Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

The Ends and the Means of Parenting


Is it just me, or do all parents philosophize about what they’re doing as they raise their kids? In the midst of all the nitty gritty we have to do, the physically exhausting and (as they get older) mentally and emotionally challenging moments day-to-day and even within an hour or a minute… I occasionally stop and think about how what I do with my kid relates to my pedagogical philosophy and how I think I want to be with her and treat her.

I know, almost for sure, that my resistance to other people’s parenting advice stems from the philosophical contradictions with deeply-held beliefs or values or something. I also know there are some things I do (or don’t do) because I really believe I know my own self and her, and our limits, etc, better than any other person. But I also know sometimes sticking dogmatically doesn’t work because… Well, first because each child and each context is different, so it may be different from even what I expected; but also I am no specialist in child-rearing or child psychology just because I am a pedagogue and social science researcher. Also, I discovered I have “mommy impostor syndrome”. I kinda feel like becoming a mom is like trusting me to do this thing that I realized I wasn’t prepared for waaayy too late. This, I suspect, is how many women feel naturally, but it’s exacerbated by:
A. Society wanting to butt into your parenting life
B. My having a different “philosophy” to many ppl around me
C. My daughter being different in some ways beyond my control and ppl thinking I must be doing sthg wrong (e.g. She isn’t growing well – ppl think i don’t feed her well enough; turns out she’s not just a picky eater, she has growth hormone deficiency!)

So here is what drives me crazy. When she is sick and we need to do something with her to help, it is often a violation of her body… Forcing medicine down (near impossible with mine, she spits it or throws up) or suppositories (yday she reached the point of saying “hey, i didn’t cry” and doing blood tests (it really doesn’t hurt that much, but she feels violated anyway, you know?) or taking injections, etc.

I hate that the ends of healing have to be done through a means that feels like violation. I see myself trying to reason with her sometimes over things and other times just wanting to get on with it because she needs it NOW. I see how, for example, i can give her suppositories fast (faster than my mom and husband can) and get it over with, whereas their slower process results in more crying and sometimes a failure to complete the task.

But I also think of the moments when I do lose patience and just wanna get something done, and the times I am lucky enough to get a creative idea and get things done, or I mistakenly do something right. With no real thinking to back it up. You learn from experience what no philosophy will teach you, then I guess you revise the philosophy if you’re like me and need it.

And so despite the philosophizing and all, i guess parenting needs a pragmatic philosophy. Whatever works. Oh no. That could get dangerous. I resisted extrinsic rewards for potty training for soooo long, but when I gave in, they worked. Oh no. They’re addictive. I try not to use them much.

My kid’s currently noticing the “this will upset someone” thing. It’s got power and coercion written all over it. But if it makes her celebrate finishing her (meager-portioned) food, it’s a “why not?” for me. For now.

And I won’t start talking about screen time.

Let me just post this awesome Mom’s Bingo thing I got off facebook (thanks Lee, this made my week! Guilty of almost all but a couple of them)



  1. That’s a funny post. Maha! That made me laugh… apart from the suppositories for children bit. I had no idea that that happened in your part of the world! Yikes!

    • What, you don’t have suppositories for kids in England? All our meds are Western-influenced you know 🙂

  2. I enjoyed reading this Maha – maybe because of my distance in time from the messy day to day reality of being a parent. I agree with you about a pragmatic philosophy for parenting and remembering that learning often comes after the event. I read somewhere that the best way to learn parenting is to take two children, raise them to the age of five, then throw them away and start again but there’s a flaw somewhere in that experiment 🙁 Anyway, you story made me think of two of my children who both had significant experience of medical intervention and surgery (they are both fine now). Both reacted with fear of blood tests but one was easier to coax into acceptance, the other fought and screamed. Guess which one had less long term fear of visiting the hospital – yup the second. That was a long term lesson for me.

  3. I’ve never heard of suppositories for kids in England, no! A quick straw poll around my office suggests that I’m not naive either. I don’t doubt that it must be practice, of course, but as far as I know it’s not the norm!

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