjusted people.

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