There is no one who never fails at the demanding, exacting job that parenting is
am sure all of us have heard at some point in our lives that having children will make us happy. Not only is that presumptuous, but I find it outrageously paradoxical.
Time and again it has been proven that having children reduces happiness, despite the fact that parents think it will make them and everyone surrounding them, happier. Children demand infinite amounts of time, energy and money. As a parent of two mini-me’s, I can confirm that all of these demands cannot be filled at any given point in time. They completely disrupt work-life balance (if you have any life, that is) and you’ll eventually die of sleep deprivation, if not of morbid humor coming from a chatty four-year-old.
Needless to say, these problems are aggravated when one is a single parent.
As if this weren’t enough, parents generally become sulky and grumpy as partners too. And do you know what they want to do to fix their marriage? Have more children. Oh, the irony of it all. That is what our desi parents and the society have made us believe.
As a South Asian, living in a region particularly riddled with exponentially growing, unchecked population, I can almost hear you saying, ‘there’s got to be an explanation for why we’re making children, right? Otherwise, we would never have gotten this far as a species.’
Correct. There is.
As emotionally draining as having and raising children may be, it also gives one satisfaction and some purpose in life, especially to women. I became an unprepared parent at the age of 27. A lot of my parenting journey so far has been about unlearning childhood behaviours and being reminded of how misunderstood I was as a child myself; about relearning rather than teaching. But that’s a song for another time.
Much of what we do as parents emerges from cultural and social orders in place. And in the Pakistani milieu, there is incessant, unsolicited advice on what to feed the child, how to structure their routine, how to be a good role model for them and how to get them to be more obedient. I could go on, the list is endless. It seems like everybody is an expert on how to raise a child, except for those who actually are raising them. At times, our game is on point. The children are clean, fed, dressed and they behave. Nothing is forgotten, nobody is interrupting. The gadgets are off and kids are busy with their puzzles. But then, there are other, rather unfortunate times, when “all the toys are on the carpet”, or “some icky stuff is all over their bodies”, or “I’m a parent, get me out of here!” days. The kind thing (to yourself and everybody else) to do would be to just breathe in, try to laugh about it… and move on.
What about the grey areas? What about the difficult questions? Why do you not find any manuals and self-help books on how to talk to our children about keeping them safe from sexual abuse, and cyberbullying, recognising unhealthy relationships, how to respond to divorce and separation, explaining death to children, and politely refusing to succumb to adult pressure? There is so much exposure out there about violence, mental health, betrayal, grief, screen time, pandemic. What about that? Such circumstances require patience and reflection.
I am no expert, though. And there is no one right answer to what is a good parent or a good child, for that matter. There is nobody, I repeat, nobody who is doing it ‘correctly’. There is no one who does everything right, no one who never fails at the demanding, exacting job that parenting is. Everybody is trying. And erring. And learning. And behind all of it is a relentless yearning for perfection that is marred by paucity and unpreparedness for something as serious and profound as caring for another human being. Simply put, nothing prepares you for parenting but once you become a parent, you are in it for life.
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Karachi