It takes a village to raise a Mother


 

Recently, on a mothers’ group, someone posted an anonymous post, and it was a very distressed mother from the looks of it.

The mother was extremely upset—to the point of hitting her child, locking him up in the room and letting him cry himself to sleep—and the reason was that he “preferred” her mom-in-law over her. He followed his grandma around wherever she went but he didn’t do the same for his mom. The kid even followed his grandfather—her father in law—but just didn’t seem to care about his mom. It made her so furious that she refused to breast feed her child that day. And then she also spoke about how she had left a high paying job for the kid and she is not back in shape after having had a baby.

At first look people would judge this mother, calling her horrible and irresponsible and all sorts of insensitive things. Almost everyone was on the ‘side’ of the baby, little realising that the mother and the baby are always on the same side. When one is angry and hurt, the other cannot remain happy.

This post was a cry for help. This lady needs a lot of love and tons of hand holding and hugging—and more importantly, empathy.

Having been there myself—hitting my son and unintentionally taking my frustrations out on him—I truly, deeply feel for mothers who are so distressed.

The problem in the above case, the way it appears to be, is that the lady in question has many frustrations piling up one upon another. She is hurt and upset by the fact that she had to let go of a successful career, and she probably has major differences with her in-laws, so the idea of her son—whom she considers a part of her soul, and for whom she made major sacrifices—preferring those people over her, people whom she probably dislikes intensely, makes her feel unloved and defeated.

The lady didn’t speak of her husband, but I’m guessing there’s a lot of frustration there as well. If the husband were supportive and affectionate, she would find the love that she craved from him and not feel quite so possessive of her son. The boy in question is merely 2 years old.

This mother is perhaps a quintessential example of distressed moms in our society, who suffer intensely on account of a lack of love and appreciation. Lack of love makes us lonely and angry. Lack of love makes us bitter.

In addition this is also a showcase of the problem that ails women by and large, even unconsciously: having to let go of all your dreams for the sake of motherhood, and then attaching all those unfinished goals and unfulfilled expectations with your child.

People expect the mother to be mature, grown up and sacrificing and able to handle every problem even at the cost of her own wellness. That is too much pressure on a young woman, especially a first time mother, and especially one who had to let go of a successful career. People forget that the world of parenting is as new to a young mother as the world of people is new to the baby. The child and mother are both growing together, both learning to navigate in and make sense of an unknown environment, facing stresses they never faced before, coping in a high pressure world. The new mother is almost as vulnerable as the newborn. She needs to be taken care of and soothed and loved as much as the little baby—and yet she is the one responsible for the rearing and nurturing and keeping alive of one whole human being, while no one pays the scantest attention to her needs.

Inevitably, her pent up frustration pours out on the child. And then the world shames the mother for being cruel to her child, the world shames her for being incompetent, the world shames her for not being “mother enough”.

What’s to be done in this scenario?

Let me hark back to the famous statement: it takes a village to raise a child.

Now let me twist it a bit: It takes a village to raise a mother.

What we are used to is the idea of insta-mothers served up in 9 months with garnish on top. Mothers, on the contrary, are created over years and years; they grow and evolve and learn on the job. A mother is a human being first. She is an individual first. She has her own needs and desires and dreams and problems and expecting them to put everything aside and just focus on being a mother is downright cruel. It takes a village to raise a mother because when everyone chips in to ease the burden on her, only then can she be a happy woman and, by consequence, a happy mother.

Unhappy women do not make happy mothers. How can they? You can only give what you have in the first place, and if you have no joy in your heart, how can you share it with others?

It is the imperative therefore, of the entire village—the new age village that includes not just spouse, in laws, parents, friends but also bosses, co-workers and flexible workplaces—to raise the child and also raise the mother. Raise her happiness levels, raise her self-esteem and her self-worth so she does not have to live her life bearing only the burden of sacrifices.

In the case mentioned above, the mother is plagued with extreme insecurity related to her child, she is stressed by feelings of rejection that arise from her child following his grandparent about, “preferring” them over her.

Herein lies another major problem that I’ve talked about on several previous occasions: making your child your only source of joy and love in life, attaching all your dreams to him/her. It has happened for decades in previous generations— when women were deprived of love from every other source, focusing solely on the child—and still happens when women give up all their dreams for motherhood.

The child was not born to fulfil your expectations or fill the gaps in your soul. Every child is born with a destiny of his/her own, with a purpose in life to be fulfilled by him/her alone. Your children will not remain attached to you forever, they will—and they need to—become independent and find their way in life and find other attachments and people to love. It is important for them to have healthy relationships not just with grandparents but also siblings, friends, classmates, teachers, girlfriends/boyfriends, spouses, co-workers and so on. With each new relationship their circle will get bigger and you will naturally have to share more and more. How then will you find the strength to let go?

It is extremely important, therefore, for a mother to have other people to bond with—spouse, siblings, friends, co-workers, neighbours. Other sources of love and joy in life. And also to keep following one’s own dreams, perhaps a little more slowly than before, perhaps with some breaks, but keep following them nevertheless—to keep a sense of purpose and direction in life. To have other sources of achievements and fulfilment than just ‘parenting’.  Not only does it ease the misery of your heart, it will greatly ease the debilitating burden of expectations upon your child.

Lastly, but most importantly, when you’re under extreme stress, get help. Get professional help from a therapist or counsellor, or at least approach your closest friends and confidantes. You mental wellness is paramount, and approaching a psychologist/counsellor does not mean you are ‘mad’, any more than approaching a doctor means that you are disabled for life. (No offence to differently abled people.) It merely means that you’re facing a health issue at a certain point in time, and proper care and treatment will lead you to wellness once again.

To the lady who was facing those issues, if you happen to be reading this, let me first hug you. One big, squishy hug to let you know you are not alone. We’ve all been there, and it’s terrible, but trust me you’ll come out of this, and both you and your baby will be happy. You are loved, my dear, especially by all of us mothers out here. One big solidarity bump.

But one word of advice to you—and to all those mothers reading this.

Mothers, please put yourself first.

Yes, you heard that right. The world will tell you to put your baby first, put your family first, and some people will go to the lengths of calling you selfish if you dare to voice your own desires and any kind of ambition for yourself.

Don’t pay any attention to them.

Tune them out like static and ugly sounds from a bad radio. Turn them off like that hollering news anchor on TV (you know who I mean). Shut them down like the gaping smelly mouth of a toilet seat.

The child does not come first. The Mother comes first.

Mothers, please learn to value your sanity, your happiness and your dreams as well. And most of all learn to focus on your health and wellness, because that is crucial to happiness.

Relatives and family members, stop pressurising the woman to sacrifice everything for her child. Stop putting a halo atop the heads of mothers and turning them into martyrs.

Stop worshipping the kind of mom for whom ‘nothing is more important than her child’.

Everything has its due importance in life. Friends, family, work, ambition, children and yes, the self. The mother must not be pressurised to give up all of them and keep just one.

And yes, I’ll say it again to you— the mother must come first. Before you think of what’s best for the child, think of what’s best for the mother. Because unless she is in the best state of mental, physical and emotional wellness, the child cannot thrive.

Think of it this way: the mother is most important for the child’s well-being, and if anything bad were to happen to her, who would be most affected? The child. If you would not be functioning one hundred per cent healthy and happy, who would be most affected? Your child. So, for the sake of your child, put yourself first. Treat your health, wellness and happiness as paramount. That’s what I always tell my mother. If you don’t take care of yourself, who’s going to be there for us? Who will we turn to whenever we are down and out?

And that’s what I say to all mothers out there: For the sake of your children at least, take care of your own self.

For you must always remember, you can only give what you have.

Mom n Child

 

 

 

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Chapter 22: Love in the Time of Nappies and Yowls


Make love not war, sang John Lennon. If only…

The world abounds with scare-mongers. Doomsday prophesies a la Nostradamus and shrieking banshees shocking the lights out of you a la Pan the Greek Goat-God. Everyone’s ready, hands crossed across chest, to let you know how terrible a place this world is, and how things just get worse as you get deeper. Have I been turning into one of those banshees here? I hope not, because here are some great things that do happen, and most people don’t mention them at all:

During my pregnancy, I read up a lot about the growing foetus, about beneficial exercises, about how to manage depressing thoughts. But I also read a lot of this: “Enjoy the romantic moments with your partner, because this is the last of your exclusive moments together…” and “You won’t have much physical desire left after the baby” and “Romance definitely takes a back seat as kids come into the picture.” Being the die-hard romantic that I am, the words sucked the life out of me, creating an ever-more-grudging mother.

Perhaps I grew up on too many fairy tales, but the essence of my being is love.

My editor, a colleague and I were once discussing a theory that humans are all driven by the desire for immortality: if not their own selves, then their name must live on forever. We were talking about the things that are most important to people, and my editor, who was of the opinion that it’s either money or family, claimed he could guess what mine was: Family.

Nope, I said, you’re wrong. Close, but wrong.

He was quite surprised, because he’s often heard me speaking of my mother.

“Then it must be God,” he said triumphantly, because he knew for sure that it wasn’t money.

“Wrong again,” I grinned, though I could understand why he made that assumption: I’m a spiritual preacher of sorts.

“Yourself!” exclaimed Kumar (my colleague), like he just hit the nail on the head.

“Hmm… close… you could say that,” I mused, “but not exactly.”

“Then what is it?” Kumar insisted, exasperated. “You must tell us!”

I became all secretive, smiling mysteriously.

“No, really. Tell us.”

“Okay,” I said. “It’s love.”

Haan, so that’s family,” the editor interjected immediately.

“No… It’s not family per se. It’s the man I love.”

“So then it’s children,” he insisted

“No. Definitely not children. Just the man I love.” I repeated emphatically.

“Just you and your man?” Kumar echoed, genuinely perplexed. “Like Adam and Eve?”

That made me laugh. “Yes, somewhat like that. Just love. Everything else comes second.”

(Folks back home might consider me selfish and amoral for this: considering your parents and family second to anyone or anything is almost a crime in our culture. But, this is the truth—laid bare for all your judgement, come who may.)

Cotton candy, hearts and candles. Dark clouds, sea-storm and thunder. Conquering the world together.

To not have romance in my life is to be sucked clean of blood, zombie-fied into blank bitterness.

And that’s why, when those banshees proclaimed the end of romance, I felt I was close to death. But here’s the thing: like all good things in life, love must also be worked upon; you need to work hard for romance too.

Before coming to Aligarh, for the first month of Hasan’s life—in Delhi—this is what I used to do: our baby slept in two hour bursts at night,and generally, exhausted moms are advised to use this time for catching up on their own sleep. I found a better use for that time, though: Sajjad and I watched movies on weekend nights—like we used to before the baby came along. It made life seem a little more continuous. I couldn’t make love yet—too injured for that— so we used to talk love. And then those little things that taste like love…

Aligarh was a lot more difficult, because the move upset the tiny tot, disrupted his routine and turned life into a general nightmare… compounded by the fact that Sajjad and I were together for only about a day and a half every week. But thank goodness for mothers that play cupid ! My mom ensured that she babysat Hasan a lot—especially during the weekends, so we could go out together. Half the nights she would keep him in her room, rocking him in the bouncer, giving us that silver lining…the moonlight behind the clouds…

One of my favourite post-baby-love episodes goes thus:

Sajjad and I are sitting in a restaurant, talking, laughing and holding hands. The waiter suddenly comes close to us, and beckoning to a private table in a dimly-lit corner of the restaurant, asks in a low voice if we’d like to sit there? Considering that in small-town India, the only people who ever sit in dimly-lit corners of any place are college love-birds, we were both left grinning from ear to ear!

But over and above any of this, we realised what makes love work when there’s three of you: You take the baby inside the two curves of the heart. ❤

We made caring for him an act of bonding; we made kissing him and cuddling him an extension of our love. The burps and gurgles became a reason to look at each other with joy. We took him along on our outings, even visiting the Qutub Minar once, with Hasan tucked securely in a ‘baby basket’– photographed by all tourists in the complex!

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The Baby-Basket: 10-day-old Hasan

The Baby-Basket: 10-day-old Hasan

Tucked in !

Peace!

Our baby isn’t an intrusion on our exclusivity; he just turns our love a richer shade of red. Yes, we do have to work harder to keep the colour from fading, but, as Jim’s dad tells Michelle in American Wedding, “It’s called making love ‘cause you have to make love work.”

And so you make love work amid nappies and yowls.

Chapter 17: Seeing is believing


We never see the air. Never see the stars or the moon when the sun shines bright.

Never see our own brain. Nor the heart that beats inside.

Seeing’s believing… or is believing seeing?

There’s so much more to see if only you’d believe…

September 4, 2012

I have just fed my baby and he lies peacefully in my arms, quiet yet wide awake, gazing at me intently. I love these moments when he is so calm and almost looking into my eyes.

And then. Suddenly. He amazes me beyond words by stretching his tiny lips in a one-second smile ! I do a double take and peer closely into his face to check if he has fallen asleep, by any chance. Nope, he’s wide awake.

I slowly count the days. 1,2,3,4.

4-day-olds don’t smile! No way! But there’s no mistaking what I saw. That was a smile. I know it was.

My 4-day-old just smiled at me…! True, it was a one-second thing… but it was there!

I stare at him in a state of disbelief…but also one of elation.

And then I rush out to my mother in the other room.

“Mummy! Hasan just smiled at me. He did!”

My mother looks at me for a moment. And then smiles. But it’s a different sort of smile. The oh-no-you must-be mistaken kind.

“Honey, that’s not possible. He must be sleeping.”

“But he wasn’t. I double checked that.”

“Then you must be mistaken. The ‘social smile’ doesn’t appear until at least a month.”

“Oh.”

I must really be mistaken… I guess.

September 7, 2012

Sajjad and I are off to see the gynae for a routine visit. It’s my first outing from home after the delivery. (More on this later.) Since we’d be back within two hours, we’re not taking Hasan with us. Mummy will be keeping him company.

Two hours later

As we enter the house, we are greeted by an ecstatic voice.

It’s my mom.

“Baby! You were right! He smiled! He smiled at me today! It’s unbelievable! Well… it was really a split-second thing but he did smile.”

She can’t contain her excitement. The maid that she has brought with her all the way from Aligarh beams almost as much; she was actually the one whom Hasan had really smiled at.

“Didn’t I tell you?” I’m grinning from ear to ear.

“Yes… I didn’t believe you then… but now I’ve seen it for myself.”

There’s so much more to see if only you’d believe…

(You probably won’t believe this, of course. Since I’m not trying to pose my son as a superbaby or something of that sort, and since those are the only two occasions when he smiled…before the real ‘social smile’ thing kicked in, this is just one of those little things in life that pass by like strangely-shaped clouds… memorable, but you don’t know what to make of them. So… do you believe?)

Chapter 15: Enter the Dragon


Hasan pic


My son was born in 2012, which was the Chinese year of the dragon. My mom was always furious when I referred to the hyperactive baby in my belly as ‘little dragon’. You see, dragons aren’t good things in Indian culture. They’re monsters to be feared. (Though I don’t understand all the fuss… I mean, tigers are ferocious too, and people here love to be called a tiger.) Under Chinese tradition, though, the Dragon is majestic, powerful, successful and fearless—with a noble heart.

It’s true I didn’t fall in love with my boy when I saw him for the first time. But long before he was born, deep in my heart a tiny, almost indiscernible space had been carved out by him as he tumbled around in my womb. A dragon-shaped space with little wings. A home for a fearless little dragon.

Sept 3, 2012

I bring the tiny creature home.

He doesn’t resemble me at all. That’s disappointing. He doesn’t seem to resemble his father either… though everyone else says he does…but he’s a little creature with a face all his own…

He was born with a pretty good weight of 3.5 kgs, but never looked like the chubby little babies you see on TV. Long wiry limbs, with fingers that weren’t clenched shut but spread apart in a perpetual gesture of surprise. Thoughtful, pensive eyes that seemed to contemplate the deepest philosophies of life—like he was deep in thought from the moment he entered this world; solving an existential mystery that had followed him here from the dark home in the womb.

He’d often put one of those tiny outstretched fingers awkwardly on his cheek, the perfect touch to complete his look of contemplating philosopher.

My scatter-brained, always kiddish mother takes to calling him ‘Tidda’— grasshopper—for his long, thin body—much to the chagrin of his doting father. It made me laugh to see how possessive and protective Sajjad felt towards this little one… he was more the mother in that sense than I was!

Sajjad took a week off from work (that’s all he was allowed) and went about changing nappies, taking turns with the baby to let me sleep, and bathing the baby during that first week. And the burping, of course, was his sole domain. I suppose I do understand now why women find baby-loving men attractive!

We would both talk with little Hasan and he would listen with the same intent and thoughtful gaze. He has his father’s eyes, I can see now. The loveliest eyes ever.

I think I do love this little philosopher, the one of the shiny thoughtful eyes. Happy little grasshopper. Little wise, noble dragon.