I am navigating my way through the afternoon traffic at the entrance of Port Louis, getting
into my lane, mindful of the bottleneck due to the new road “development”. It’s hot, stuffy and I am suffering from stomach cramps. My 8 and 6-year-old, whose banter from the backseat was just buzz suddenly escalated to a full-blown fight, complete with hitting and hair pulling. I try to defuse the situation, in vain. Their older brother tries to calm them down from the front seat, to no avail. My voice turns sterner, still nothing. My nerves are getting frazzled proportionately to the hysteria blowing in the backseat until I can take it no more and go in full-crazy-banshee mode and shout at the top of my lungs at the two to stop or they will have the punishment of their lives at home. They are literally stunned into silence. Calm is back in the car, but it takes a good ten minutes for my nerves to dial down. Tears of frustration prick my eyes, but I cannot give in an ugly cry as I have to concentrate on the road. For such is parenting, one minute is all sweet cuddles and chatter, and you have to put on another mask the other.
Any mother, or parent for that matter, will agree that parenting is no walk in the park. It is one hell of a ride, complete with self-doubts, the fear of judgement from others, not to mention unsolicited advice from others, throwing what you think you’re doing right into turmoil; until you realise that there is only one way that this can work: take one day at a time, adapt to the child, impart what you feel you should and hope for the best. Parenthood has the ability to put one’s mental health into jeopardy, especially for mothers. From pregnancy, to postpartum depression, mothers’ mental health is very often considered secondary to children’s welfare.
Recent headlines of two mothers mistreating their daughters sparked once more, the discussion on what is wrong in our society and what should be done. Conversations about the mothers’ unfitness were dissected by and large, not to mention the avalanche of abuse on social media towards them. The fitness to parent is certified apparently only by the fact of being an adult, which supposedly gives parents superpowers to be on top of the game in everything they do, irrespective of any adverse conditions and circumstances. Over time, so much pressure has been put on parents to be perfect that there is the need to brush moments of doubts and weaknesses when parenting under the carpet out of fear of being judged as a parent who is not good enough. The welfare of the children in those specific cases has been well taken care, but what about the mothers? Is there any system in place which allows for a support to the parent to understand why the situation has escalated that far? Is it enough to
brand the mothers with the hot iron of “Bad Parent” because we see only what we want to see?
In a press article, Nicolas Soopramanien, psychologist, says: «Perdre un enfant, ce n’est pas dans l’ordre des choses pour les parents. Cela laisse une souffrance indescriptible. Ils ont beaucoup de remords”; and further states, «Il faut surtout être à l’écoute et partager cette difficulté pour soulager l’autre », while commenting the case of little Namish Bundhooa, who died in a road accident recently. In the same vein, shouldn’t there be a safe place where mothers in such situations are able to express themselves freely and get the support that they need? For parents who lose their children to social services are also experiencing loss, shouldn’t they be adequately counselled?
I shared the anecdote earlier to show how easy it is for parents’ nerves to be frazzled. On the best of days, parents are equipped with the necessary tools to deal with children. But on the worst ones, you would wish that you were just somewhere else. Now if that worst day is every day, one can only begin to fathom how hard a task parenting can be: trying to figure out a way to pay bills, keep a roof on one’s head, keep the child in school, keep that marriage afloat, or maybe nurse that broken heart, and on top of that having to parent a child.
Women of previous generations concede that there were such things as postpartum depression at their times, but it was not deemed right to talk about. For how could one talk negatively about motherhood when it was one of the defining roles of women? How could a woman share the thought that maybe she preferred her life without children after all? How could a woman resolve the conflicting feelings of boundless love for her children and yet this desperate yearning to be a person in her own right, without feeling weighed down by the role of the mother? Or, how could a woman voice out that she just does not have a maternal bone in her body, and that she is better off without children? These were just not feelings that could be aired in the open. Today, we live in a society, where these questions are addressed openly, where a large number of women are able to make informed choices, according to their mental health, their financial conditions, or simply their wishes. However, another large number of women, are not able to do that. They find themselves in situations where they just keep on going, by putting one foot in front of the other, doing the best that they can, according to the variables that life has thrown at them.
In a time where the government is urging people to have children, it should reflect if its system has evolved on par with the times to be able to provide the required support for when the children are here. In its urge for a new generation, the government should not forget that parents are equally important and should therefore be ready to provide an adequate support system to accompany both parents and children. The challenges of parenting cut across social class, only some are favoured with better conditions than others. Empathy with these challenges should be enough to stop oneself from being a public judge and rather start
thinking of possible solutions. It is only in solidarity that effective actions can be undertaken and implemented.