Every day, the common topic of conversation on the streets, in shops, in queues, is the current situation of this country. People lament on the ongoing scandals and wonder fearfully about the future, about the children of today, citizens of tomorrow and their fate in this country. While these are important issues that we need to address, beyond the question of democracy, opportunity and corruption, lies the fundamental making of the person, the rearing of the child. In parallel to worrying about how issues of the country will impact on our children, we should also question whether we are doing our part as parents, family members, neighbours, members of society in general to not only nurture the children but also support parents.
I recently met an old acquaintance who was shocked when I told her that my firstborn has recently turned 18. In true cliché, I was told “linn grandi vit ein”. If I had a rupee for each person who told me this phrase since my son turned 18, I would have had a fairly neat amount of money by now. As proud as I am of him and the young man he is turning into, I cannot and will not sugarcoat the past 18 years of parenting. I was quite young when he was born, and I like to say that we kind of grew up together. Being away from family, living abroad, when I started my parenting journey, threw me into another dimension of the unknown. When surrounded by family, we do have support, sometimes (un)solicited advice, but the most important thing is having a safety net. Not having that meant navigating the joys, pains, uncertainties, unwarranted, unacknowledged and what are generally perceived as unacceptable feelings of motherhood on one’s own and not sure if we are going in the right direction.
While well-meaning experienced parents would urge to enjoy these days and that these would go by in a flash, the truth of the matter is that some days felt interminable, where his tears would mingle with mine because I sometimes had no clue what to do with him, especially during the very early months, where each cry would resonate tenfold in my head especially in the throes of sleep deprived fatigue. But with time, a coo, a smile, a sign of recognition in the tiny eyes would somehow give the boost to go on, put that one foot in front of the other, navigate the tantrums, the first day of school, the move to a new country for him, and home for me, whose toll on him I did not fully realise until one day when he is taller than me, his voice has cracked and he is talking casually to his best friend reminiscing about his first days at his then new school surrounded by kids who were already friends.
His milestone birthday has indeed had me give the last 18 years a good thought. Do I look back at the past 18 years of parenting with nostalgia? The answer is no. I am not nostalgic, I am glad and more so, relieved that the baby and young child days are far behind me, with my youngest on the cusp of adolescence. Talking to a young mum at the school gates a few months back, whose kids and still under 10, she shared how she sometimes feels overwhelmed to keep it all together, because this is what she feels is expected of her even if she is fraying at the edges and some days she feels at a loss. It would have been easy to tell her that one day she will look back on these days and laugh about it. But in fact, what she needed, and many mothers/parents of young children need to hear is that indeed, the early years are difficult, while the practical things will ease in time, the challenges of parenting will change their faces. Some days feel endless, the kids do not seem to grasp simple things, we want them to be grown already, but nature takes its time and follows its course, and we are but at its mercy. The only thing we can hope and pray for is understanding, support and acknowledgement.
It is particularly dangerous to view our own childhood as the golden age and compare it with that of our children. In so doing, we are doing ourselves a disservice for we are overlooking many parts of our childhood that have left a sometimes-negative impact on us. We should be wise enough to recognize the good and the bad, and not extrapolate our experiences and childhood to that of our children. They are living in a completely different era, with its specific challenges and culture.
It is often said that babies do not come with a manual. While there is a wealth of parenting literature nowadays, it is also true that there is a wealth of experience out there. Experience is not necessarily restricted to parents and grandparents imparting their nuggets of wisdom on parenting. While the latter would be most apt to understand our cultural and familial set-up, they might be disconnected from our contemporary context in which we are raising our children, which is why it becomes important for parents to be able to talk to each other without the fear of being judged, without any feelings of superiority or inferiority, for while there are variables in our lives, certain elements like child rearing in the current times remain a common thread and experience. After the past couple of years, having gone through unprecedented experiences brought about by the lockdowns, we should be better able to empathise with parents.
Recently, a video made the rounds where a mother mercilessly brutalized a little girl, clearly traumatized by mere words of her mother. The video did not leave any viewers indifferent but there are a couple of noteworthy elements in there. When we shout at our children in fits of anger (it is beyond many of us to practice gentle parenting, for the little devils have the knack to bring out the worst in us), we do not realise the impact it has on them. Seeing that little girl flinch at every word even from a distance from her mother chills the spine and has to make us reflect on how our own punitive actions, no matter how insignificant, we as adults, believe are, impact our children, sometimes with long-lasting repercussions.
On the other side, one cannot help but feel that the mother is also acting from a place of intense pain, frustration and anger, the recipient of all these feelings being the little girl. While the backlash against the mother was understandably unanimous and rightly so, there is also a component of empathy missing towards the mother. Actions are not undertaken in a vacuum. They are brought about due to a series of circumstances, the manifestation of which is only the tip of the iceberg, with the real reasons buried under.
As child rearing and parenting are becoming more and more under pressure, with Instagram pretty parenting and picture-perfect families, many are left feeling inadequate, which should not be the case. Each parent is an individual navigating their own microcosm of world and society, the circumstances of which are more often than not known only to them, which in turn affects the way they parent their offspring. As parents, as individuals, as men and women, we owe it to ourselves to be more empathetic and less judgmental. We need to keep an open ear, open heart and open mind to realise that parenting is not only the rearing of children through inculcation of values, education and so on. It also comes with our own baggage as individuals, which begs introspection when we are dealing with kids. But for this to take place, there need to be awareness and conversations, which can happen, but which need realization, structure, empathy and sympathy. If 18 years of parenting have taught me anything it’s this: it is one hell of a sinuous road on which we need to look out for each other: the children are important, but the adults are as important.
Recently, a video made the rounds where a mother mercilessly brutalized a little girl, clearly traumatized by mere words of her mother. The video did not leave any viewers indifferent but there are a couple of noteworthy elements in there.