As every time, with 12th standard results being declared today there are news of students who are depressed and pressurised thanks to high expectations by their parents. This takes me back to a story that started in my childhood days:
When I was about 3 years old, I made became good friends with a couple of kids in the neighbourhood. That friendship was a slow growth, after getting into primary school, we 3 used to hang out together all the time. One of them was a brilliant student who always stood in the top three in the school, did well with sports and did better than rest of us in general knowledge too. Another friend was a DIY person but hated studies, coming from lower income family he was exposed to bad company and picked up bad habits too. I was a shy kid who didn’t know or do much, average student, an obese kid who hated studying and enjoyed playing a lot. Despite all these differences we used to gel well together and always stuck around with each other.
As we grew up, our circle of friend increased, we picked up more diverse interests. We still played with each other but besides that we started having different lifestyles. The first friend became more studious and used to spend longer hours indoors with books, the second one got more into other not so good activities and started spending more time outside the building. I was still stuck to same old life between books and sports( even though I was horrible at them thanks to my obesity and stupidity ). This is where we started taking different directions. Here is where our lives started taking different directions.
Over the next 5 years, we became more and more separated though we were still good friends. Here is where the real story begins. The first friend used to be pressurized a lot by his mom to study and do well in academics. He used to be pretty much spending all day with books. He was also very thin but healthy. His mom was still not happy with it, she wanted him to put on weight and started pressurizing him again to go to gym, eat large amount of food and put on more weight. All this pressure made him go more and more aloof and he was busy slogging it out to fulfill his mother’s expectations.
A brilliant student, a pretty well all rounded kid started turning into a rat, spinning the wheel faster and faster to fulfill his mother’s wishes. He did well in his 10th board exams, he put on decent weight. But, he lost…he lost his persona…he lost his confidence…he lost his soul. He started to show signs of frustration. He started becoming aloof from rest of us. This began the downhill slide.
After graduating from school, he got admission into good college, into a good course but he didn’t know anymore how to deal with people. Neither did I, at that time but there was a difference there deep within. I was never pressurized by my parents. I was as stupid as I used to be. I even ran away when girls spoke to me. I had tough time dealing with people and college life. But, I never crumbled as I had enough freedom. He sadly didn’t. The first wrong step happened when he failed to find a GF and his sexual urges started attracting him towards his housemaid, who was of similar age. His parents found out about this and to cut him off, his mom imposed even more restrictions on him. We rarely ever saw him. Whenever we did, he used to walk with his head down from home to college and back. He was broken internally, he had crumbled. A few months later his family left our building. I had moved on to finding my own place in college and learning to fit in. I lost contact with both of them.
A few months down the line, I chanced to see the first friend again. What I saw terrified me. He was totally unhinged. He had lost his complete sanity. He came over to our building to meet his former maid. His words barely made sense anymore. The brilliant, promising guy who could have done so much more was reduced to nothingness. All gone to waste. It was a pitiful situation. He was put on for treatment by his parents.
His condition did improve a bit and he started going to college again. But, the damage was done. All was lost. That year he graduated from college, after having dropped a year. His mind may have been good enough to crack the exam but not to crack the harsh surprises that life throws at us.
A few months later, the second friend called me with bad news. He was no more. There were a couple of rumours floating around about the cause of his death – a hereditary disease, medicinal side effects, insanity. It doesn’t matter as to which rumour was true. The damage was done long ago. This was just the final nail in the coffin. The talent, the promise, a life were all lost years ago. This was just the physical body giving up. End of what could have been a worthy talent.
Neither of us two remaining friends have done anything great in our lives but we’ve had our battles, we’ve fought them but we haven’t succumbed. Not that we were any better than him. What made the difference was the support structure that parents have provided. My parents have never understood what I want to do, nor have they been able to help me directly. There are times I have to fight them to convince them as to what I want to do. But, in the end they’ll take my side even though they don’t understand and can’t help me. That means a lot. That is something that has allowed me to stay afloat and face the same problems that my friend succumbed to. Today I have the confidence to pursue what I love, to learn new skills and improve myself, to become a better person and someday contribute something significant to this world.
Parents, as much as it tempts you to compare and weigh your children against peers, remember each one is fighting their own battle. You never know what’s going on underneath the surface. School, college, work are all very important. Spending time wisely is very important but in the end these are just milestones in a person’s life, a life that comprises of various journeys. It’s okay to miss the milestones. It’s okay to go astray. You can’t change what happened. Stop spoiling kids life by punishing them for these mistakes. Treat them as an opportunity to gently guide them towards the right path. But, at the same time give them enough room to breathe the fresh air, explore new paths, figure out what interests them. Don’t force them down the path that somebody else has trodden upon. Let them find out what good pain is, don’t shield them from it. Let them make their decisions. Be by their side so that but don’t force your ways upon them.
In the end, we all want to see our beloved ones do well. But, that success comes when they learn to take hard decisions by themselves. That is why a lot of people need to go through painful times to learn to do well. It is not imperative to go through bad times to become better, just learn to take hard decisions by yourself. I’ll credit my friend Ranjeet Walunj for this very important lesson in life. Let them define what they love to do, what they believe is success. Let them choose their own direction. This world doesn’t deserve to lose talented individuals to avoidable tragedies. We all have our own ways of blossoming and if provided the right nourishment, can become invaluable contributors to betterment of this world.
Parents are also humans as we are. They also make mistakes, so we need to see to it that we too explain our parents, our neighbours who’re going wrong as to why it’s important to not force things upon kids but rather offer them their freedom to do something with their lives.