I am bombarded with messages telling me Mother’s Day is around the corner. When I had my kids, mothering and parenting weren’t recognized terms, at least in India. It was something you just got on with. We had a sneaking suspicion that Mother’s and Father’s days were the invention of greetings card companies, with ulterior motives. We resolutely ignored them. My kids go out of their way to make birthdays or anniversaries special, but rarely acknowledge Mother’s Day, and if at all, only with a flippant wisecrack.
When my husband and I became parents, our kids were the centre of our universe, but they were a private sort of joy. Their triumphs and our tribulations were shared with closest family, and friends. A solitary parenting book we had was soon abandoned in favour of just asking older relatives’ advice. We certainly couldn’t broadcast their milestones on Facebook. Nor share their lives with all our loved ones across the globe. Our circles were smaller, and our universe so much more contained. My husband and I both had siblings living on different continents. Staying connected meant placing trunk calls through telephone operators.
But for my now grown up kids and their friends, the world is different. I watch my daughter exclaim in delight at a picture of her friend’s child, texted to her phone less than 15 minutes after her friend gave birth, hundreds of miles away. They have been constantly, and effortlessly in touch, skyping, facebooking, and texting each other. Their entire circle of friends shared in the excitement of this journey, weighing in with advice on baby names, maternity wear, exercise regimes, birthing choices, child rearing books, sleeping, parenting techniques, and everything else under the sun. In some ways, I think they are incredibly lucky, but in other ways, I’m not so sure.
I watch young, urban well–to-do mothers today, and wonder how much better off they really are than my generation. With the ever widening gap between the rich and the poor, they are unbelievably more privileged than the vast majority of their Indian peers, for whom stressing about the right parenting techniques, birthing methods and making choices about career and family is an inconceivable luxury, that they will never have. Most Indian mothers struggle with issues of infant and maternal mortality, malnutrition and lack of basic pre and antenatal care.
Looking at the socially, economically privileged young women today, I wonder if I would like to trade places or not. They are certainly more informed, armed with information gleaned from myriad sources. Everything they want to know is a mouse click away. Every opinion is absorbed, checked, double checked, or discarded. They are so much more aware – of themselves as individuals, of their rights, their options. Each tiny decision is carefully thought out, weighed and vetted, and is a conscious choice. How will the clothes I buy gender my three month old child? Is TV bad for brain development or can it actually help?
Choice is a wonderful thing. Informed decision-making can empower. But there is, in my opinion, a definite flip side. With all this information available, suddenly everyone has an opinion. On absolutely everything. And you are judged. Constantly. I cannot imagine dealing with that kind of pressure. My daughter was recently upset when a friend she really admires – a young woman with a high-powered job, was judged harshly by another friend, for not being a ‘real’ mother. Her crime? Going on an overnight business trip while her six-month-old was looked after by her very capable partner. Another friend who’d chosen to be a full time mother, and quit her job, was panicking. Most friends were largely unsupportive of her decision. She felt excluded, worthless, and the innocent question ‘what do you do?’ at a party, reduced her to tears.
The internet is full of advice on what young women are doing wrong with their kids. Young mothers take parenting positions and feel the need to defend them to the death. The horrid term ‘mummy wars’ has become part of our phraseology. It seems that no matter what they do, young women can’t be right. Every single choice they make will be wrong in someone’s eyes. Judging others is a sport we have always practiced. But for this generation, there’s an exponential increase in opinions.
So on this Mother’s Day, I want to tell young women not to worry so much, their kids will be fine. I want to tell people to stop judging young mums or giving them guilt trips. Just let them enjoy their kids.