Raising my kids in the US vs. India


First a disclaimer: I do not mean for this post to sound pompous or self-righteous. We all have to live by the consequences of our decisions and choices. One such decision I made was to come to the US for graduate studies. Sixteen years later, I call the US my home. Yes, India is also my home…the amazing schizophrenia of this duality of homelands is akin to living with two hearts should that be a possibility. Therefore, my explaining why I am happy to raise my kids in the US is not a criticism of raising kids elsewhere, particularly India or Canada.

Being from these two different countries, and living really, really far from our loved ones, we have formed our own little oasis here in San Jose and so while we would have loved for our kids to grow up in either of these countries (because that’s just the kind of folks we are, we roll with it and like chameleons, easily adapt to our environments and so do our kids), going back to those consequences of our choices of which this is one, we are truly happy to raise our kids in the US.

Of course we both miss our other homes – our families, relatives, and the networks we had established before leaving for the US for better opportunities, educational for me, and professional for Aaron. However, neither of us intends to ever return to our native countries for good and so we have to appreciate the life we have made here, together, in what was once our host country, but now our home.

As parents raising our kids here, then, while acknowledging just how much we miss the presence of our parents in the lives of our kids, the community created by the familiarity of the people and places around which we grew up, and despite the nostalgia for giving our kids the same/similar experiences to the ones we had growing up, we are just glad our kids are growing up here in the US and not in India or Canada. Let me explain why:

Again, my intention is not to complain or criticize how life may have been in India. A lot of the reality I experienced while I lived there has now changed so for whatever I write, I can guarantee there is a worthy rebuttal and I would absolutely welcome counter perspectives. All the following is, is my interpretation of what and how I see things to be as they are.

** End of disclaimer (perhaps the longest one ever!)

Top reasons I am happy I am raising my kids in the US versus India:

(Not) Being raised by a village:

I do believe in the “It takes a village” philosophy for certain aspects of my life. For example, if my kid is being that obnoxious kid on the playground who does not wait his turn or pushes other kids around or is throwing wood chips on people and animals, and I am not immediately around to discipline him, I totally do not mind another parent stepping in and telling my kid to stop that behavior as long as it is done with respect. All other times, how I raise my kid is my business. I don’t come into your home and tell you how to raise your kid, stay away from mine. Exceptions are close friends I like, respect, and trust; and immediate family. One of the top reasons I am happy I am raising my kids in the US is because most people implicitly agree with this philosophy. I am able to do my own thing without interference/loving involvement from just about everybody. If I was in India, neighbors, colleagues, random uncles and aunties you meet on the street, and whoever else would have wanted to have a say in how I raise my kids.

More recently, I heard the quote on the lines of “Sure it takes a village (to raise a child) but every village also has an idiot” (or idiots, as the case may be). Touche.

Convenience of Driving/Going places:

This of course depends on where in the US (or India) you live. For example, when I lived in Chicago, I took public transportation almost exclusively and only drove when I took TJ to his doctor’s appointments. If we still lived there, he would have been an expert at taking the EL trains already. One thing I love about being in San Jose is the ability to drive everywhere and park anywhere, almost always for free or very nominal charges. Getting to and from kids’ activities is never a big deal. At the times that we go, there is almost never any traffic so that isn’t an issue either. This would have been an entirely different story if I had to ferry my kids in peak traffic times, if I was working full time and could only do things on weekends when everyone else also wants to do them, and we did not have the means to afford a second car.

Had we lived in India, because I can’t drive a stick-shift car and couldn’t afford or want an automatic car on Indian roads for practical reasons, I would have to depend on public transportation like rickshaws, or Uber like companies. I would not take a bus. While I drove a scooter just fine while I lived in India, I would not have felt safe driving a two-wheeler with two kids and Aaron would have absolutely not let me do it. People do, do that but that’s just not for me. Not anymore. Not after having lived here for so long. Some may of course argue that in India you can hire a driver without coming off as elitist and without breaking your bank. Both true but you still cannot shake the traffic congestion that moves at a snail’s pace in big cities pretty much all times of the day these days.

Diversity of People:

Indian Homogeneous Diversity

(No changes were made to the original image – Photo credit: Meena Kadri via Flickr)

The kind of diversity I want my kids to also learn about, appreciate, and live with

(No changes were made to the original image – Photo credit: Francois Bester via Flickr)

When walking in downtown Chicago, I loved the different languages I got to hear around me. In San Jose, I mostly hear Spanish, Vietnamese, and Mandarin (or maybe it is Cantonese). I occasionally hear French or German depending on where I am. I love and appreciate the fact that one can meet people from so many different countries and cultures here. I want my children to grow up among a diversity of people. I want them to have high cultural quotient and grow up appreciating the differences around them. While there is a lot of domestic diversity in India (and it was this very openness to diversity that helped me adapt so well here), we are still rather homogeneous meaning there is not much of an international mix of people in the larger culture.

You don’t, for example, as a matter of normal life, work alongside someone who may be originally from Germany or Haiti or South Korea or some other part of the world. You will work with people from different parts of India of course and those interactions also make for valuable learning, no doubt. In general though, India largely only has homogeneous diversity. I am not denying the tremendous amount of variety in cuisines, clothing, geography, and such of course. I am just saying that in addition to what India has to offer, I would like my kids to have the international intercultural learning opportunities organically provided by living in a salad bowl that is the US.

Public education and accountability toward educational outcomes: Not all schools get rated 10/10 by Greatschools.com but schools are held at a greater level of accountability in the US in my opinion. I know a lot has changed in India with regard to pre-university education including the rise of international schools which have world class curricula, facilities, and resources but are also at the same time prohibitively expensive for most common people. Public education in the US is free.

When I was growing up in India, we only had three kinds of school boards, the state boards, ICSE, and CBSE. I graduated from a humble state board and always noticed that kids who went to the other boards seemed to carry a chip on their shoulders. Private education in India is really expensive now than it was during my time even though I am sure most people found even those days and fees prohibitive.

Anyway, the reason I like public schools here (I speak anecdotally. Since my kiddos are much too young for regular grade school, I don’t have any direct experience yet) is because of the emphasis on learning by doing. My learning process in the Indian schools I attended has been mostly by rote. We memorized everything without really trying to understand what it was we were memorizing. If I could go back to my textbooks now and re-read all the content, I would have such a different perspective! Learning would actually be fun as it is for me now. I like the fact that schools here, albeit strapped for cash and resources and overworked teachers, at least most of them, engage students in different activities, field trips, science experiments with actual equipment where students don’t have to bring their own frogs or cockroaches to dissect, and other creative and hands-on learning.

I understand that it isn’t all rosy as it looks given the aforementioned budget crises in US schools, danger of school districts closing down, quality of one’s education being determined by zipcodes, underpaid and overworked teachers on strike, overstretched parents expected to participate more and more every year in kids’ school activities and fundraising, and other issues that ail the public education system. This is a discussion for another day. For now, at least where I am poised at, things look great.

Relatively less pollution: 

The United States is the second most polluted country in the world but one can see a list of the most polluted Indian cities on Wikipedia too so there’s that. However, even with that ranking and the high pollution levels, the cities here just don’t seem as dirty, dusty, smokey, and clouded by smog as do Indian cities. I don’t have to hold my nose walking or crossing the street. I don’t have to time my jogs early in the morning because heat and smog are going to choke my breathing by 9:00 a.m. I don’t have to worry my kids are going to have issues because dust particles in the wind got into their breathing canal.

Opportunities/openness toward options to pursue a career of choice:

When I was growing up in India, the only options after Grade 12 were to enter the Arts, Commerce, or Science streams with expectations that a smart kid would choose Science, the mediocre one would choose Commerce, and the ones who did not get accepted into the other streams would “choose” Arts. In fact, because I voluntarily chose to get into the Arts stream even though I had been accepted into the Science stream and at a college of my choice, some people wondered if I had scored low in my Board exams which was not the case. I was just wired differently. One had to go through one of the three streams before choosing specific career options that stemmed out of each of these. Having been a part of the US higher education system during my entire time in this country, I have nothing but admiration for it.

I appreciate the GenEd course requirements here and I know how passionately (and sometimes contentiously) different departments argue to have their courses included into these required courses. Of course, for the departments this inclusion translates directly into $$, regardless, for students, the options abound. One gets to learn so much about so much, it’s truly enviable! I sometimes wish I could have come here as an undergrad just so I could have benefited from the variety of course offerings. My kids will have this opportunity. Now given how expensive university education is getting in the US, we may send our kids to Canada or who knows, depending on how the system has shaped up by then, even to India.

Electricity and water/utilities

It goes without saying that all of us appreciate uninterrupted electricity and water. I would love for my kids to continue to live with that privilege. It doesn’t happen very often but electricity can be unpredictable in India and given the current drought situation there, everyone I know gets intermittent water in their pipes. California, where we live is also in drought and water rates are ridiculously expensive but at least we can rest assured that our pipes won’t run dry (at least not yet…that would be scary!)

A US passport

A US passport allows you the advantage of traveling without a visa (or visa on arrival) to over a 100 countries. An Indian passport allows for about 40 or so. I definitely want my kids to appreciate this advantage and make use of it. Aaron and I both love traveling and we would want nothing more than to pass this love on to our kids. A US passport (or a Canadian one too, should they choose to be dual citizens) can offer them more ease of travel. Unlike me, with my Indian passport, who has to always wonder about what the visa requirements of a specific country we want to visit are, my kids won’t need to do that for those visa-free countries at least. One may complain about high taxes in the US, but if you are stuck somewhere unsafe or in danger, you want that Seal Team to come and rescue and no one does a better job of it than the US.

Safety and Security

Car safety is commendable in the US. Not that accidents still don’t happen and they do, with devastating regularity, a lot of which may be attributed to driver negligence such as driving while intoxicated. However even with all that, I appreciate the fact that car seats and seat belts are mandatory. The former can be particularly annoying when you have a crying baby strapped to a car seat. Had it been India, the parent or grandparent, or uncle or aunt or neighbor or colleague sitting at the back would have picked up the baby and held her in his arms to shush her. I get scared now when I see young kids sit in the front seat of cars in India and sometimes more than one kid is jammed into the front seat. My Indian sensibilities have given way to American ones and I wonder, “Is that even legal?” It must be since no one (but me) seems to bat an eyelid and kids and parents, oblivious to the potential danger lurking on the road, go on with life as usual. No such game in the US. Kids are strapped safe and in their place. Yes, it is a hassle to take them on and off every time you run an errand but it is definitely worth the safety.

Furthermore, cars are getting safer with intuitive breaking and self-parking, everyone wears seat belts (or at least everyone I know and see driving), and roads are wider with plenty of space to park in most cases.

Now thieves exist everywhere but the probability of finding lost things is more in the US than in India, I believe. Here, people don’t just steal things you leave behind by mistake so either that item will still be where you dropped it (e.g., hat, sunglasses) or someone will have kept it to the side so you can go retrieve it as I have experienced numerous times with J’s hats and my sunglasses. There are other examples of safety and security (I didn’t really discuss my security related concerns here) but this is already a VERY long post.

Life is just more comfortable

Photo credit: Leonie Fahjen

Honestly, life is just more comfortable here. I don’t have to worry about, as I write above, how I am going to get anywhere, how I should protect my kids against pollution every day and everywhere we go, or whether the maid is going to show up or play the disappearing act again (having a regular maid come in everyday for household chores like cooking, cleaning, and doing laundry is not a sign of extreme wealth or privilege in India as is typically the case in the US. Most middle class families are also able to comfortably afford maids), whether there is going to be a water issue, or a rickshaw strike, or have fundamentalists ban my favorite steak or hot dogs or what have you, or restrict how and where I travel and with whom. Instead, my kids can live in temperature controlled homes move around in temperature controlled cars, play on playgrounds with cork floors with some top notch play equipment, go to schools where all teachers need to have certifications and qualifications to teach what they do, learn from and appreciate the diversity of people around them, take advantage of numerous free government funded programs like access to libraries, state parks and museums, and others.

There you have it. This is not a comprehensive list and even as I was writing this, I could also see the cons of raising a child in the US (think, gun violence; fear of major environmental/natural disasters like tornadoes, hurricanes). I am sure if I sit down to write it, I will just as easily be able to come up with a “Why I would rather raise my kids in India” list but for now, this is my status quo and it shall remain so unless something big shakes up our quiet suburban life (SJ is one of the 10th largest cities in the US but still has a small town or major city’s suburb feel to it).

Published by Suchitra

I am a former Communication Studies professor turned stay-at-home-mom (SAHM) to two multiracial kids. I write about my adventures in parenting and living a multicultural life with my family. Blogger at: www.thephdmama.com Follow me: @thephdmama

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