Papa don't preen

I wasn’t the only one to shift warily in my chair. A couple of hundred 16-year-olds darted sharp ‘Be like that!’ glances to their parents. My daughter included. It was a month ago at the orientation morning for St Xavier’s College ‘freshers’. And that neat line came from Fr. Terence Quadros, head of the campus’ counselling centre. A classic Terryism, as students dub each of this priest’s popular nuggets of advice.

But here’s the rub. Far from growing up with our children, we’re plunged in a skewed world where parents are no more parents. How we moan that kids today become adult too quickly. Yet, cast around a bit and wake up to a startling bigger number of parents desperately trying to age down.

The signs are everywhere. In an awry role reversal, this game between the generations is played to precocious gain. A 50-year-old’s son squirms on evenings an over-eager dad brightly announces plans to go pub hopping with the boy and his friends. “I’m sick of him pretending hard that he’s the life of the party. He needs to get a life himself,” the son confides to the pals his father wants to be so chummy with. The consoling gang points out that at least his parents don’t befriend them on Facebook as theirs creepily do.

Psychoanalyst Nuzhat Khan offers an interesting take which weighs emotions with excesses. “We know kids will be messy, we know teenagers will be rebellious, we know our children will grow up and leave us, we know that all through life we face losses we can’t control,” she explains. “Perhaps the refusal to age appropriately reflects our belief that by looking and behaving ‘young’ we may not have to face those losses.”

Some of us were luckier. I learnt to love having a mother who would walk into primary school PTA meetings in crisp cotton saris. She stood out gracefully, with a couple of others, in a sea of figure-hugging dresses and properly ‘70s pant-suited mums along the convent corridor. The first time she glided in, draped in six metres of Finlay paisley, I’d foolishly blurted, once home: “Didn’t you look the oldest like that?” The answer was even.

It always was with her. Often with a question coolly bowled back to me. “Maybe I am (the oldest) -- anything the matter with looking who you are?”
Nothing at all, I gathered over the years. Hoping I’ve grown up with my own kids.

Meher Marfatia is the author of 10 books for children and two for parents. She has mothered her own kids well past the terrible twos and almost past the troubled teens.

Reach her at:

‘Allow the young their youth’
Excerpts from an interview with Dr Jeanne Magagna, London-based child psychotherapist

Why, according to you, are parents and children insecure today?
Children need to cultivate the intellect and emotions they have, without being pushed. Pressure from parents and teachers makes them insecure. Parents don’t know how to say ‘No’ to themselves or to children and have unrealistic media roles to follow. They are flooded with messages like ‘Be rich, be perfect, be youthful to be successful’ -- which denigrate the grace that fits older ages. It’s a frightening blurring of generation boundaries. The line between
is crucial.

Do you find more parents in competition with their children?
Your child needs the parent in you, not friend. Kids have enough buddies. They are confused when adults cannot cope with allowing the young their youth. Parents should acknowledge such chaotic feelings. By superficially dressing and acting young, by taking on boyfriends or girlfriends closer to their children’s age, parents deprive kids of the wisdom expected -- and actually longed for -- from them. -- MM 

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