In my 28th week of pregnancy, I’m literally on the fence of motherhood. This is not a fence of indecisiveness, but more of a time mandated eventuality. In another 12 weeks give or take, I hope to be a mother. And between reading up on what I need to buy, should I bother setting up a nursery, should we co-sleep or put the baby in his own room etc. etc., it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that parenting is going to be way more difficult than making mundane choices on gear and feeding and diapering.
For instance, what kind of a parent will I really be? If my personality is any precursor, I’m probably going to be loving, stressed out and impatient. I’m going to have to learn a few things about myself. What really makes me sit down and think, a little bit in fear almost, is that I’ve never had to be a role model for anyone until now. I’ve never had to watch how I behave, react to situations but now I will because my child will not just learn from what I say, but from what I do. I don’t think there’s anything scarier than that. Me, as a standard for human behavior.
This makes me think back to my own parents, about whom I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. For one, I think my parents were perfect, of course. How else would they have made me perfect? (that’s not an original, it’s from Mindy Kaling). But jokes apart, as it happens with time, you only remember the big important things about your childhood. And mine was a very happy one. Sure I remember not having that Rs. 100 Barbie doll because my father couldn’t afford to splurge on that stuff but look at how Barbie is viewed today! The best memories I have of my childhood is our dinner table. We always ate together and I always finished last and cleaned up the table (not so memorable at this point). But more importantly, when I think back to my parents what I really remember is who they were. My father was always a practical idealist with strong, soft hands. I read a lot about different parenting styles – attachment vs detachment, DIY and what not. My dad was all of that rolled into one. It was almost like he was just born to be a dad. He did it, it seemed like, effortlessly. He was always home by 6 (which became a pain when I was a teenager and wanted to stay out late, he was ALWAYS waiting). He hand-fed us, bathed us and I remember falling asleep on him as a child of as old as 6 or 7. My mother cloth diapered us, because it was cheaper not because it was an environmental fad. My parents didn’t baby wear but they carried us around for as long as they could (no, we didn’t have strollers or prams, those were for rich kids). And we were forced to finish everything on our plates, which for as long as I remember, was the food that everyone ate.
Despite all that, was I a spoilt brat? Yes, in today’s world if I met myself as a child, I’d think I was an ill-behaved brat. I had tantrums but no one paid attention to them, except my mom. But all I remember being that child, was happiness. I felt loved and smothered with affection and attention every single day. We grew up with other families and kids so my brattiness was not tolerated eventually. We went to tons of family parties all the time, learned music, art but it was never a big deal. We spent hours playing outside, but always within safe confines. And I like to think that eventually, I turned out fine. I do have friends and family who love me and put up with me. So my parents must have got something right.
I also remember strong parenting, corporal punishment (my dad was picky about the body parts he would whack – usually my butt or pull my ear lobes, more annoying and insulting than painful, which was the purpose). I also remember never being pushed to accomplish anything. Of course I had to have academics under control, but once when I was in sixth grade, I slipped from 2nd position to 7th position and I thought all hell would break loose at home. My father was unfazed. All he asked was why do you think that happened and if you feel bad about it, what are you going to do about it. As a 11 year old I was dumbfounded. I mumbled something about working harder and he went back to his tea and cigarettes. He was no tiger parent. But oddly he wasn’t so casual when he caught me lying about something incredibly trivial. He asked if I drank my milk, I said yes and he found traces of discarded milk. To him that was a major transgression of trust. It became a huge brawl and I went to bed, crying. I just didn’t get why it was a big deal. But I know now that he hated nothing more than lies, however insignificant they were. And that told me he cared far more about the kind of person I was rather than what I would achieve in life.
He never pushed me on any of our big life decisions. We eventually married who we wanted, studied what we wanted. My father always asked questions about why we thought we asked for something we wanted. He even asked me why I wanted to marry my husband! At our wedding, he behaved like he was the father of the groom, was far more jovial and relaxed than my FIL who, was the host in this case!
Yes there were bad memories too, but they somehow don’t matter as much. Of course, there were resource constraints but somehow growing up with those resource constraints, we always knew they were there and we chose accordingly. My mother was a lesson in frugality and saving, although neither my husband nor I are keen savers. Something about growing up as middle class kids in India, when we’re finally on our own, we save enough but we also enjoy the fine things. I know our parents would have wanted to when they were young but they had bigger burdens of worry then. We’re lucky that we are far more fortunate than they were. I learned how to cook, fret and worry about loved ones from my mother. But I learned how to let go, how to really be independent from my father and my sister.
So now when I think how I’m going to do as a mom, I must say I have no idea. Because I’m also one of those over-educated, over-thinking types that feels the instinctive need to Google every thing. That’s the bane of my generation. That’s unlike our folks, for whom becoming parents was not a choice, but a natural progression of life, that continues to give them joy for years into their old age. For whom, it appears to me, that parenting came naturally, that they made us into good people effortlessly. I bet there was sweat and blood and toil behind all that, but like good parents they never let us see it. I just hope that despite living abroad for a better part of my adulthood, being an over-educated, slightly older new-mom, I will always remember how to be a parent like my parents.