Since I logged in to my laptop this morning, I have been told at least five times how I am parenting my child wrong. ‘Top 10 ways’ in which I may be undermining her, ‘Top 7’ ways in which I am killing her confidence, ‘Top 5’ ways in which I think I am supporting her, but actually am not. Social media is the new neighbourhood ‘well-wisher’ who spares no opportunity to second-guess your decisions with their ‘I told you so’ attitude.
So, with each passing day I am convinced more and more that what my daughter needs me to be is an imperfect parent.
I am not a parenting expert. I don’t have any degree on child psychology, nor has my child reached an age by when extended relatives can deliver the verdict on whether she has ticked all the boxes which would ultimately decide if I can be called a ‘successful parent’.
I am still in the initial years of my journey as a mother, but I know this: that chase towards an elusive perfection—of reaching the perfect balance where my child is scoring good grades in school, is always ‘engaged’ at home and exploring her own special talents, while I juggle my career, a well-kept house, put together healthy and exciting meals, all the while ensuring that my daughter has the perfect outfit for every themed party, in harmony—is just an illusion.
This is probably why I liked Leda’s character, played by Olivia Colman, in the screen-adaptation of The Lost Daughter, so much. She was real. Her frustrations as she tried to balance motherhood with a career she loved so much, were real. Her happiness was real, and so was her guilt. There was one scene in the movie when Leda’s daughter keeps hitting her on her head to get her attention while she is deep in work. Unable to hold in the calmness any more, Leda plonks her daughter on the bed brusquely for a time-out and then slams the door. The glass shatters, shocking both the daughter and the mother.
Parenthood can be a struggle, especially for a mother who is usually the primary caregiver. There have been times when I, like Leda, have lost my cool on my young daughter too. Racing against a work deadline as she prods me to play with her, my patience has run thin many a time. As I braced for the bulldozer of guilt to follow soon after, I have realised that it’s okay for children to see their parents deal with their own struggles. It shows them that adults are not infallible creatures who do not make mistakes—you can mess things up, but you own up, clean up and move on.
When I was just a few weeks into my pregnancy, ‘new-age parenting’ was the buzzword catching on fast. Eager to be ‘different’ from the mothers I had grown up seeing, I bought books for guidance, downloaded apps on my phone, and signed up on popular parenting websites. The excitement aside, I was conscious of every conversation I had—‘good vibes only’—every song I heard, every move I made.
Imagine the rude shock I had, when my baby finally arrived, and cried through the nights with colic pain. What was causing the stress? Did I do something wrong? Thus started the guilt pangs—an essential add-on of motherhood; and an inevitable companion to new-mom-nervousness, what with being constantly told what I’m eating, or not eating, could be causing my baby to bloat.
We finally left colic behind, but then came the terribly odd sleeping hours. And then the memorable period of teething. And the weaning, and the potty-training. In my attempt to be this perfect new-age mom, I would constantly monitor my baby’s ‘progress’ on an app and try and do everything by the book. And yet, despite it all, I’d fall short of someone’s idea of what a perfect mother should be.
Don’t get me wrong—I savour my moments with this little happy being who makes a dash for the bookstore every time she sees one. What an achievement, right? Oh, but why is she shy in front of others? And how did she catch a cold, again? Not all the time are the complaints from external sources. Many times, it is all me: the house must be just the way it has always been, no mess; school work must be always updated; and professional commitments must be honoured just how they were, pre-baby times.
For years I, like many others, have grown up with the narrative that mothers can do everything, mothers are expert multitaskers. Mothers are unbelievable beings who stand so high up on the pedestal that they are barely allowed any mistakes. It’s almost as if the birth of another human being injects a dose of superhumanness into a woman! So ingrained is this conditioning that anything mildly off this path and a woman is immediately branded a ‘bad mother’, many times by herself!
Now of course, an over-involved or ‘helicopter’ parent is a title with negative connotation. You have series like Workin’ Moms and The Let Down which explore mothers as human beings, you know with all their desires and follies, and everyday struggles that you can relate to. Like Audrey’s (Alison Bell, in The Let Down) all-night driving to put her baby to sleep, or Kate’s (Catherine Reitman, in Workin’ Moms) breakdown when her husband calls to tell her on her work trip that their baby had to be taken to the hospital.
There are moments of threadbare honesty, when we are overpowered with resentment for our kids—and are ready to do anything for some time without them. Moments of pure joy, heartbreak, and tough choices that often come all together, several times a day. I lived Kate’s dilemma when I had to leave behind my then three-year-old home for a work trip. I cried my way to the airport, contemplating turning around several times. Later that day when I video-called her, I was surprised to see her happy and playful—relieved, no doubt, but also a tiny bit disappointed that she took our separation much better than I did! Children adapt fast; she now looks forward to my week-long leave-from-home every other month—it gives her some exclusive time with her father and I come back refreshed, have read two full books with no disturbance, while on the flight.
As I had said, I am no parenting expert. But I do know this: my child needs a happy parent, not necessarily a ‘perfect’ one. This could mean giving her an extra 20 minutes screen-time so I can finish my movie, or replacing her evening milk with a plate of French fries because Mumma really wants to get a coffee in that nice cafe. When she makes her way to Dadda when she’s in the mood for Spaghetti Bolognese, and to me when she wants a story, or a game of Uno, I know I am steering ok in this journey of unexpected twists and turns.
Azera Parveen Rahman is a journalist based in Jodhpur