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Leave mums alone

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Modern motherhood has its pros and cons clevercupcakes, under a CC License

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.

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  1. #1 sujatha 10 May 13

    to those who are asked - what do you do ?
    tell them what you do ...straight

    i am not a mother
    i do not work

    when asked what do i do
    i tell them what i do - Read a Lot ...

    if someone insists on a job title
    and people do at times
    i tell them i am a Quality of Life Enhancer

    it works ;)
    it breaks the ice ...and leaves people chuckling

  2. #2 cedric prakash 10 May 13

    hanks Mari
    Wonderful piece indeed!
    Already tweeted it and posted it on my facebook page!


  3. #3 Vijaya Rodrigo 10 May 13

    Beautiful thought, the sentiments expressed in the article. From my experience as a Primary school teacher of 31years, and a mum of 34 years I find that these days Mums either worry too much or don't worry at have the two extremes, hardly any mum follows the middle path. ’Just let them enjoy their kids.’ I agree with you on that, because before you know it 18 years have passed and they are all grown up and you wonder where those years have gone !!

  4. #4 Premila Ashok 11 May 13

    Mari, timely as always was your article. Mari I think we are the lucky generation because we know both worlds - the one before and after ’connectivity ’ for all. Our kids will never know the ’contained’ ’universe’ of our time, and hence are in a way less equipped to deal with the ’world’ which impinges on your person. How we wish we could share with them the wisdom of setting those firm boundaries around their ’ persons’ ! Cruel opinions from’ friends’ I know (by now ) only reflect their own frustrations.

  5. #5 Shashi 12 May 13

    I agree, completely.....! ENJOY!

  6. #6 Sabita Banerji 12 May 13

    I echo your last line wholeheartedly, Mari. But personally I found that older relatives and friends could be just as judgmental in ’the olden days’ (eg I got criticism for bringing my daughter up as a vegetarian). And they also gave plenty of contradictory advice. When Maia was a baby I was inundated with advice from every direction even without social media or the internet - so I decided to choose one or two people I trusted and stick to their advice. Later I very much valued the up-to-date information the internet could provide, some of which showed how some of the advice that older relatives give - like rubbing butter onto a burn - can actually cause more harm than good. One of the trusted people whose advice I chose to follow - and still do - is my elder sister. She repeats a quote she read somewhere that children grow up despite their parents, not because of them! That's reassuring!

  7. #7 chandrika sen sharma 12 May 13

    Mari - wonderful blog - I especially loved the last line - young mothers have enough on their plates now. With work, house work and kids to take care of - knowing how difficult it is to juggle all that and still not feel guilt - I think young mothers should give themselves a pat on their back and just think ’a job well done’.

  8. #8 Peter Berger 12 May 13

    Hi Mari,
    I completely agree with you. I would not trade places with my son or daughter to be a young parent again. It is way too hard, not just with the possible criticisms but with the other dangers children these days are exposed to when they are so very young. The school yard bullying, the bullying that happens on facebook, or any one of the other social media available to children today. To make matters worse, they are never able to have any 'alone' time as their mobile phones keep them in touch even late into the night as they text each other abut the minutiae of their lives.

  9. #9 ritish 15 May 13

    Great article - as a new father, I enjoyed reading it, and sent it my wife took a printout for friends and family. It made her day on mother's day. Thanks.

  10. #10 Anuradha krishna 12 Jun 13

    As usual, Mari, you have hit the nail on the head exactly. you have summed up the situation so well.Yes,the stress faced by young mothers is great these days. There is no time to just be and enjoy their kids.Definitely more information and choice puts more pressure on individuals.

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About the author

Mari Marcel Thekaekara a New Internationalist contributor

Mari is a writer based in Gudalur, in the Nilgiri hills of Tamil Nadu. She writes on human rights issues with a focus on dalits, adivasis, women, children, the environment, and poverty. Mari's book Endless Filth, published in 1999, on balmikis, is to be followed by a second book on campaigns within India to abolish manual scavenging work. She co-founded Accord in 1985 to work with Adivasi people. Mari has been a contributor to New Internationalist since 1991.

About the blog I travel around India a lot, covering dalit and adivasi issues. I often find myself really moved by stories that never make it to the mainstream media. My son Tarsh suggested I start blogging. And the New Internationalist collective are the nicest bunch of editors I’ve worked with. So here goes.

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