The Best Gift Today’s Mothers Can Give their Children is Some Unmonitored “Me Time”

Modern Family

The Best Gift Today’s Mothers Can Give their Children is Some Unmonitored “Me Time”

Illustration: Akshita Monga

Mothers are dragons, they breathe fire at everything that comes in harm’s way of their children. Because when you are fortunate enough to have put yourself through 36 hours of excruciating pain and screamed like a banshee to eject a slimy mini version of you, you want to protect the fruit of your labour from this unkind world at all costs. Especially a world that thinks Bengalis are pretentious pricks and sondesh is overrated.

You want your Mommy Report Card to have only As. Like any diligent student you read up every book and article that was written on parenting in the history of humankind. You join mommy coaching centres, pore through ancient texts to decode every gurgle, burp, and bluish-green potty emitted by your frenetic fount of joy and giver of headaches. You nourish your baby with Spirulina drops collected at 3.45 am near a pond under a tree to purge her organs of any plans they might have had of giving up in the future. By the time she is 18 months old, you have already introduced her to Maya Angelou, made her watch the documentary on the evils of capitalism, and are about to acquaint her with BODMAS.

And then one day while you are running your fingers through your hair that you haven’t combed in weeks, you are hit by the realisation that no matter how sleep-deprived you are, how much you worry. and how many diets, regimens, and early habits you adopt for your li’l one, there’ll be always someone chubbier, brighter, and better than your own baby.

Our neighbour’s toddler was a sterling example of everything my daughter wasn’t. All I had to do was step out on the balcony and our neighbour’s two-year old would start reciting the alphabet song with sickening accuracy. Two taps on the kid’s back and he would start quoting from Shakespeare, and three taps were enough for him to launch into a take on quantum theory. It was as if his mom had made it her sole mission to dazzle me with her son’s brilliance. My three-year-old daughter, unmindful of her mother’s crippling feeling of inadequacy, would continue sweeping the floor with the pan she had just dragged from the kitchen

It got worse when Baby Ray started school. This is where I got my first taste of new-age helicopter moms. This specimen was always found hovering near the teachers, could be spotted at all school events volunteering, and never missed a PTM in its life. Its offspring was half a dozen chapters ahead of the class. After school, these alpha kids were carted to their theatre, dancing, piano, painting, gymnastics, and math-for-genius classes. Summer holidays meant making a beeline for yet another set of workshops to excavate the remaining hidden talents of their prodigies-in-the-making. Like any hard-working antibacterial soap they wanted to be 99.9 per cent sure and didn’t want to leave anything to chance.

Since I was now a C-grade mother, I mostly left my daughter alone after school to do her own thing. I even made the supreme sacrifice of listening to her “I am so bored” rants on a loop during the summer break. I wanted her to experience the lazy summers I had experienced as a young girl – staring at the ceiling, listening to the fan creaking reluctantly, sweat trickling down my back while I let my imagination work hard to conjure up fantastical stories with me as the heroine. I would write notes to myself in my secret diary and make awful drawings. There was a me that only I knew. She was my big secret.

I know these are tough times where a kid scoring less than 98 per cent in exams is treated as a pariah with no future.

Trust me, an agenda-less weekend or holiday is not that bad and certainly not a blot on your parenting skills. It’s okay if your kid’s every spare moment is not optimised, maximised, and driven toward a goal.

When I was growing up, we were left on our own to figure out our teen angst, exam anxiety and heartbreaks. Most importantly, we had time we could call our own, when we were free to be just ourselves and dredge out our inner-self that was weird, baffling but most importantly unique.

With the constant supervision to create a model kid, we are robbing children of solitude, a solitude that will overwhelm them with its stupefying monotony before getting them to move their ass to experiment in the kitchen, scribble Rupi Kaur-like poetry on their notepads, stare at the tree and perhaps discover the true meaning of life. Most importantly it will acquaint them with their inner self.

Inner self is not some pretentious lifestyle brand that uses terms like “holistic”, “karmic”, “healing” to sell overpriced stuff to the gullible. It is our true self that resides within all of us. Our true self is not just one person. It can be dark and deeply spiritual at the same time. It is a vast ocean of the unexplored.

Inner self is not to be confused with self-realisation which is a lifelong process. It is what you discovered when you had long afternoons to yourself as a young girl. It is a sum total of our values, dreams, and inherent talents.

I know these are tough times where a kid scoring less than 98 per cent in exams is treated as a pariah with no future. Because children have access to smartphones, they are just a click away from the shadowy underbelly of the online world. It keeps parents on tenterhooks. What if he discovers YouPorn, some online dare that makes suicide an exciting task to accomplish or gets trapped by a sexual predator in his “me time”? As a mother you simply can’t be a bystander.

But then isn’t taking over his offline and online life, and his passwords simply telling him you don’t trust him enough to do the right things? Maybe he will make mistakes. But hey, haven’t you shared enough motivational forwards that tell us it is from our mistakes that we learn the most? Allow your child the luxury of making one.