Monday, October 10, 2016

What does a Child Need? Mother's Teacher-hood vs Motherhood

I am forced to write this post as I increasingly encounter cases upon cases of children with shattered confidence, broken personality and with severe personality issues and most of them emanating from the tremendous desire of the mother to relinquish her "mamta' (motherhood) role and assume the role of a teacher for which she is singularly unequipped! A child needs his mother's motherhood more than her teacher-hood. In their enthusiasm to make their children smart, and under tremendous peer pressure and the pressure from schools, mothers in Pakistan are assuming more and more the role of a teacher, at the expense of  their motherhood role. This is disastrous for the confidence and feeling of self-worth for a child, especially, because motherhood is a natural role for the mother, however, role of a teacher has to be learned and does not come naturally to everyone. Teaching requires aptitude, attitude, soft nature, quest for knowledge, magnanimity and  hosts of teaching skills. These skills are in short supply even in those who have had formal training in teaching.

Why Conventional Teaching Role Conflicts with Mother-role

Conventional teaching role is predicated on continuous monitoring of the students, vigilantly guarding the space of the classroom, not allowing the students to talk, or laugh, or move about, or go to the washroom, or to drink water, or do anything without teacher's permission. Mother's role is starkly opposite. She naturally wants to encourage the child to talk more, to laugh more, to be more independent, to take charge of his own movements, to get potty-trained earlier, to go to washroom on his own, to eat and drink on his own, to socialize with other children and not to be dependent on mother. However, each one of these activities is perceived by a traditional teacher as encroaching on her territory and resisting the control of the teacher! Teacher is trying to make the students totally dependent on her so that she can maintain "class discipline". Mother wants the child to be independent.
A mother is a mother whether the child performs well, or does not perform well. Whether the child is smart or dumb. Whether the child can hear well or not hear well, whether the child can talk or not talk, whether the child can understand or not understand. Mother's love is NOT conditional on child's performance. She loves the child even when the child is disabled, actually more so because she knows that she is the only one in the world who will support her. A mother provides the child her shoulder to cry when he fails, falls down, can not climb like the others, or is unable to perform like the others. She is the one who holds supreme faith in the potential of the child. She is the one who trusts in the abilities of the child and through this tremendous trust and faith, she enables the child to rise up from his failures, gain the confidence to face failures and rise up to the challenge.
When a mother assumes the role of a conventional teacher, she is forced to relinquish her natural role that provides confidence. She no longer becomes the "support of last resort" for the child. She herself becomes a party to the school in grading the child, and starts a continuous monitoring of the child,  passing judgement on the abilities of the child, and worse of all, starts labeling the child. She starts humiliating the child, and starts comparing the child with other children. She assumes the role of teacher for 24 hours a day and does not relinquish it, at any time. Whether it is time for lunch or dinner, whether the child is playing, or simply enjoying the time at home with himself and his toys, the teacher-mother will give no respite to the child. There will be no escape from the teacher-mother. The only thing teacher-mother can talk about with the  child is what happened at school, what were the studies, show me your homework, why the school has given this or that report. The teacher-mother has no time for stories, no time for things in which the child is interested, she can no longer play with the child, she has no time to enjoy the enjoyment of the child with his siblings and friends. It is studies, studies, studies, all the time and in every nook and corner of the house.
If the child does not want to share and just wants to be at home and wants to leave the school in school, this is construed by the teacher-mother as an affront to her "teacheri" role. She starts nagging the child, and if the child does not respond and escapes in his shell, she gets worked up, and runs to the school, worried and hyper ventilated, often screaming that the child is not working and tries to put the blame on school. Worried about dealing with such parents, the schools are then forced to give homework upon homework to satisfy the ego of teacher-mother's teacheri. They start building a dossier of students home works, and begin to hound the parents about homework and non compliance, and thereby put the ball back in the court of the parents. Mother obviously is no match to the paperwork that schools can maintain. So, this become a parents-vs-school conflict where the school continues to collect all the evidence about the child's non-performance and throws it back to the parent. The mother in her enthusiasm to prove to the schools that the child is working and submitting home works on time, starts pressurizing the children further, hiring tutors to ensure completion of homework, further constraining the time that is available to the children to enjoy their home.
The poor child then becomes a battlefield on which the school-vs-parents war is fought. School could be doing whatever, but the mother is supposed to be the support of last refuge for the child. When she entangles with the school and extends the school regime inside the home, this last refuge is lost by the child. Not knowing what to do, he slumps in his own inabilities, loses his confidence in his own potential, starts believing in his failures and becomes a psychological case, which is disastrous to the self-worth and confidence of the children.

Why Mothers are Increasingly Assuming the Role of Teacher

Growth of private schools and their presence in every nook and corner of the country, is allowing more and more women to have a teaching experience of regimented schools in which students are often packed in small classrooms. To maintain the discipline in such constrained spaces, teachers  often use coercion of every type to control the students and force them to do their bidding. While waiting to get married, many girls utilize the wait time for teaching at a nearby school, where they catch the instincts and habits of a harsh teacher and a hard task master. As there is no formal process of training in many schools, the knowledge of such uninitiated teachers is mostly limited to the learning of such strictness from others before them. The schools that do have training programs have separate sets of issues. They are often the ones  imposing unrealistic pressures on teachers to extract flawless work from the students to show off in response to aggressive competitive pressures from other big schools. These upstart schools typically have too many students crammed into classrooms and the teacher is always under pressure to make the children produce much more than what is in her capacity and the capacity of the kids in the given constraints. 
Competitive pressure of schools and limited seats in some of the prestigious schools have made them into status symbols. The mad race to "keep up with the Joneses" is exerting a tremendous peer pressure on the parents. They are trying to enlist their children in such schools before they are even born. They are planning their birth dates to coincide with the small window of months for which these prestigious schools have limited their intake. Children as young as 1.5 years are being thrown into preparatory schools that promise admission into prestigious schools. Contrary to the advice of academic experts all around the world, the start of formal studies of children is being moved earlier and earlier in Pakistan especially. This is disastrous for children and no where practiced in the world by the countries which are at the top of their schooling quality like Sweden.
  • See my upcoming post "Terrorism of Formal Schooling at Early Age"
In Pakistan, these preparatory schools have become a status symbol for the new parents. Parents often think that if their children's future would be ruined if they do not get admission to these prestigious schools. In this they overestimate the role of the schools and underestimate the potential of a child and the potential of learning in a natural environment. The preparatory schools, worried about the high expectations of the parents, create situations which force the parents into becoming tutors or in getting tutors for these 1.5 year to 4 year kids. I have seen the misery of children as young as 3-4 years being subjected to 3 hours of tuition after school, with no playtime, no social interaction and only reading, writing and memorizing! Any child who resists is conveniently labeled as learning disabled. I have recently met a harried mother who had subjected her child, when he was of 1.5 years age, to learning disability tests and getting consultancy from renowned psychiatrists and renowned big name hospitals. A whole industry had sprung up to label the poor children, and to support such "learning disabled" children using spurious instruments downloaded from the internet.

Frustration of Parents and their own Complexes

A child who has not learned to laugh, to play with the peers, who has not learned to go out and play with others, and who does not feel confident to be on his own in a playground or in open spaces with other children, would eventually end up being misfit in the highly competitive world. Developing such confidence is kids is more important than cramming them with useless facts, memorizations, and handwriting drills. Some of these harried children eventually discover refuge in smart phones, video games, or just slump in to these unnatural behaviors to somehow get the mothers off their back. I think that this is a natural subconscious protest from the children and a built in psychological defense mechanism, that some times is successful in getting their parents to give up and back off. 

Many of the mothers are themselves psychological cases. They want a vent for their psychological frustrations emanating from their unfulfilled desires and unsatisfied life. Having decided that reforming the spouse and the rest (in laws and others) impossible, they their children become a project for their emancipation. They try to liberate themselves through their children, and want their children to become a catharsis of their frustrations. To achieve this, they try to force their children to acquire skills that the mothers themselves have failed to acquire, and the absence of which they consider responsible for their current misery. In this project they exceed the limits of reasonableness because they often do not possess the potential to be a mentor, the knowledge to a guide, and the capacity to be a source of inspirational encouragement. They instead become ruthless, hard task masters. When because of their lack of motivational skills and managerial skills they realize that their children are ALSO not responding similar to the lack of response that they got from their spouses and in-laws, they turn to blaming the children themselves. When spouses or in-laws come to protect the children from the harsh behavior of the mothers, the mothers start blaming children to be on the side of the in-laws. The children, then, become either a battle ground for the battle of the spouses, or their enemy and they use the stick of the teacher's role to hound them to an extreme where many children stop talking and develop severe psychological issues.  

Homeschooling Mothers

Trend of home-schooling is also creating a major issue. Without understanding the philosophy and without reading any books on home schooling, the enthusiastic parents think that teaching of school books at home is home schooling. This is a misconception. Homeschooling is actually about throwing away the school books and concentrating on the chores at home and using them as a learning vehicle. Or, homeschooling is designing of activities and projects that can be done at home with parents, neighbors and others; projects that can relate naturally to  every day life of people, and then use them for learning. Parents who think that homeschooling is about teaching school books at home are misguided and would end up inflicting more harm than the schools that they dread.
  • This will be addressed in a separate post "What is not homeschooling"

What Should the Mother Do

If your child is not responding to your guidance and is not studying the way you want him to be studying, then instead of hounding the child, a mother should do the following:
  1. Please read the blog posts that are referenced in this post. 
  2. See 13 Myths of Schooling and Education: Resources
  3. Attend workshops on parenting
  4. Learn child psychology and psychology of learning. See some videos mentioned in point (2) above. 
If all of this seems too difficult, then just hire a tutor and give him the role of teaching and just adopt the mother role. Your life and life of your children would be much easier. 

See Also:


  1. Raising kids in Pakistan is becoming more and more difficult because as a parent you are judged by the grades your kids are brining in or the school they are going to. These parents themselves are the production of faulty education system in Pakistan where the kid who stands first in the class is the monitor and is considered best in everything and the kid who is not good in studies is considered not to be worthy of anything. Our education system needs to be changed so that we stop producing mothers who behave like a critical and synical teacher at all times.

    1. True. If the mothers stop getting pressured and stop pressurizing the schools, then schools can release the pressure. But till such time that the mothers keep on pressurizing the schools there can be no hope.

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