Believe Your Mother When She Says “You’ll Know When You Become a Parent”

Modern Family

Believe Your Mother When She Says “You’ll Know When You Become a Parent”

Illustration: Akshita Monga

“Hey, how’s parenting going? Your toddler is now 2.5 years? Are the nights difficult?”

“It’s mostly rocking!”

“That’s good to hear man!”

“Yeah, like last night she refused to sleep and at about 3.45 am she asked for rice which she never eats but wouldn’t relent so we got her rice and she didn’t eat it anyway. But other than that it was rocking – I was rocking her till 3 am and my wife was rocking her after that.” In this instance our law-of-conservation-of-energy-defying toddler was unwell, but an average day is not far off from this plot of a dystopian movie which Netflix would readily commission as an original *insert your own Radhika Apte joke here*.

If I were to read this five years ago, I would have sniggered and left a comment to the tune of, “You need to handle your toddler better. Here are some tips…” Possibly in bold, with caps lock switched on. It’s the internet after all, what’s the fun if you’re not simultaneously sure and angry about everything? But I feel differently now.

There was a point in our lives as a couple when we had the exact certitude you feel about someone’s parenting skills – when we were sure a toddler could be handled, managed, and disciplined better. That point was before we became parents. We would look at other kids and judge their parents – why aren’t they doing a better job? And, if the irritation on our faces was palpable it would most often be met with a wry smile. What their politeness prevented them from saying was, “Oh you poor sweet innocent child, if only you knew.”

Now I am not saying that it’s all doom and gloom with kids. There are moments of sheer joy when they learn something new, or say something clever.

Experience, it seems, is the best teacher. And most often, the syllabus doesn’t change. You know those punchlines that all Indian mothers, irrespective of where they come from, seem to know from the get-go? Wait, what do you mean you don’t know what I’m talking about. Here are the top three:

3. So, what if your friend asked you to do something? If someone says “go jump in the well” will you do that also?

2. Don’t waste your food. Do you know how many poor kids in Africa are dying without food?

1. You won’t understand it now, but you will when you have kids of your own.

Turns out they all independently arrived at these gems without the benefit of WhatsApp or other social media. I definitely understand the import of #1 now, but when I used my wife’s laptop for 10 minutes and received 17 remarketing ads for “Punching Bag” in different shades and colours, I realise that #3 was the actual one to look out for – you know, in relation to having kids.

Your parents will flat-out deny it of course – with a mix of “It’s not that hard” or “What is the purpose of your existence if you don’t bring forth progeny?” or “But look how much joy”. But this is the same principle based on which you have tremendous nostalgia for the school which you mostly hated going to when you were actually at that age. You’ve just forgotten how hard maths was, how each impending test paper caused palpitations, and how those ugly and hard-to-manage braces made your acne-ridden face look even uglier.

It’s based on the cognitive bias called Rosy Retrospection: We tend to remember the past in a positive light, and while that’s a benefit for long-term happiness, it’s a terrible input to give someone who’s about to make a decision in the present.

The bottomline is this. Bringing up a kid is hard, and no one gives you a toolbox to cope with it. Especially if you’re in a city that’s far from home, and there’s only so much support you can rely on from the outside world. But you work your own way through it and usually after the fifth aborted movie-watching attempt with your baby, you give up and about six months later you uninstall the BookMyShow app to save some space on your phone.

Now I am not saying that it’s all doom and gloom with kids. There are moments of sheer joy when they learn something new, or say something clever. Like, last week when our daughter was given “idli with sugar” she replied “Mamma, you gave me way too much sugar. I ended up eating ‘sugar with idli.’” Naturally, I felt extremely jealous realising that I’m already the third-funniest person in my small family of three. And also, extreme delight at the beautifully crafted joke from a two-and-a-half year old.

But you see those saccharine-sweet happy moments on your social media feed all the time. And for some reason most parents don’t talk about the more difficult moments. I think we need to, in equal measure. So go on, post that experience of your toddler tantrum on social media – you first of course, I’ll follow, just in case I am parent-shamed.

And so, when we finally rocked our toddler to sleep in the wee hours of the morning today, my wife had a question for me.

R: Who are these parents these days with two kids. What’s their thought process like?

Me: What do you mean? We have one and she alone is a handful.

R: Yeah, but we walked into it not knowing any better. These people had a *second* kid completely by *choice*.

Me: Well, actually… it’s based on this phenomenon called Rosy Retrosp…

R: Do you know what the phrase rhetorical question means?

As I fumbled to find a comeback, she’d already got up and left. I could hear dull thuds coming from the dry area in our apartment. Hopefully, she had got that punching bag. We all need our ways to cope. Maybe I’ll write about it or something.