All of us look at the Taj Mahal and marvel at its ethereal beauty. But very few of us stop to ponder about the hard work that went to erecting this marvellously beautiful monument. The sweat, blood and tears that were shed, the limbs and lives lost. Who thinks of all that? Maybe a handful. The same happens when people look at a smiling face and a happy family. They think the smiling face was born that way and never had to face any adversities in life. They assume the ‘happiness’ was gifted to the family on a platter, with watercress around it. They forget that behind every smiling face and the cheerful family whose happiness is envied are stories just like anyone else’s, different only in the finer details.
I marvel when I see people go all misty-eyed remembering their lost childhood, wanting to make a return trip to those unforgettable times. Yes, I do admit we all have memories, good and bad. But if you ask me, I personally don’t own a single happy memory of my childhood, not a measly one which I can revisit and say, “Oh how wonderful it was then. I wish I could relive it all over again!” In spite, I did something else which others seemed to have missed doing in their carefree childhood: I observed what happened around me. I analysed what I so observed, I thought hard about what the solutions could be to problems, I came to my own conclusions (or admitted to myself that I did not have an answer, but vowed to go on searching for it) and made mental notes on what I was going to do (and of course what I was not going to let happen too) when I had a family of my own.
That is when were sown the seeds on how I was going to raise my own children. I picked up more inputs on the way through life, from some more of observing as also a lot more of reading and introspecting. But I certainly had no idea what I was letting myself in for, for having such clear cut ideas and opinions on child rearing.
In our society marriages and children happen as a matter of course. There is no planning beforehand. It is worse in the case of arranged marriages. Even before the man and woman get to know each other, they find themselves parents of children. You will find that new parents have hardly given any thought on how exactly they want to bring up their children. Interestingly, they would not even have deemed such thoughts necessary. And horror of horrors, they are actually inordinately proud of this stupid attitude of theirs. “That’s how we have been living for centuries” say some smugly. “We grew up this way and look at how we have turned out. What’s wrong with us?” ask others in earnest. All I can say is: just look around you my dears and see for yourself what centuries of living without any responsibility has done to us. But of course, isn’t it much easier to blame the Big Bad West and its influence, and be done with it? Besides which, why are these so-happy-with-everything-as-it-has-been people so busy running after latest gadgets, styles and what not? Why are they not travelling in a bullock cart or better still, living on trees?
Anyways, these questions of what’s wrong with old ways were asked in my home too when I tried to initiate discussions on how we as parents were going to rear the child yet to be born to us. I am far thinking that way. I was only a few months preggers at the time. What were the things we were agreed upon and where lay the differences, if any? Was it possible to iron them out and reach a consensus? It is always better as parents to have such a general idea instead of waiting for differences to crop up later and then go at it hammer and tongs in the heat of the moment. That was/is my reasoning. Incredulous looks and amused laughter was what I got in return. This chit of a girl thinks she knows more (and better) than what’s been followed for centuries? What, if anything new, is SHE going to do? Hyuk hyuk hyuk. She who should be asking her revered elders for tips and follow them to the letter is trying to steer her own course?! Of course I turned red in mortification and annoyance, but I had no intention of letting things be.
When it was realised I was serious, I faced stiff opposition all the way. I had to fight furiously and sometimes secretly (I don’t approve of parents who discuss and argue about kids in front of them) to get my way. You might ask, why MY way? Did I think mine was the ONLY way that would work? Not at all. I am always open for conversations. But if no one had anything better to suggest other than a bland, ‘What’s to decide on child rearing?’, then I find no reason why I should not insist that MY way be enforced. At least it is a ‘way’ not a ‘whatever’ sort of outlook.
It wasn’t easy. There were times I wanted to give up the fight. Giving up half way is so easy you know. You always have the comfort of convincing yourself you tried and lost. You see, I am not a born fighter, I am a persistent giver-up, and someone totally devoid of any ambition, hence have not only given up things half-way through many times, but never even attempted those things which I could probably crack. But these here were my children. I wanted the best for them. If I did not fight for getting them what I considered the best upbringing, then who would? So I had to take up cudgels on their behalf. This earned me enmity from those around, and undeserving names such as arrogant, snooty, stand-offish, thinks no end of herself, think she is too good for the likes of us yada yada. Yes, in India, if you are a woman (and a ‘mere’ homemaker at that), have convictions, express an opinion in confident tones and dare to follow it up, you are branded as all of the above.
Yet, I stood up, became a tigress, for my children’s sake, fighting off anyone who wanted to see them just one more in a herd of sheep. Starting with me insisting on breastfeeding my first born with opposition from all sides, it was a fight all the way. A colicky baby in your hand makes experts of everyone with even a single goddamn grey hair on the head. I was forced to take a stand with such ‘wise’ ones, that my baby was not a guinea pig for them to experiment their various cures. I insisted to those around me that my authority not be belittled in front of my children. I refused to meekly accept the actions of those who tried to pamper the children or support their tantrums in a bid to undermine my authority and get into the children’s good books which I feel is the cheapest trick in the book. I refused to join the ‘grades are everything’ platoon and in this matter I had to take on teachers as well. I encouraged the children to have minds of their own, do things differently. I refused to treat them as serfs, which was more common way of treating children in the past. Parents are NOT Gods. I defy the ‘matru pitr devo bhava’ that everyone quotes. Parents or for that matter teachers, are just guides and mentors to children. Our duty is only to prepare them for life, not make children into obedient (and in the process spineless) and subserviant little pet robots. Unfortunately that’s what most parents aim for, some unknowingly.
Years later I reaped the fruit of my hard labor, the battle I waged almost single-handedly. No, not just in the form of children who respect and love their Mom. The parents, in-laws, other relatives, friends, and of course the children’s Dad all admitted (some directly some others only indirectly and very, very grudgingly) that I had been right and had done a good job. But do remember the story of the beautiful Taj Mahal, and the sweat and blood that lies behind it. I was not always right. Sometimes I failed, especially the times I lost my cool and instead of the firm reasonable approach screamed my lungs out at them. That’s my only regret and something I would go back to if I could and change.
This post is about standing up for my boys. That is actually a lot easier in our society. People are a bit lenient when it comes to male children. After sometime they leave you alone. You know what folks, what I would have loved would have been to stand up for a couple of girls. Now that would have been really something. I know on reading this, my sons may end up accusing me (*sob sob*) that I prefer daughters to sons. But really speaking, just think of the amount of standing up I would have had to do for daughters?! I could have actually had double the fun roaring and mauling the eyes off those who dared clip their wings.
Written for the Women’s Web ‘I stood up’ Blogathon