An Indian wife relates the biases and prejudices she faces from ‘well meaning’ relatives in society, for not being good with children.
When I enter the room, the little ones are at their energetic best. Some of them are rolling on the floor, gathering dust and grime on their new party clothes, while a few others are trying their hands at eating some snacks off the counter. With their fingers. Two of the kids are pulling at each other’s hair for no apparent reason other than that it is easy to pull.
My companion to this gathering of the extended family is a distant cousin widely known for being a child-pleaser. She immediately takes charge, smiling around at the kids and addressing a few age-appropriate words to all of them. And lo and behold, within minutes, all the kids are sitting quietly in different chairs, good as gold. What’s even odder is how lovingly they gaze at her every time she walks by, this Didi or Masi of their dreams.
“She is very good with children,” a family member tells me, very pointedly, “They all become so easy to manage when she is around.”
I nod and give her a watery smile. I, it is generally assumed, am not good with children. They don’t hover around me as much and I don’t know many children’s games or songs – at least not ones that entertain kids of today’s generation. And while I enjoy talking to little children and answering their innocent questions, I don’t make a beeline for them as soon as I see them.
As for infants, I avoid holding them in my lap or kissing them on the face. While I do this for reasons of hygiene and caution, it is often interpreted as signs of my problem. That problem, you know, of not being good with children.
It is as much a taboo as a venereal disease, more so, because I am an Indian wife expected to have children of her own very soon. Indeed, it cannot be soon enough for many people involved in the equation, and the lack of this skill, therefore, becomes a pinching disease.
“Don’t you like kids? I don’t see you talking to them much on the phone.” This, because I am not too keen on babbling over the phone to little children who cannot even hold the receiver properly yet.
“You should see how so-and-so is an expert at babysitting. Now I am not sure that’s one job profile that would suit you. Haha, I am only kidding.” This, because I don’t approve of kids sitting put in front of the television for long hours and the babysitter, knowledgeably rattling off names of all the cartoon characters on air.
“Are you sure you are an Indian woman? I mean, you possibly love that foreign concept of sending the kids away on their own, right after they hit teenage.” This, from a gregarious Indian woman who is living under the mistaken belief that her children are never going to leave the nest.
No mother looks forward to this, but it is a reality that will happen. And holding people back, selfishly, is surely no sign of being good with children.
“Are you going to have kids or not? You have no idea how life changes after that. You have it very rosy and comfortable now. But just watch out. Romance, career, and all your privacy and solitude jazz will just disappear.” This, from some mothers in my life who are in that phase of motherhood where you both enjoy and regret certain things.
While I cannot claim to understand or empathise with their situation yet, I find it preposterous that they should imply my child-free state is any indicator of selfishness or laziness on my part. Or that my regard for me-time or time spent with my husband will vanish after a child comes into my life.
They say motherhood is intuitive. Mothers know what is best for their children and instinctively understand their needs and emotions. My mother certainly did and I never had a worry in my life with her by my side. Yes, I may not be a smooth-talker with kids or carry them around in my lap all the time, but that doesn’t reflect on how I feel about parenting or motherhood or people or anything at all!
You don’t need to make an exhibition of your love or expertise, no matter which relationship is being talked about. You only need to have your heart in the right place. It takes all sorts to make a world.
So, there will be the popular Didi the kids worship and the social misfit who watches by the side. There will be the aunt who loves talking about Disney movies and the one who lectures about books to uninterested kids. Our opinions on what’s good for kids differs, and so should our acceptance of social behaviour displayed toward them.
Yes, I am not “good with children“. But I am convinced that if and when the time comes, I too can bring up someone who has a good, clean heart. Not being a little-friend-of-all-the-children-in-the-world will not hold me back.
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