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The article by Veena Venugopal titled “Stop the lies about parenting” (link here) has been making the rounds on social networks over the past couple of days but I got around to reading it just today.
Ms.Venugopal has rather aptly and pithily presented her point of view about why “parenting is not all that it’s cracked up to be”. She has stated that there is a lot of exhaustion involved through the process of parenting and that none of it is even remotely blissful. The only bliss, she states, is the one that parents experience 9 months before the baby is born. She has also put forth her objections to the manner in which women are forced by society to don the robes of parenthood because society puts pressure on people to have children. She has objected to women being looked down upon or being ostracised because they choose not to have children.
While all of these are her personal, frank opinions and I do agree with the second bit about society being wrong in putting pressure on people to have children, I think she’s crossed the line and taken things too far in making a lot of assumptions about parenting and motherhood. She is correct in saying that there are a lot of couples out there who have consciously decided that parenting is not their cup of tea and ergo have decided not to go in for a child. Yes, there are indeed many such couples in society and I do respect their decisions, their attitudes and I doff my hat to them because they know exactly what they want or don’t want and they stand by it.
As regards Ms. Venugopal’s article, while it is fine to put forth what one thinks, what makes this write up unfair is the way in which parenting and motherhood have been generalised in the negative.
I am a mom to two kids. Yes, I have known exhaustion as they grew up and as I was the primary caretaker right from the time they were babies through their toddlerhood days through their early childhood days and so on. I have known the bone weary exhaustion that she talks about in her article. I have known the sleepless nights that she talks about in her article. For that matter, all mothers have, all parents have – at some point of time in their tryst with parenting. There have been many times when I’ve been at my wit’s end, there have been umpteen times when I have not known what to do because no parenting manual prepares you or tutors you about what to do in a given situation, yet there has not been a single moment in my life that I have regretted having stepped into parenthood. I am not glorifying motherhood here, I am simply stating a fact.
Yet again, I wonder why she assumes that everybody who steps into parenthood does so because of celebrity endorsements or marketing slogans. If one does feel the pulse among the general populace now, there are many couples in urban areas and yes, a smaller number in the rural areas too, who decide when to step into parenthood. There are people actively practicing contraception, there are couples planning their families in terms of when they think they would be ready for the responsibility that a baby / child would put on their shoulders, there are many people out there who plan in the financial sense too – get an education fund going and stuff like that before they step into parenthood. What I’m trying to say here is that people, for the most part, are well aware of the responsibilities that a baby / child comes with.
If they’ve decided not to step into parenthood for five years, if they’ve decided not to have children for a certain number of years, until they are ready to take on the responsibilities that parenting brings along with it, the author should know that it takes a lot more than newspapers that smell like babies bottoms, to have them rushing into having babies. For the most part, it does not work that way anymore. People are a lot more sensible than she’s given them credit for, parents included.
Yes, I do fully agree when she says that parenting is about sleepless nights, parenting is about sick babies, parenting is about staying up with a cranky colicky baby, parenting is about changing diapers, sterilising bottles and yes parenting is about getting pooed on, peed on and puked on (she missed those bits in her write up). What might be difficult for the author to believe, given the mindset she has clearly displayed, is that parents really take these things in their stride because they know it is a package deal. With those little fingers and toes that reiterate ones faith in humanity to those toothless smiles that definitely make your heart do a crazy flip, parents are well aware of the crap end of the deal too. No parent out there is trying to paint a picture that is all roses, they are well aware of the thorns too – only thing being stepping on a thorns along the way does not make them whimper, cry and question the sensibility of their decision to step into parenthood.
End of the day, parents are, for the most part, aware that parenthood is indeed a package deal. The little nitty gritties that parenthood is going to throw is something no one can foresee. Yet, through it all, parents know they walk a tightrope and they are perfectly aware of the responsibilities that parenting brings along with it. Whenever one steps into anything new in life, they are stepping into the unknown. When one changes jobs, changes careers, moves house, moves to a different country, decides to study further or any such situation, one is stepping into the unknown. Yes indeed, like the author says, in all these situations there is always an out but in parenting there is none. True but then we human beings are made of much sterner stuff, we are a lot more resilient than throwing in the towel just because the odds happen to be stacked against us. So why should parenting be any different ? Change is the only constant in life and to grow, one needs to change and adapt to situations. Face the situation head on is what most people do rather than opt to run away from it all, foreseeing a challenge
The author, I must say, is rather grossly mistaken when she states that mommy bloggers are the latest entrants, in her language, to the category of people trying to make motherhood sound all glamorous. If one takes a good look around at parenting websites or “mommy blogs” as they are called, one sees a whole plethora of articles. Also, it is no longer just mommy bloggers, there are a lot many daddies too, who blog about parenting. So, it is wrong on the part of the author to make this a sexist issue as well.
Yes, parents do gush over their babies on their blogs but that is not it. There is a lot more, on these platforms, on these websites. One finds parents seeking advice, one finds parents sharing their views and opinions on matters related to child rearing and child development. Issues relating to schooling, education, cultural divides, speech, reading … there is a whole world, a whole library of articles out there. Yet again, when parents speak from experience, they are not putting themselves on a higher pedestal accorded to them by parenthood, as they author suggests in her article. They are merely contributing to a large pool of suggestions, advice or their say, their views in a discussion.
Yes indeed, like the author says, reality is what happens outside the blog but that in no ways means what happens inside the blog is not reality. It is. Yes indeed, like the author says, parenting is about wondering if it is a jacket day or a jacket plus sweater day. Parenting is about worrying and wondering if one’s child will be able to cope with the demands and the pressures of the outside world. Parenting is about angst, it is about worry and anguish over ones kids just as much as it is about the happiness and the mushiness.
Parenting is about being tough with a child to ensure that they learn to be responsible and disciplined just as much as parenting is about being lenient and forgiving, for these are important values in life too. Parenting is about wiping the tears off your child’s face when they are hurt just as much as it is about laughing with your child over something silly and joyful. Parenting is about getting hurt in the process just as much as it is about healing and learning to carry on. Parenting is about the agonising decision of whether to be a stay at home mom or to be a working mom but parenting is also about learning to make your peace with your decision. Parenting is about being a steadying force but on the other hand, parenting is also about deciding when to rock the boat and help and teach children to cope with the upheavals. Parenting is just as much about holding your toddlers’ hand and teaching them to walk as it will be when they hold your hand and help you up in your old age. Parenting is just as much about holding on to a bicycle so your child does not topple over as it is about letting that bicycle go and letting your child learn that wobbling, falling down, dusting themselves off, getting back in the saddle and learning to balance are all a part of the very same game.
End of the day, parenting or parenthood is not something I'd indolently dismiss or compare to something like swimming in the Amazon or high altitude mountain climbing. While those may be life altering moments, parenthood is much more - it is an emotion that grips you with a fierceness you've not known existed. It definitely has its moments of highs and lows but to say that people get into parenthood to seek validation of some sort, far from the truth.
That moment when tears turn into a smile, that moment when your little one slips his / her hand into yours, when the body language translates loud and clear in saying "I trust you", those impromptu hugs that say "I love you", your child knowing that you are there for him / her when he / she needs you the most, is all the validation every parent needs.
In my books, these little things are indeed bliss.