Friday, November 26, 2010

On motherhood.........

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.


starry eyed said...

Loved the post HHG. You brought out especially the strain one can be under when mothering under off-the-beaten-path circumstances.

Mothers do cut off emotionally from their grown-up offspring, and like one commenter on my post said, it just goes to show that the bond between mother and child was never a strong one if it could break so easily, because of conditional love. :(

I really like the way you have said that mothering is not pampering, one needs to practice some amount of tough love, else kids feel entitled and become dependent selfish individuals. They do need to be taught responsibility with each bit of independence we encourage them towards.

Shachi said...

Love this post...the last paragraph nails it.

Renu said...

your posts bring so many memories...
I know a mother who has pampered her daughter so much that today the grown up girl is a lazy bum, and still she likes to rest while her mother is working, this girl brings so much of miser to her inlaws family too with her laziness and indisciplined life.

There is this Granny who kept her grandaughter for 5 months when her dil went abroad, and when she came back, granny became over protective of the little girl and started interferring in her fights with her little brother, and she became so partial that she was a continuous source of stress in her DIL's life and grand daughters upbringing..

dr.antony said...

"Why do grandparents and grandchildren get along so well? They have the same enemy -- the mother."

Grandparents are notorious for their ultimate love and affection to their grandchildren, to the extent of raising them as spoiled children.It is not a good idea, but not bad either,as a practical one.I believe that parents should take up the responsibility of bringing up their children, or plan to have them,when they think it suits them and they can do it.Like you mentioned,it would have been feasible at earlier times,with many children to take care of.
There is a bond which binds the biological mother to her child like the cord which connected them.She has born the child and given birth to him,and that equals no other relationships.For an argument one can say,well,there are good mothers and bad mothers,so isn't it someone who takes care a better person?

I can tell you a story as well.

Moving Mountains

There were two warring tribes in the Andes, one that lived in the lowlands and the other high in the mountains. The mountain people invaded the lowlanders one day, and as part of their plundering of the people, they kidnapped a baby of one of the lowlander families and took the infant with them back up into the mountains.

The lowlanders didn't know how to climb the mountain. They didn't know any of the trails that the mountain people used, and they didn't know where to find the mountain people or how to track them in the steep terrain.

Even so, they sent out their best party of fighting men to bring the baby home.
The men tried first one method of climbing and then another. They tried one trail and then another. After several days of effort, however, they had climbed only a couple of hundred feet.

Feeling hopeless and helpless, the lowlander men decided that the cause was lost, and they prepared to return to their village below.
As they were packing their gear for the descent, they saw the baby's mother walking toward them. They realized that she was coming down the mountain that they hadn't figured out how to climb.

And then they say that she had the baby strapped to her back. How could that be?
One man greeted her and said, "We couldn't climb this mountain. How did you do this when we, the strongest and most able men in the village, couldn't do it?"

She shrugged her shoulders and said, "It wasn't your baby."

~ Jim Stovall

That is the difference.

Hip Grandma said...

Starry eyed:I took the cue from your blog. So the credit is yours actually. Some mothers I feel are over possessive and unwilling to let go. This is perhaps the reason for conflict when the child wishes to move on.I think I should go through the comments to both your posts once again.


Renu:Mothers and g'mothers ought to set a limit and encourage their children to gradually mature into responsible adults. The cases mentioned by you are simply problem creators not only to their family but to society.

Dr.Antony:That was a sweet story. Thanks for sharing it. But the question remains. Are mothers who are not the biological mothers of the child in any way inferior or different to them? They do not have the connection of the umblical cord and yet they love the child unconditionally. Isn't that a credit to them?

R's Mom said...

Wonderful post HHG..I loved the way to said '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' so true!

Sumana said...

Loved the post HHG. yes it is true the way you describe a mother.
But i would also liek to add that the others who are around the kid most of the time also should play a better role in upbringing of the child, else it might just negate the mother's effect.

radha said...

Difficult to put in words what the maternal instinct is all about. It is not just about caring. When you look after any child ( say someone who has been left in your care for a while), you tend to take care of their needs both physical and emotional. But as a mother, you have the liberty of even putting them in place when you think they are straying. I think that essentially is what motherhood is all about.. loving, caring as well as correcting them, something we do not do when we do not consider a child our own.

Hip Grandma said...

R's mom:thank you. Any relation has to be balanced. The one between mother and children is tight rope walking.

sumana;You are right. Imterfering relatives and friends can do a lot of damage without really meaning to.

radha:admonishing an errant child is something all responsible people should do even if she/he is not a parent.And mothers should be able to understand that if her child is criticized for its own good then she should not wrongly take up for the kid.

Anonymous said...

what a lovely lovely post HHG

loved these lines "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."

and i think I said these before, I have seen very good step mothers and very bad biological ones... it all depends on how a person is able to balance the definition u mentioned above

hillgrandmom said...

HHG, a mother is one --whether biological or not--who can love her child unconditionally and has the mental strength to realise that her child needs to grow into a complete human being, who is an asset to society.

Sandhya said...

Just read this post and found it very thoughtful and full of emotions. I agree with you that stepmothers or those with adopted chidren should be considered mothers and treated on par with biological mothers. One of my cousins adopted a baby girl when she was 5 months old. An year later, his wife gave birth to another baby girl. The adopted girl is treated very well and is considered lucky charm in the entire household. My cousin's wife says she does not for a moment think that the older child is an adopted one. I know of a family in my hometown where in the stepmother struggled a lot to educate her stepson. The son who respects and loves his mother is now well placed and makes sure that every need of his mother is met. In the process, she has won the respect of her husband, son and others as well. To me, she is a just a mother and need not be called stepmother. Am I right?

It is very true that women go through a great deal of pain to give birth to a child. However, what is even more painstaking and important is to raise a child who becomes a responsible individual and does his/her bit to the society. And a stepmother - or a mother with adopted children - who takes up this responsibility should be rightfully called [the mother'.



Dear Hip Hop Grandmom....wonderful thoughts! So appreciate you for putting it down so well! First of all,Kudos to you! Since I know you personally, I take this opportunity to acknowledge that you are a wonderful mother! Personally, I refrain from using the word 'mother' -it brings up emotions I find difficult to manage! For me, 'motherhood' has just been-Don't do what your mother did because it caused us only pain and sorrow! Yet, as I grow older, I am afraid of becoming like her..and in that way,unwittingly, cause sorrow and pain. How happy I am to read your blogs, especially this one! It gives me a chance to unburden myself and think and grow as a person!