Thursday, 4 June 2009

As a mother

It’s hard to explain my feelings when I read about the baby P case or the case where a toddler was left to starve while her parents worked in the pub below. As a mother, deliberately harming my child or depriving him of food/water is the most appalling, heinous crime imaginable.

In the baby P case 17 month old Peter was ‘allowed to die’ by his mother while her boyfriend subjected him to horrific abuse which included eight broken ribs, a broken back and the missing top of a finger amongst many others. In another case, 3-year-old Tiffany died after extreme neglect. She had not been fed or given any water for at least 20 hours before she died of severe malnutrition and spent her last days in rooms filled with dog faeces and buckets of putrid water.

In both cases the mothers were repeatedly untruthful, evasive, manipulative and consistently deceived the authorities. What baffles me though is that during these pro-longed periods of inflicting abuse on their children the mothers showed no apparent signs of remorse or guilt.

May be these crimes were committed by people who were battling mental illness, alcohol and drug abuse but I cant help wondering if they are a very extreme reflection of how motherhood is changing.

Is the instinct of motherhood fading away? Have changing family structures, demanding lifestyles and growing individuality affected the basic instinct of a mother to protect her child?? Is motherhood similar to other instincts like hunting, gathering etc. that fades away when not used?

Did the mothers not have a single instance, which would shake them out of their ‘slumber’ and awaken their instincts to save their children?

Having grown up in India, I am familiar with motherhood being considered as one of the highest achievements of a woman. I’ve seen mothers regularly sacrifice their education, careers, hobbies and much more for their children and families. The question: whether she wants to do it, is never really asked. How could she not?? What can possibly be more important than her child? Although things are changing now with both parents working, smaller family sizes and hectic lifestyles, but Motherhood still remains the top most priority.

I’ve been in UK for the last decade (nearly!). Things in the West are complicated by the high teenage pregnancy rates and the crumbling family structure but not for a minute am I suggesting that mothers here don’t do as much (you should come to our local swimming pool at 8 on a Saturday morning!). However, I do think that the Western society is more focused on the individual person and parental sacrifice is not always at the top of the list in bringing up kids.

May be it should not be a sacrifice. I should be able to do what I want to and fit my children around it…but in doing that am I overriding my maternal instinct to put children first. And is it this override, which at its worst allows mothers to let their children be punched to death or deprived of food and water.

Can this constant override reshape our instinct over generations?? And forever?

Personally, becoming a mother was the most amazing experience. In true Bollywood style the scene that flashes before my eyes is my newborn son still upside-down, still joined to me by the cord, all slimy and covered in indescribable stuff… a beautiful sight. My earliest emotions after giving birth were; wanting to hug and thank every mother I knew for letting their mind, body and soul go through the roller coaster that is childbirth.

For me being a mother is being the strongest person and the most vulnerable at exactly the same time. As a working mother I have struggled with (like most others), to find time, resources, energy to give my best to my Son.

But am I willing to make fewer sacrifices for my children today than my mother did 30 years ago? Does that make me less of a mother? Are my instincts to make sacrifices dying? Is this a part of evolution where the children a few centuries from now will be expected to be much more self-reliant?

One of my favourite Hindi Poet Maithili Sharan Gupt wrote:

Simply put: A mother is never a bad mother, the son (child) may well be a bad son. A mother should be hailed for being a mother.

Maybe that’s set to change…


dkaryekar said...

Nicely written devaki.
May be they did not have the 'maternal instinct' despite of these being their children. For that matter , they possibly may have reacted in a similar manner had it not been their children but xyz being abused. If they are not mentally incapcitated( fear , self esteem issues, depression etc etc) due to some illness then their reactions appear to be of sheer apathy which one may never be able to overcome , mother or not.

Raja said...

Very thought-provoking article, Devaki. If that is indeed to change, as you say it might be, perhaps our generation needs to introspect more than we think necessary.

Sushmita said...

I think what scares most women everywhere is the thought of really talking about who we are, what we want to be because of the fact that who we 'should' be takes precedence. It doesn't matter which society we live in!

I agree motherhood is the most important job in the world, what we need to ask ourselves is, is this because it really is, or is it because we have been drilled with the idea that once you become a mother, nothing else should matter?

I take pride in being a mom, but sure there are days when I am frustrated as hell...and all I want is to be able to talk about and not feel judged because I say so...and am sure most mothers out there would echo this...

Nicely written, Devaki..kudos.

Pallavi said...

Good thought Devaki.....Stepping into motherhood, I've thought about these things often. Lets c how it actually turns out!