Of late, I had been reading myriad of answers to the question, ‘What is it like to be raised by an Indian mother?’ on Quora. You browse through the answers and there you go- tales of selflessness, unconditional love and sacrifices galore. The stories were almost identical; each spoke about how their mothers’ selflessly cared about the children, gave up their careers for the cause of their children’s development, woke up at odd morning hours to make sure that the kids get their morning tea and how they are superwomen who are the epitome of support, affection, selflessness and greatness.
I read one story after another and I could relate to each of them because my mother was there in each of those stories. She has always been the one to wake up at the earliest hour. She would then make the morning tea, wake the rest of the family up, prepare breakfast, get my siblings and me dressed, send us to school, send dad to office and it will go on for the rest of the day. She would then be the last person to go to bed. My mother seldom complained, she always seemed happy. Hence, I never asked her if she had a problem with it all because it seemed to come naturally to her.
I would often wake up thirsty in the middle of the night with an urge to drink water. ‘Mom, Water!’, I would shout at the top of my voice. She would wake up, without resistance and get me water with a smile. Back then, it never occurred to me as to why I never called out for my dad instead. I remember her dressing me fondly for every fancy dress competition that I took part in and hear me rehearse my debate speeches over and over again. I don’t remember being thankful for it though. I always felt that she ought to be there for me. However, every hour that my dad spent in teaching me or hearing my elocution speeches seemed like a privilege. I was always grateful for his time.
I remember mother telling me fondly about her college days and how she used to frequently visit the forests for her Botany research. She smiled broadly every time she spoke about her classes, her students and how she used to elaborately prepare for each class. ‘If you liked it so much, then why did you leave it all?’, I asked. ‘Darling, someone had to be there and take care of you all. I worked in a different city and your grandmother used to keep unwell. I had to take the call. And oh, I have no regrets’, she smiled.
This is not my mother’s story. This is almost every mother’s story, specifically the Indian mother’s story. The sacrifices may be different, the stories may have different characters and varied incidents but at the core of them lies a woman selflessly juggling many roles, putting everyone else in the family before herself and being the ultimate support system of everyone in the family. ‘What is the problem?’, you may ask. The problem is that this is often what one gets reduced to - a support system. A selfless goddess who cares for everyone else above herself and this is not what scares me; what scares me is the widely accepted notion that this comes naturally to them. The notion that this is how mothers are - selfless, giving and supportive.
I have come across a lot of mothers who have often failed to live up to the standards of ‘great’ and have dwelled in guilt on every such instance. I remember talking to a colleague who was working till late night, when she exclaimed to me about how terrible she feels about finding her son fast asleep when she reaches home. Another friend, started crying soon after my midnight birthday celebration. ‘I am so selfish. How could I leave my one-month kid at home with my mother and come here to enjoy a party?’, she exclaimed and drowned herself in guilt. Her husband, however, did not even distantly feel that there was anything wrong in his behavior. You might argue that it just comes more naturally for the mother. However, if we examine the behavior more closely, we find that both the parents wanted to come for the party. It is just the post party guilt which dawned on the mother and not the father; which stems out of the fact that the mother assumes that it is primarily her responsibility to take care of the child. The guilt of putting yourself, your enjoyment or your dreams first almost always hits the women rather than the men in a family setting.
I wonder how it would be for a mother to think about her dreams. I wonder what it would be like to not want to wake up at six one morning because she is too tired after a long workday. I wonder what it will be like if she happens to skip a parent-teacher meeting or a football match of her daughter because she was busy weaving her dreams. I wonder about the ‘selfless’ tiara with which we grace all mothers. What if all of us cannot bear the weight of that tiara and do not wish to wear it? What if we do not want to be ‘great’? What if we want to be mere mortals who have their own dreams and goals and want to chase it with the same vigor that the family wants to chase theirs with?
I am tired of hearing about the secret formulae which ensure how women can have it all. I would love to hear acceptance for women faltering and not being able to have it all. Acceptance for putting herself first sometimes, before her husband or her children. Acceptance so that she doesn’t drown in guilt if she has to leave her toddler with dad for baby-sitting when she goes out to enjoy a party with her friends. I yearn acceptance for a world in which a mother can be allowed to be 'selfish' and cater guiltlessly to her dreams.
This can become possible if we can let the mothers drop the burden of ‘greatness’. Let the mothers also be flawed, imperfect, selfish, faltering and mere mortals, like the rest of us. Let the imperfection be celebrated and encouraged. You and I can do this together. Let’s take a step in that direction; by imbibing this in the women and men that we become, the children that we raise and the conversations that we may pick up with a random stranger.