Are we doing our children a disservice by sheltering them from practical realities?
When I sit down to write another installment of this column, I always approach it as a conversation with a friend, albeit rather one-sided. More often than not, the topic for my next installment comes from conversation with friends, some more than others. Thus, it was last week that me and my friend found ourselves talking about life in Dhaka compared to life where I live now, and she mentioned how in Dhaka we often live such sheltered lives that it actually ends up doing more harm than good.
Logically, my life in this Prairie town in Canada should be harder, far less bearable. I have only lived here for a little over four years, and while I do have a community and support system, it is nothing compared to the large extended family I have left behind in Dhaka. More than 90% of my conversations are in a foreign language, even though I do admit, with some shame, that I am far more fluent in English than my own language. Such is the legacy of colonialism, I suppose.
More importantly, I am completely on my own. I do my own groceries, make my own meals, and basically am responsible for all the chores needed to keep living in a reasonably comfortable environment. Compared to life in Dhaka, there is hardly any time to just sit around and be lazy, which is probably great given my propensity to overthink, wallow and mope about life when I do get to do that. In short, the fact that I am supremely responsible for myself and my quality of life somehow has made me a happier, more focused person. And this, above all, is what I feel I was missing in Dhaka.
Even when I was teaching in Dhaka, I did notice this common theme. Parents, or families in general in Dhaka, shelter young adults to the point of leaving them completely helpless and unable to take care of themselves. I have met many peers who would agree with me about how our parents seemed to take pride in the fact that we are not made aware of household finances, budgets, and other practical matters of life. If anything, fathers in our culture are expected to just provide and provide, without ever having an open conversation about the toll it takes on them to bankroll all the families’ needs (at least the negotiable ones) and desires. In the absence of fathers, eldest sons bear the brunt of family expectations and are expected to wear this as a badge of honor.
Do not get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with taking care of one’s family. The problem is when one aims to do so without sharing any of their responsibilities or preparing their children and younger siblings to gradually take on more of these responsibilities. As already mentioned, parents and elder siblings often take pride in how they are taking care of the whole family, and no one has to worry about anything.
The sad truth though, is that the children or the younger siblings do eventually have to find out the realities of life. And the cocoon they were in all this time, only makes it harder for them to rise to the demands on life when needed. Suddenly they find out about all the financial concerns the family was having all these years and were sheltered from. This is not easy in the best of times, and positively heartbreaking when it happens while the family is trying to grieve the loss of a loved one.
I get it. Discussions about tempering expectations, living within if not below one’s means, and preparing to shoulder some of the financial responsibilities of a family from a young age, are all difficult and unpleasant conversations to have. The way our culture makes all of these the domain of “elders” while we can live the good life, only makes it even harder to discuss them out in the open. But the culture has to change. Too many of us have been sheltered for the most impressionable years of our lives, and then essentially left in the middle of an ocean of life’s challenges when the people sheltering us are no longer there.
I hope that no one else is left as unprepared for life as I once was. That no one has to learn about the grim state of household finances while also trying to come to terms with the loss of a parent. In fact, I also hope that we are prepared better to deal with the emotional aspect of loss. I know many parents think of it as their failure if their child is expected to be an adult, regardless of their age. But I believe, and I think many of my peers will agree, that the true success of a parent is in preparing their children to take on more and more, and grow into functioning, responsible adults. There is no pride in raising humans who do not know how to take care of themselves, and who do not understand the realities of life and the challenges their own family might be facing. We can do better. In the world that is coming, we must do better.
Hammad Ali is a PhD student and a lover of fountain pens