How every parent matters

Surprising as it may be, many of the important educational developments of children are such that the determinants of their parents’ ‘life and professional conditions’, for instance, their education, profession, economic or social status, and cultural environment, don’t matter. Therefore, every parent matters.

Each parent, without exception, has a deep, definite and diverse impact during the pre-school years on his or her children’s development, including quality of social exchanges at home and with others, cognitive engagement in routine things, etc. The physical safety, good mental health and emotional security of children is ensured by every parent well into their young adulthood.

Proficiency in the language of academics is highly correlated with the quality of conversations at home; schools have no time for substantive conversations (listening to lectures, questions and answers, doubt clarifications, expressing opinions do not help in enhancing language abilities). Interestingly, the quality of conversations in the primary years is less about the content and a lot more about learning the ‘rules and habits’ of (engaging) conversations, such as learning to listen, ask effective questions, respond to the point, manage egos, gather new knowledge from conversations, watch out for linguistic gains, etc. All parents can help their children improve their conversation skills while simultaneously improving their own communication skills.

‘Parental commitment’ and ‘parenting style’ outclass all other aspects of parental involvement. All parents can be mentored on ways to become more committed to their children and can later evolve their own productive ‘style’ best suited to their background. These two parenting qualities explain why parents across ethnic divisions, positively affect their children's educational outcomes despite having widely differing approaches.

The impact of parenting is not a prisoner of the parents’ econo

mic, social or cultural context and more tightly tied to the inherent quality of the parents’ behavioural component. Examples of good, committed parenting can be found in all social classes and ethnic backgrounds - a great news for parents.

Genuine parental aspirations also greatly impact children’s realistic scholastic aspirations and achievements. Aspirations, of course, are also not bound by any socio-economic conditions, but parents can sometimes fail to back these aspirations due to unexpected changes in their personal lives.

Whether you are a father or a mother, a single parent or a couple, the biological parents or adoptive, you can ensure your children’s success. For instance, the desirable ‘father figure’ for the children of a single woman could be any adult man who she trusts. While different personal circumstances might affect your parenting style, it does not really affect your eventual ability to shape your children’s lives. The antidote to the ill-effects of a very demanding professional phase on parental commitment is an even higher investment in conjugal relationship; a more understanding relationship to work with.

Let another myth also be busted – maternal educational level is mostly separate from a mother’s efficacy as a parent – a mother’s ability to make her home a ‘reading home’ is almost unaffected by how educated she is. A reading home is one where everyone reads for at least an hour every day; the language of reading is not as important as the habit of reading ‘long texts’ (reading fiction is a simple, yet, very enriching language experience). Her ability to nurture a reading home (a must for turning children into competent readers) is incomparably more impactful than her ability to teach or help with homework.

No less important is the role of parents in maintaining an intellectually stimulating environment at home by asking questions to the children’s volley of questions. A parent who has the time and interest in asking more questions to her children than they ask her will radically transform their education.

For example, if your children ask why the sky is blue, the most effective approach for you would not be to offer the explanation or google a video that does so, but to ask questions like:

  • Why did you ask the question? Why do you care about the colour of the sky? (Such simple questions are, in fact, a goldmine of information about your children)
  • Do you like the colour, blue? Did you ask the question because you like the colour or because you don’t?
  • Is the sky blue all the time? What other colours of the sky have you seen? What about the colour of the sky at night?
  • Is the sky blue when the sun is out and hot? Where is the sun when the sky is blue?
  • Why do YOU think it is blue? Why do you think something may be blue in colour? (This may sound like a ‘knowledge-loaded’ question but it isn’t so. ANY thoughtful answer is good enough and will, in fact, automatically get refined by the children themselves the more they see and ‘explain’ their own curiosity.)

Only parents can let children be and steadily enrich their observation skills, thinking about experiences and mentor continuous logical reconnections of their knowledge and skills, without intervention. Schools cannot ensure this space to students as teachers are not meant to be parents!

To be true, schools were never created to replace parents, we have given away irreplaceable roles and duties in favour of schools, and in the process ensuring schools fail! Families and society are the prime educational institutions, schools are meant to aid. Parents and society-at-large must self-educate themselves on education and redefine the role of the formal educational institutions to best fit in their own scheme of things.

Indeed, the current unprecedented stress in the education system is precisely because the opposite and unnatural thing is happening – we have left formal educational institutions to decipher and dictate how society and families must educate their children. This is at the crux of the global education crisis. Society and individuals have chosen to ignore their educational roles and despite the huge personal and professional costs of this abdication (education of children is one of the most stressful demands on us), we are unwilling to act, as if education is a hornet’s nest.

A simple evidence of the impracticability of schools’ attempts to educate parents – it is too narrow and of not much help in raising educational outcomes. We must self-educate ourselves, NOW. A social institution must not do more than what it was created for, else chaos will reign, and that is what is happening. Once again, we only blame schools for not standing up for themselves and stop the ever-expanding roles they are usurping or being forced into! Schools must act professionally and in the larger interests of the society and be real about what they can really do!

It is truly humbling, life-affirming and gratifying to realise how much impact EVERY parent can have in uncountable ways on multiple levels.

Unfortunately, researchers tell us that there are large differences among parents in their levels of involvement, aspirations, commitment and beliefs in being able to make an impact on their children. But this can be addressed on a mass scale.

To be fair to parents, many parents withdraw themselves and feel hopeless about the strategic role of school education, based on the memories of their own school experiences. Schools become just a tactically important place for many families – childcare, safety, socialisation, some default habits and routines, etc. We cannot blame schools for this beyond a point. It is of paramount importance that we don’t belittle our own creation- schools. We must not desire and seek less from schools and that is how schools will also grow to be more meaningful.

Every parent must expect more from schools, but in the right way, as discussed. Every parent matters!

Become the hero of your children’s life: shed all real and imagined limitations and be a loving parent. The love for your children will take you and your children to places!

Excerpted from the book ‘You, The Unsung Hero’ by G S Madhav Rao, Sandeep Srivastava, Saloni Srivastava