Indian American Parenting; A rebuttal

by Divya Valluri

divya.jpgDivya Valluri is the quintessential California girl; confident, talented, vivacious and earthy. Her parents have given her a couple of very useful gifts; Indian roots and American wings. WNI’s August 5th parenting article “The confused Indian American Parent” in which PR Ganapathy talks about praise in the American system and Sukanya Mahadevan explores the efficacy of a crazy extra curricular schedule for kids, evoked this response from Divya; I think it’s interesting that parental concerns about the dichotomy of Indian and American cultures never really address the effort children growing up in the United States inevitably have to make to create a balance between the two. We definitely go through a struggle to combine the Asian values of our households with the American values in the outside world, and still have solid relationships in both places. I respect the valid concerns Indian parents have with raising their children with a combination of solid values and limitless opportunities. I don’t think my parents are going to be reading this any time soon, so I can safely say that I sincerely believe they raised me with a perfect combination of the two. So here we go: To praise or not to praise… There is merit to the idea that false praise shouldn’t be given to people just to save their feelings. People need to learn that they can always improve. I think that explaining the difference between good and mediocre work to your child is key in helping them understand the contrast between the two cultures they’re growing up in. My mom refused to put my art on the fridge if it was clear I hadn’t put my best effort into creating it. But rather than permanently scarring me and crushing my spirit and dreams, it taught me never to submit something I could have done a better job on. Not to mention the far greater satisfaction I got when my picture DID go on the fridge. It’s an example I frequently cite to my non-Indian friends, who can’t understand why my parents won’t dish out fake praise that would only serve to inflate my ego. As we grow up, whether we like it or not, our parents are our primary influence. Forgive the cliché, but I can recognize false, useless praise from a mile away. I’m pretty sure any Indian kid can. Whether or not we want praise from our teachers, we’ve learned that the most important praise comes from people who offer it sparingly. Disclaimer: if you never praise your kid, they will probably end up broken and starving for validation from uncaring sources like their underpaid teachers. Activity, Schmactivity! The crazy, activity driven kids are NOT happy. They may think they’re happy, but they’re just so busy they don’t know any better. Taking them to 4000 activities and then drilling them on long division will never make them well rounded anywhere except on paper. Constant stimulation will just destroy their inherent ability to occupy themselves. Seriously limiting independent free play and play dates will retard their social skills and development. That’s just a perspective. I don’t mean never put your kids in activities, just make sure they have a good mix of activities and down time. They’ll be happier and better adjusted, and you’ll save yourself from the headaches and back problems you’ll obviously incur from sitting in the car for countless hours polluting the ozone layer while your kid rallies with his or her tennis coach while repeating Kumon multiplication tables and singing carnatic music. I’ve seen the balance I previously referred to in many Indian kids and young adults here. I can handle myself in any variety of Indian and American situations. I’m from California. There are obviously glaring differences between me and my cousins from India. No one can understand what I say, I could be described as loud and opinionated, and I’ve never taken a bharathnatyam class in my life. On the same note, I’ve sat through my fair share of arangetrams, I’ve memorized the soundtracks of countless Hindi movies from Baazigar to Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, and I can shop in Cherma’s as easily as I can shop in Banana Republic. I understand Telegu, but respond in English. I hang out with my mostly non-Indian friends, and have no problems whatsoever relating to them. On the same note, when I spend time with their families, I see the contrast between my family and theirs. It’s okay for them to be different, as long as the reasons for the differences are recognizable and logical. Your kid will be fine. I’m fine. I can sit down at a table with my family on one end and my friends on the other with absolutely no problem connecting the two. And I drink my water with ice.

6 thoughts on “Indian American Parenting; A rebuttal

  1. Rak

    Go girl! I had a blast reading this, as i am sure you did writing it. I am a bay area parent with two young boys, aged 7 & 4, and i have been following this exchange of thoughts across the parental and continental divide with eager interest. You raise some very pertinent points.
    I do not want this ‘comment’ to become a full-fledged article by itself (Vidya – that will come later!), but i do want to touch upon two aspects in briging up kids in the US – of Indianness and of Competitiveness.

    I travel often between US and India, and am observing kids come of age in recent times in these locations. I often hear that kids from Indian-parents being brought up in the US are more ‘Indian’ than those in India. And i think, are we being more protective than necessary when we bring up a kid here in the US? Are we bringing up the kids in a time cocoon, a cocoon that is built around our growing-up period experiences, but is clearly out of sync with the zeitgeist prevailing in India, and even in the US! Would we have made so much effort to recreate the experiences that we (emphasis) rather than the child prefers? Is it fair to the child?

    The other main aspect is around the whole idea of Competitiveness – most of us who landed up in the US were, to a large extent, more competitive than our peers and tried to excel to reach our goals. We grew up in a ‘resource-constrained’ environment where to reach the top, some others had to fail, and where career choices were in general limited. Success for most of us from a middle class background meant achieving certain conventional milestones in life, whether it was getting into an IIT, or getting a schol to a US school or what have you. And we seem to be projecting the same paradigm on our kids who are growing up in a much more open, resource-rich environment where definitions of success in life and career are much more loose and broad. I don’t think there is inherently anything wrong being competitive (i myself am one), but to expect each one of our kids to be so, defies logic and statistics.

    All of us want the best for our children and am sure can never forgive ourselves if we think we have not given them the ‘best’. It is that definition of ‘best’ that is changing and we need to become more enlightened about it.


  2. AM I A HINDU? Best Seller

    Divya, I agree…When it comes to bringing up kids in the west, Indian parents are some what in a mess. They want to be protective, but the same don’t want to look over protective. They want to help and many times they don’t know how. They are concerned about our children’s welfare and some times they forget the fact that many of their concerns are an “over kill. “–

    In my case, I always discuss with my children about things in general terms. For example, I do not advice them “who to date or whom not to date?”……Instead I tell them, “each person is solely responsible for his/her thoughts and actions. Nobody else.”

    Just like you wrote, Indian parents cannot expect their children to live exactly like they do. If they want that, they may have to go to another planet. I hope you can elaborate on your following statement and write some very pragmatic methods to deal with what you wrote.

    “I think it’s interesting that parental concerns about the dichotomy of Indian and American cultures never really address the effort children growing up in the United States inevitably have to make to create a balance between the two.”

    I hope you can write, what do you expect Indian parents do. How do you think they should act and react? How much will you say is too much?


  3. PR Ganapathy

    Wonderful “Rebuttal” – after writing that post, I’ve been researching some of the academic research in this area and most of what I’ve read reinforces what you’ve written. Thanks a million for offering your (important) perspective, which we’ll all benefit from.


  4. sandhya

    hey Divi,

    I read your article and it made me sit up and think about my parenting style. What you said rings so true about both issues; the dilemma one faces growing up a child of Indian origin in the U.S has been sorely neglected and the activity mania or competitive spirit of Indian parents is unprecedented. I agree with both your opinions wholeheartedly and promise to make a conscious effort to practice what I inherently believe is true. Thanks for enlightening us and educating us about these important issues.

    Lots of Love,



  5. vpdot Post author


    A very well written piece. But I would hesitate to generalize. I am the mother of 2 kids and I can see clearly that an approach that would be good for one child would be very detrimental to the other. With the shy and underconfident child, it is better to be a little effusive with praise. With the robust soul, it is better to be direct and honest. Either way, children understand that
    praise is expected from the parent. It is always taken with a pinch of salt. This was brought home to me when my child once said, “But you’re my mom, you’re supposed to like it.” Let’s not underestimate the discernment of children. If at the end of the day, they feel wrapped in a cocoon of parental approval, does it mean they have lost their sense of judgement? Believe me, they get enough of the truth from peers and teachers, and early enough in life. My daughter knows perfectly well that her bus looks like a horse, she still expects me to say a few positive things about it. It strengthens our bond and she has a good example of a loving relationship to use later in her life.
    About the activities as well, it is important to tailor it to the child. Some children need downtime – some are happier bouncing from one activity to another. To set parenting rules in stone is doing a great disservice to the individuality of the child.
    Ultimately, what is good for the value system of the child is to communicate -“There are some things you need to do and trust my judgement about. There are others where you have a say. I will do as much as I can to the best of my ability and the shortfall you will just have to deal with.” This I think saves the sanity of the modern parent who is burdened by guilt and competitive pressure.



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