The fringe benefits of having children
‘Those who pay attention to children get a second chance to learn something useful, unlike the nonsense adults try to pass off as wisdom’
Parenting makes you a risk junkie. Despite its ubiquity, I usually remember to not use the term “parenting” but being a parent has also numbed the control-freak in me. So long as you understand what I mean, it doesn’t matter how I say it anymore.
Exactly how I feel when I call the children by each other’s names, my husband by my brother’s name and vice versa, and when I can’t remember what I want but my children still offer me what I had forgotten I needed.
Being a parent makes you careless about the small stuff, because at the back of your mind, you are always at work on the big stuff. Even when you aren’t aware of it. Even when you deny it.
Your stakes have become higher than you had ever imagined. You are responsible for more than you had ever planned for. You are constantly attentive to protecting another person from a vague bouquet of threats. Yet your role is also to expose your children to the same threats in as diluted a way as you can manage. You want them to build immunity. Learn to cope.
You never know how ready they are when you let them go. You allow others to take control. You are desperate. You are proud too.
You distract yourself. You go numb. You get rest. You wonder how others seem to be fine while you are close to panicking. You feel sorry for the ones who look like they are trying too hard. You judge each other. You feel sorry for yourself. You take risks every day.
“Mamma, I read today that humankind has only 12 years left in which we can possibly reverse some of the damage caused by climate change,” my daughter said to me, when we were getting into bed on the eve of Diwali. “How can everyone carry on like this, Mamma? Twelve years is nothing. My whole life is 13 years and it went by really fast!”
I have no idea how we are going to respond collectively, yet I cannot stay passive. I may even feel like I am doing nothing about it, yet I am paddling furiously under the surface.
I have many friends who argue that it is unimaginable to them how people can choose to bring new children into this world—a place that is clearly on the brink of self-destruction. As a mother of three, I have disagreed with them in the life choices I have made. Yet I reached my own point of despair recently and admitted to my daughter that I finally agreed with some of my more fatalistic friends.
She was shocked. She had been sounding like them recently, but her own sustenance came from my insistence that however bad things might feel, there are ways to heal and we will find them. She needs me to be steadfast in this position.
Parents have optimism thrust upon them. They have to hold on to hope. Even when they have internalized the negative language of popular culture. Even when they are themselves participants in the hedonistic system that is responsible for aggravated pollution, the normalization of violence and the numbing of our individual sense of right and wrong.
I asked my children recently what they thought was the purpose of having children.
“So that you can sit in one place and ask them to bring you food and water and whatever else you need,” said the 15-year-old, reminding me of the time when my brother had seen me in action and asked me, “Have you given birth to children or minions?”
There isn’t always time to pause and explain the complex connection between doing household chores and the functional, happy adulthood that awaits them at the end of the rainbow, but for now I draw reassurance from the knowledge that it is only in the cause of greater good that I don’t get up from my desk to get my thirsty self a glass of water.
The 13-year-old had more time to mull over the question. “Those who pay attention to children get a second chance to learn something useful, unlike the nonsense adults try to pass off as wisdom,” she said. I offered her my smartphone and asked her to type her golden words into the Notes app so that I could represent it accurately later.
Our youngest child has turned 10 recently and her response seemed practical. “So that human beings can last a little longer,” she said. “They are all doomed, of course, but having children will make us last a little longer. And you have more fun when you are around children.”
My experience tells me she is certainly right about the second part. Despite all the responsibility and never-ending worries that parenthood brings with it, it also introduces a lightness into our lives. There is a constant demo tape playing before us that shows us that there are other ways to be. To approach things. To make choices. To be in the moment.
I have felt totally out of control at times when I expected to be most in charge, but that vulnerability has also been the crack from where the light came in. I have let go of the arrogance that I know what is best for everyone. I have had multiple chances to admit that I have made mistakes. I have judged too soon, I have mistrusted motives, I have cracked lame jokes that hurt their dignity. I have agreed to slow down and clean out the strains of authoritarianism that surface in me again and again.
I have learnt to believe the compliments children offer. Accept their acceptance. Internalize their approval and let it heal me. My children have taught me to keep something of myself for me. Not to give all of myself away. They are the guardians of my rest time.
In return I am motivated to stay alive for their sake and mine. Stay engaged, informed, detached and happy. Trust the world, trust yourself more than the rest of the world, and most of all trust the little people who are here to care for us.
Natasha Badhwar is the author of the book My Daughters’ Mum and her new book, Immortal For A Moment, will be out this month. She tweets at @natashabadhwar
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