(Declaration – This is not serious medical literature. Please do not read further if you lack sense of humour or if you are of sensitive disposition. You WILL be offended.)
In most middle class and upper middle class families, a strange thing happens as soon as a woman gets pregnant – Like baby turtles emerging from underground nest on a full moon night, grandparents are born with this news of pregnancy! Grandmother, who till now, was lost in her addiction of afternoon TV, suddenly springs into action, forgets everything about her creaking knees, heart trouble, migraine, etc. and prepares for a complete takeover of life of a young woman whose only real fault is that she let her family know about pregnancy.
Grand journey of helplessness for poor mother starts here. As her parents, parents-in-law and everyone who was ever pregnant in last hundred years, start to insinuate in her most precious, personal experience.
In the most cases the mother-to-be, is so shocked by this onslaught of concerned relatives that she loses will to control her body, mind, clothes, food, body-functions, baby and husband. As pregnancy advances, so does the takeover of mother’s life. She is brain washed into believing that pregnancy is a massive undertaking and without active management skills of all these people, she will do something seriously harmful to the baby and future of mankind.
Towards end of pregnancy, this takeover is complete. This chubby, rotund, waddling woman, who until recently was a capable, lovely, young person becomes a distant (and substantially more rounded) shadow of her former confident self. In Indian sub-continent, very few women, if at all, can go back to their pre-pregnancy state of being.
If any humiliation was remaining, it is completed with actual birth of the baby. (Let’s assume that it is a baby boy as chance of a girl being born is quite slim, thanks to prenatal sonography.) Senior members now start doling out their “expert advice” on everything related to baby. Their most powerful tools are mother’s natural concern for welfare of her baby and her fatigue that is also a natural consequence of labour, feeding, eating and sleepless nights.
In the name of “helping young and inexperienced mother”, baby is taken away from her for most of his waking hours. There is always someone available to take the baby away as soon as he is awake, playful, smiling, quiet or mildly irritated. As soon as the baby is really cranky, sleepy or asleep, he is handed back to mother. As mother’s quality bonding time with baby is completely destroyed, she gradually starts to believe that this baby is a big mistake and coping with demands of motherhood is beyond her healthy human capacity. She starts living in terror of this infant tyrant and is more than willing to give up the baby to grandparents and wants to return to her safe and familiar zone of office work (this
transition coupled with drying up of breast milk under stress, marks end of maternity leave in India).
Further complications are directly proportional to the “help” offered by family members to real parents. In last decade, with ease of telecommunication, mothers cannot escape this torment even if they are on a different continent.
In fact living in western countries worsens mother’s difficulties. Matter of fact approach to pregnancy, so main stream in west, really scares them. No weekly doctor’s visits, no fortnightly sonographies, no doctor at the end of phone line to explain every ache, pain and missed heartbeat, nothing like how it is “back home”. This is very scary for middle class Indian family (“no wonder these people have so few kids, nobody cares for mother and baby in this country!”) On top of that, grandparents extend their stay to maximum limit allowed by visa regulations. If they cannot stay on, then, skype calls many times a day to “their” grandchild! I don’t think that anybody expected this out of increased life expectancy, affluence and telecom revolution!
Back to India, net result of this mostly good intentioned but deadly hijack is that there are multiple parent figures with conflicting set of parenting ideas. As real parents look for solace at workplace, child is gradually left without any one being in charge for real. This vacuum in parent authority is filled up by child’s desire to control his life.
Real parents, specially mothers, continue to feel increasingly helpless in front of this all powerful and precious child. She oscillates between desire to take control (expressed as anger outbursts and emotional blackmail) and helplessness ( expressed as permissive, tired parenting and “children now-a-days are too much…”). This is fertile ground to breed all sorts of behavioural issues starting at home and
spilling over at school and social spheres. As child becomes more difficult to connect with, parents start feeling even more helpless and look for
professional help. Severe emotional and marital disturbance emerges and depression, etc. is not far behind. In a culture where your child’s position vis-a-vis his peers defines your identity, this is a real breaking point.
Helping families at this point is a real challenge. Main task is to help parents feel confident enough to re-develop parent-child relationship. Invitation to participate in Family therapy can be extended to grandparents also. Re-alignment of common and age appropriate family goals are possible if parents are willing treat this “infant terrible” as per his real age. It takes at least six months to get this train back on the track.
Fortunately, if parents can see this problem as emotional struggle of their evolving family then corrective steps are possible. When parents show courage to do what is right, happy ending is almost always possible. What else do you expect for people brought up on Bollywood?
(P.S. – you may be surprised and ask, “where is father of the child when all this is happening to his beloved wife and child?” I share your surprise.