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NETWORKING BEYOND SCHOOL BOUNDARIES

The parent trap

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Time was when parents met only at PTA meetings. Now, they're fixing up everything from brunches to weekend breaks, sundowners to spa dates.

The theme is Arabian Nights. There's sandpaper, silhouettes of a belly dancer, cut-outs of hookahs, cellophane clouds and pyramids made of cardboard. Women with oversized Versace glares pushing back their highlighted hair are decorating a bulletin board in the corridors of a pre-primary school whose inmates can barely tell the difference between yellow and red. The coveted board has been the subject of several catfights, thanks to its reputation for deciding who gets membership to senior school PTA. And if the parent really shines there, the thumb-sucking child too may have a good chance at becoming prefect or headboy a few years later. Mumbai's Tiger Moms never let up.

And now the networking has gone beyond the boundaries of the school. Over brunches, house parties, sundowners, luncheons, weekend getaways and BlackBerry groups, parents are getting to know other parents and reviving their own sagging social lives in the process.

When parenting becomes a full-time job, children are projects, certificates are perks and socialising with other parents the equivalent of Friday work drinks. "I make a genuine effort to be friends with other parents. It's important for me to know the background of my child's friends, " says Sushma Shah, Churchgate resident and mom of two. "There are bound to be fights, parties and overnight plans, which we as adults have to decide upon as a team. We will only be able to help our children take decisions when we are friends ourselves and get along and explain things to our kids with one voice. "

But this crowd-sourcing model of parenting often goes much beyond the baby. For instance, at a recent Cuffe Parade 'play group' (where mothers pretty up and toddlers are prettied up to meet one another), moms downed martinis and played kitty party games as their babies slept through the affair. "All my best friends are my son's friends' parents. This way we can plan holidays together and our kids love it. It's the most natural form of socialising, " says a Breach Candy mom.

Not everyone is as enthusiastic. Dayita Shah, whose two children go to Mumbai's elite Cathedral and John Connon School, is an active mom when it comes to helping the school with projects and events but is wary of getting too involved. For instance, last year she worked on an art exhibit with the teachers to showcase art from recycled material but then pulled out of social affairs. "I help in whatever way I can, ideation as well as logistics. But I try to keep my distance because I don't want to get involved in the murky world of parent gossip, " she says.

The Breach Candy mom believes that this phenomenon can get a bit creepy when children are used as props to social-climb. "Some mothers use it as a way to get to know the right people, whose child happens to be in the same class as their child. The kids might barely acknowledge each other in the sandpit but the parents insist their children are best friends. They want these parents to be their friends, " she says, referring to one case when a celebrity had to suffer a pushy mother who did everything to ensure that their daughters became friends.

Child psychologist Seema Hingoranny often asks parents of disgruntled children fed up with their pushiness to step back. "But by then their social lives are governed by school goings-on and kitties with other parents, " she says. "Also, what starts out as a medium to discuss parenting issues gets hijacked by over-intimacy. One 12-year-old tells me that he is very upset with his mother's over-involvement with his best friend's mother. She knows what he's done in school before he comes back, is constantly drawing comparisons and weighing down on him. There is a need for parents to relax and draw the right balance. "
Another worrying offshoot of this, says Hingorrany, is that hyper parents are practically handpicking their children's friends, based on which parents they themselves would like to befriend. "This is a trend in almost every school, probably because they want to cling to the group, " she says. "The idea of friends in the building is now wiped out and play dates organised by parents for school friends have come in. "

Hiren and Dhwani Chopra, whose baby is in preschool, are already overwhelmed by the social engagements coming out of the playroom. Spa dates, shopping sprees, school form collections, head-hunting for maids, it's all collective activity now. "We're just worried that if we don't participate, our child will be left out, " says Dhwani.

There was a time when parents barely knew who their child's friends' parents were. "We would exchange a smile during Open Day and had one other's numbers in case of emergencies, " says Rajni Mohira, mother of two grown-up daughters. "And I would like to believe our children grew up just fine. "

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