Starry eyed had raised a question in her post on whether a surrogate mother, mother to an adopted child or a woman who has lost a child due to death or miscarriage and one who has been cut off from her children for whatever reason is still a mother. The inputs from her readers are interesting and most agree that a mother need not necessarily be a biological one to qualify as a mother. Surrogate mothers as well as those who adopt children are all mothers. Surrogacy and adoption are to my mind more superior forms of motherhood because society’s prying eyes keep watching them at every step and dealing with them is much more tough– this thankfully is a problem that biological mothers do not face. However, motherhood is a social responsibility in itself and however hard one tries on hind sight there is always a lingering doubt as to whether one has failed in this or the other aspect.
I have been a mother for 36 years and my role as a mother has seen its ups and down despite having tried my best. But one of the conditions mentioned bothers me. Does a person who is cut off from her child for whatever reason qualify to be a mother? Cut off from one’s children? Is it possible, I wonder? One may be physically cut off from her child but emotionally? Not easy at all I feel.
When I was growing up it was normal for children to be raised by grandparents’ preferably maternal grandparents. It was not unusual to have 4 to 6 children in quick succession so the older children would be conveniently left behind to make life easy for the mother. My own grandfather had at least 6 grandchildren staying with him since their fathers had transferable jobs and their schooling was getting disrupted. I often used to wonder how the children felt about it. While a mother may still feel connected to the child would a child feel the same way?
My father in law and his brothers had all left their oldest son to be educated and looked after by their grandparents mainly because Jamshedpur being far off they felt that this was a way to help their daughters. I had myself left my daughter with my mother for a year just when she had begun to recognize me and would refuse to go to anyone from my lap. It was not easy to not listen to her first words and watch her take her first steps. But then I had my compulsions and I hope I haven’t been considered less a mother because of it.
Having said this I come back to the original question. Who is a mother in the real sense? A biological mother has an edge over others in that she gets to decide what is best for her child. I know of a girl who did not conceive even 6 years of marriage and she decided to adopt her husband’s younger sister’s third child – a daughter. Within a year she got pregnant and had a biological child – again a daughter. As far as I can see she is good to both children and treats them at par. But her parents in law keep looking for subtle differences in their upbringing even where there are none. With time she got frustrated and showed them the door. According to her they were being over protective about the adopted child who was by chance their biological granddaughter too and were poisoning the child’s mind. It was impossible to raise the children as long as they interfered. If one’s own family views a mother’s intention towards her adopted child with suspicion why not the world around her?
A mother to my mind is one who knows to strike a balance between the affection that she feels for the child and the responsibility that she faces in making him/her a person fit enough to take his/her place in society. It is not easy but one has to try. When my children were in their primary classes my husband would drop them to school and they would come home by local transport. On rare occasions I would pick them up from school on my way back from college. The thought of my children standing in the sun waiting for a bus was not very comforting but I could not bring myself to leave a little early to pick them up. It was equally difficult for me to ask for favors from my colleagues in college on a daily basis. But then I encouraged them to go to school by cycle and they became independent pretty soon. So these little set backs actually worked in their favor – so what if the world considered me a bad mother who was hard on her kids.
And then what about mothers whose intentions are good but approach is questionable. Like a mother in a joint family who supposedly would carry a pail full of buttermilk with thick curd at the bottom. While serving her own children she’d take out the curd from the bottom and serve diluted buttermilk to other children in the group. While I agree that individual care for one’s own children is not possible in a joint family set up some middle path has to be adopted. May be the buttermilk and curd could be churned together so that all children get to consume a fairly nutritious diet. I feel a mother needs to be fair minded if she wants her children to get the right message regarding their interactions with their peers.
I’ve almost forgotten another group of mothers - the step mothers. They are the most maligned group among mothers. True, the step mother who has to bond with a child who is not her own and who is a constant reminder of a woman who was once an important person in her husband’s life. Like the case of mothers of adopted children she has to walk on tight rope. I had discussed about a few step mothers who were very caring and affectionate in this post of mine and pointed out that despite the impression one has about the group, there are several who are very good mothers and let us give them due credit.
I have seen women without issues being universal mothers. Having one’s own children has acted as a limiting factor. You love your own children and are so focused that there is no real need to look around and spare a moment for other children. But very often a childless aunt makes herself available whenever approached. She is able to treat a whole bunch of nieces, nephews and other children in the neighborhood with equal affection and one wonders whether her not having children of her own was because she was destined to be mother to more children than she could have ever borne herself? I know of one such person myself and remember her with the same affection that I have for my own mother.
I have to conclude by saying that the natural maternal instinct shown by a woman has little to do with bearing and rearing a child. It cannot be attributed to biological mothers alone. What makes one a mother in the true sense of the word is her ability to understand the responsibility that is involved in grooming children to become an integrated part of society. Anyone who fulfils the role is indeed a mother whether or not she happens to be a biological one.