Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Mothering Today - Changes and Challenges.

Written for the 4th Annual International  Women's Day Contest.

A mother.  Oh, that glorified being! She's called an angel, a goddess, the paragon of love – but being a mother is hard. Yes, I am speaking of this section of urban middle-class mothers, who have it much better than their rural counterparts, who, in many cases, are still trying to keep their children alive. We, in contrast, can afford to keep our children well-fed, healthy and comfortable, and we cannot compare our problems with them, and we will not.

Our issues are different, and unique to this generation.

The last couple of decades have seen an explosion of information, and this information overload has been both a boon and a curse to today's mother.  That has been the biggest change, and it is, I think, the greatest challenge she faces.

I'll split it into three parts.

Awareness and choice. The mother of today is so much more aware of the world around her and the choices available to her, that she is.... confused. There are choices to be made in everything. Health (Conventional medicine? Alternative medicine?) Schooling. (Mainstream schools? Alternative schools? A mix of both?) Food. (Organic? Supplements? Health Drinks?) Parenting styles (Attachment? Helicopter? Permissive? Authoritative?) Lifestyle (Modern? Traditional? A mix?) Work. (Work out of home? Work from home? Work partly from home? Stay at home? Stay at home and work once a week?) Childcare. (Nanny? Daycare? Full-time maid? Part-time maid? Grandparents?) You name it, and she has multiple choices. Which is a good thing, but only if she is clear about what she wants. If she is not, then making a choice is very difficult. Yes, there is enough material about the pros and cons of every choice available to her. And it can help her make up her mind – or become more confused.

And this is just one aspect. Remember, her child is also exposed to the same kind of information overload, and is more aware of the world around her than children of yesterday. And we all know that today's child has a mind of her own – and is not afraid to speak it. So, when you pit these two individuals against each other, the possibilities of conflict are endless.

One more negative aspect of too much information - not only are you informed of the positive things happening out there, you know as much about all that is going wrong in the world. Ask any mother and she will tell you that after she had a child, the violence and perversion of the world scares her much more than it did before. At every point, she is aware that she is sending her child out into a world that is probably very unsafe – and that is something that mothers of yesterday didn't have to contend with to this extent.

The shrinking world. Earlier, a mother just compared herself to her neighbour. Now, she compares notes with a blogger half way around the globe, who isn't even aware of her existence, and feels miserably inadequate. And then there is Facebook, where people put up pictures of themselves and their perfectly turned-out children going on exotic vacations and posing for photographs in beautifully decorated living rooms, and then this mother sees these pictures right after snapping at Kid 1 while cleaning up the sheets over which Kid 2 just threw up, and she feels like the worst mother in the world.

Earlier, a mother was bombarded with advice only from her mother-in-law and the neighbourhood nosy parker. But now, she is flooded with suggestions, often contradictory, from people of all nationalities all across the globe (and they all cite the best sources.) Come to think of it, it is a terrible state for a mother to be in.

The "Me" Factor. The majority of mothers earlier just gave up their own lives after marriage and kids, and lived "for the family." Today's mother is an educated, aware (that word again) and confident person who knows what she wants in her life. She loves her kids, make no mistake, but is not ready to let her own dreams go down the drain. She isn't happy being "Chintu's mother." She wants her own identity.

And this is one of the most beautiful things about today's mother. That she knows that she deserves her own place under the sun, and that she is ready to work for it. But it is also very hard. Because immediately,  that tired phrase pops up – "work-life balance." How much work and how much life is the right balance for her? (And why is work not life? And why isn't this used as much for men? But we won't go there.) Can she really not have it all? And the moment she chooses one over the other, out comes the Guilt. Yes, with a Capital G.

When you think of it, parenting is all about Balance. How much of work, and how much of being with the child? Balance. How much of mollycoddling and how much of discipline? Balance. Too much freedom, and the child will go wild. Too strict and the child will rebel. What to do? Balance.

And the thing is – this Balance? It is different for each person. It varies with the mother's lifestyle and life choices, and setting. And nobody can tell her what she "must" do. Because there is nothing like "must." This is what every mother of today needs to know. And she has to throw out the Guilt. Because she is doing the best she can. She is processing information and she is making the choices she believes is the best. Yes, she goes wrong often, but then that's how she learns. Contrary to popular opinion, mothers are not goddesses, nor angels, nor saints. Mothers are people with opinions and dreams, fears and failings – and we are learning every day.

But there is one thing. In spite of all our shortcomings, all the wavering and confusion, all the snapping and impatience, we love our children to bits.

And that, my friends, is neither a challenge, nor will it ever change.

Edited to add:  In my rush to write this, I overlooked the basic condition that the post has to be less than 500 words to qualify for the contest. :) Anyway, I had fun writing this.


Manish'sMom said...

My God Shruthi! You speak my mind so clearly for me that its eerieeeee!!! What a wonderful blog. And oh yes! I have finally reached a stage in my life where I have decided that I am happy to be known as Manish's mom.

Sowmya said...

Such a nice write up on whats going around with the new age moms.
I totally agree with what you say about the number of choices we have and the confusion it causes.
Gave me some confidence after reading the Guilt part. After all that is exactly how I feel atleast once a day :( Hopefully over time we will be able to overcome it.

rajk said...

As usual, a lovely post. I especially loved point #2. So true, at least in my case.
I'm also happy to see that you consider point #3 "the most beautiful part" of modern motherhood.
Here's to more wise (and witty) words from you!

charu said...

Thank you for putting it so clearly. At the end of the day, a mother needs to live with her own conscience.

Shruthi said...

Manish's mom, yeah and that's something beautiful too. The choice and contentment to be called Manish's mom :)

Sowmya, it is very hard. More power to you :)

RajK, awww thanks!

Charu, very true.

Radhika said...

Agree with you completely! An overload of information and we want to give best of all we seem to know, to the child. FB peer pressure is so true!

Anonymous said...

Hi Shruthi,
i enjoy reading your blog... i especially agree with you abt the "ME" factor ...

Good luck to u :)

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