Parents escorting children to board school bus in Abu Dhabi. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

The early morning, caffeinated lift is usually filled with morose, drowsy and sleep-starved people as they drag themselves to work. However, that day I met a doe-eyed, frail and tiny creature, his lunch bag in one hand and his school bag roughly slung on his vulnerable little shoulders.

He would at most be six years old. The boy looked at me sleepily and seemed so fragile. The lift reached the ground floor, as he stumbled out his lunch bag fell off and remained behind.

I picked it up and could not help but ask his name and where he lived. He was left all alone to go to the bus stop and wait for the school bus! I cheerfully told him that I would love to see his bus and went along with him. His little hand spontaneously held mine, as we waited, the cold wind stabbed us on our faces — just as cruel as parenting has now become. Little Javed said his mother had to get ready for office and she told him that he has to learn to be a “big and strong” boy, just like Captain America. My heart went out to him. As he looked out of the bus window at me, his face lit up with a smile and he began waving at me. I wondered how safe Javed was; instead of me it could be anybody else who could have harmed him.

Coincidentally that very day I came across the gory news of a 19-month-old baby falling from the tenth floor of a building, the authorities rightly stated and have been always saying: “Parents must work at being more attentive, more alert, more aware of their role in keeping their children out of harm’s way. This is a non-negotiable responsibility they signed up for when they decided to take on the role of a nurturer and caregiver.”

Physical safety of paramount importance

Physical safety is of paramount importance, but the mental psyche of such children too cannot be ignored. They long for that one warm hug, those words of assurance that they are loved and cared for, they want to say so much ... it may sound like gibberish, but for them it the most precious thing in the world that they can share anything with the parents. Mrs Panday, an acquaintance, advises me, “Be cruel to them, that will discipline them and hold them in good stead in the years to come. If my children fuss about their food or say they are not hungry during meal time, I don’t care about cooking them something they like or wait to warm up their food. I make them wait till the next meal.” Then she winks, “That way I am relaxed and not burdened by these monsters. Make them independent and you can chill too.”

Well, I dumbly listened to her, but I know very well that making a child self-sufficient to free myself of my parental responsibilities is just not my style ... As she tells me this, I see her shove a bottle of paracetamol into her daughter’s bag and tells her to have a cap full if she “thinks” she has fever, in class.

The issue of shirking my duties as a parent when they need me the most is escapism that I feel can lead to many ills, especially in today’s era when children — particularly adolescents — are exposed to the internet. Asif, a 14-year-old friend of my son, has often expressed that he feels lonely and is “depressed”.

He tells his parents how he feels; however, they sweep it all under the carpet and go about their mundane activities. The boy is so desperate for somebody to listen to him that he has begun sharing his woes with strangers on social media. Well, this I feel could be as fatal as a fall from a high-rise.

Parenting is not an easy job. I myself am a work in progress ... perhaps the least that we could do is to ensure the safety of the child. Every word, facial expression, gesture or action on the part of a parent gives the child some message about self-worth. So, let’s work on it and create a healthier society.

Navanita Varadpande is a writer based in Dubai. Twitter: @navanitavp