The price of parental appreciation

Examining transactional relationships between parents and children

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Michelle Zheng

Often, strenuous academic situations can lead to transactional relationships between children and their parents.

Tvisha Gupta

The moment the work begins to accumulate, the stress intensifies, a gray haze that narrows a student’s focus to the impossible number of tasks on their to-do list. That haze darkens when, in the background, they hear the sharp opinion of a parent determined to ensure quality work. The critical voice only softens when it is presented with an A grade.

“I like to believe [parents are] happy when we’re happy, but I feel like it’s more when we accomplish things,” senior Ishita Pesati said.

According to the Times of India, transactional relationships are based on the concept of reciprocation and mutual exchange, and those involved expect to gain benefits. All engaged parties expect to have their emotional and relational investments repaid in the form of equal returns, and people focus heavily on what they are getting out of the relationship.

Although such relationships seem almost business-like, some parents and children do have a bond that is reminiscent of this concept. In the world of parent-child relationships, this type of bond is an example of conditional love. According to a study published by Scientific Research, parental conditional regard is a parental attitude in which love and affection shown towards children are contingent upon their completion of certain expected behaviors. With this form of parenting, parents often reward their children with affection and appreciation for “good” behavior and express disappointment when presented with undesired results.

When conditional parenting is applied in academic settings, desired results become synonymous with stellar grades and strong performances in external activities. At MVHS, our strenuous academic culture can create transactional relationships between students and their parents, with parental appreciation being based on a child’s academic success.

Ishita Pesati speaks of occasionally feeling like she has a transactional bond with her parents, in which they only care about her grades and physical health.

“As for a relationship [with my parents], I feel like it’s mostly based on academics,” Ishita Pesati said. “Emotionally, it’s just non-existent, unless I’m visibly upset or broken down, which I don’t usually like to do.”

To Ishita Pesati, her parents’ happiness and appreciation seem contingent upon her accomplishments. She speaks to an example in which she presented her parents with a high PSAT score, one that qualified her for a National Merit Scholarship, but felt ambivalent about the pride that her father expressed.

“I’m just like, ‘Are you proud of me? Or are you proud of my accomplishment?’” Ishita Pesati said. “It’s only when something is finally accomplished that they say they’re proud of me.”  

Ishita’s parent Vikram Pesati speaks about his parenting philosophy by emphasizing his belief in the importance of letting his children know that challenging themselves is vital for their growth. To Vikram Pesati, showing his children the path, work and discipline required for success is of the utmost importance.

“We listen, we coach [and] we also critique,” Vikram Pesati says. “We are the people who truly care about them, as kids of ours, and we will be the honest critic — we’ll say it like it is.”

However, Ishita Pesati claims that selective focus and affection impact her relationship with her parents, and she often struggles to maintain her trust in or converse with them.

“Your parents are kind of the one thing other than yourself that stays pretty much constant throughout your whole life,” Ishita Pesati said. “Not being able to trust them or have a good relationship with them for your whole life, it sucks.”

School-based therapist Richard Prinz further speaks to the negative effects of transactional parenting on children, stating that it often causes children to withdraw or fight back against set expectations and stunts their social-emotional development.

“If you’re just focused on grades, GPA and what college [your child] is going to go to, you’re missing the whole social-emotional dynamic, which is more important than academics,” Prinz said. “When [children] go away, they’re not prepared for the social-emotional challenges of college.”

Ishita Pesati also agrees with the impact of conditional parental appreciation on emotions, claiming that parents often don’t realize that “emotionally, they are ruining their kid.”

“It leads to issues down the road with trying to make relationships, making friends and being emotionally trusting,” Ishita Pesati said. 

However, Prinz does give concessions to parents, claiming that the immense amount of pressure put on parents by their jobs and responsibilities can impact the way they interact and converse with their children. Similarly, Vikram Pesati states that every parent and child is different and that parents are often learning as they go through the parenting process themselves.

“Parents are not perfect — no one is — we are experimenting as we go along,” Vikram Pesati said. “And I’m sure we probably sway [from] this end of the spectrum to that end. It is all part of the parcel of parenting.”

However, Prinz does provide tactics that parents can utilize to better support their children through stressful academic situations, including reflective listening, suspending judgment and understanding the problem. Additionally, he emphasizes the importance of encouragement and motivation.

“Encouragement is the cornerstone of good parenting,” Prinz said. “It’s staying calm, having a conversation, being curious, trying to learn, and seeing that in that kind of a conversation, problems can be solved.”

Senior Suhani Vakhariya’s parent Archana Singh also expresses her strong belief in the value of supporting her child through her emotional ups and downs and allowing her space to fail and rebuild. To her, conversing with her child, encouraging her to take constructive criticism and being transparent about the importance of hard work help her push her child through her academic stress.

“We have to motivate them. We have to challenge them. At the same time, we have to be supportive,” Singh said. “It’s OK to fail. Failure [is] the building block for success. So that’s perfectly fine.”

In the realm of academics, providing support and motivation through the study process helps children initiate their own learning and naturally increases their achievement levels.

“Just know that your kid is probably trying their best. But also, if they fail, they’re beating themselves up on their own. They don’t need it from you as well,” Ishita Pesati said. “Parents should be aware that the way they treat us now is a deciding factor in whether they get to be a part of our future lives.”