What comes to mind when you think about Mother’s Day? You probably think of brunch, a bouquet of flowers, and greeting card sentiments, all enveloped in an aura of springtime prettiness. Mother’s Day traditionally celebrates moms at the surface level; we are sweet little women who are very content with the aforementioned gestures, some of us even waving away extra attention because we don’t feel entitled to recognition just for doing our motherly duties. But behind every sweet exterior, the mind churns with what has been dubbed the “mental load”, or the burden of daily, nitty gritty pain points and decisions that fall entirely to us. Even as we smile through brunch and say how lucky we feel for this day of indulgence, in the back of our mind we are making lists and mental notes as we prepare for the next day.
While this has been the case since the beginning of time, there is something very different about today’s environment that is having a huge impact on mothers in particular. Social scientists conducted a survey of American families that concluded that “intensive parenting” has swept the nation. Generally defined as a style of parenting that requires a great deal of time and money, intensive parenting can also be summarised by this quote from The Atlantic:
“Supervised, enriching playtime. Frequent conversations about thoughts and feelings. Patient, well-reasoned explanations of household rules. And extracurriculars. Lots and lots of extracurriculars.” (Intensive Parenting is Now the Norm in America by Joe Pinsker, The Atlantic, January 16, 2019)
While the survey was for American families only, it cannot be denied that educated, wealthy Indians are following suit. Many of us who grew up in the 80s and 90s can recall relaxed childhoods, with unsupervised play, simple and predictable meals, and education being left entirely to our schools. Moms who are reading this may have one of two strong reactions: they shudder because this sounds positively neglectful, or they sigh, wishing they had been a parent back then, when standards were lower!
Many of us have heard this line from our own parents as they watch us fret and fuss over our children: “I never did so much for you!” And while working hard to be a great parent is obviously a good thing, holding ourselves to some golden standard can be debilitating. And where does this gold standard come from? From having all the latest information at our fingertips, and from being inundated with visuals of perfect parenting from mommy bloggers across the globe.
The pressure begins from the moment we discover that we are pregnant, and looks something like this: Eat healthy, stay active, and maintain a happy state of mind for the little zygote to thrive. Aim for a normal delivery, maximise skin to skin contact, and of course, breastfeed. Stimulate them with music and the right kinds of toys, preferably wooden and free of toxins, never anything that could shorten their attention span. When they start solids, make sure the food is organic and prepared fresh. Hiring a nanny? Great, just remind her ten times a day to wash her hands and never let anything penetrate the protective bubble you have constructed. Sleep training? Excellent, just know that your entire day has to be planned around their naps and bedtime, and always keep one eye on the baby monitor. Haven’t applied to pre school yet? Uh oh, time to call in every favour under the sun and pay a massive donation even though you will probably change schools after one year. Once they are in grade school, bring in the extracurriculars! Tuition for all subjects just to keep them competitive, sports to get them outdoors, chess to challenge the mind, musical instruments for the discipline of practice, and coding to get them ready to launch a startup before they are old enough to drink. And all this time you should be waging a battle against processed foods and screens, instead baking beetroot muffins and spending free time doing enriching activities (which are different from the extracurriculars, duh!)
And while fathers do chip in nowadays, it is really the mother who is in charge of all of the above operations. The irony is that while these mothers are doing intensive parenting, i.e. spending more time and money on parenting than any previous generation, they still manage to feel guilty. They feel guilty because it is nearly impossible to actually do all of those things, so even when they manage to do ninety percent, they beat themselves up over that last ten percent.
Therefore I would like to use this opportunity to give all mothers the Mother’s Day gift they really want: permission to do less. Ladies, there is no one putting this pressure on you except yourself. There is no parenting council hovering over you, watching your every move, marking a score sheet every time you let your kids eat candy or spend hours watching TV. The same council is not there to hand out gold medals to those moms who use flash cards to teach their toddler French, who craft like they have a store on Etsy, or whose idea of a comfort meal is gluten free pasta with dairy free cheese sauce. I implore all of you to unfollow any social media account that makes you feel insecure about your parenting. Instead, try to adopt this mantra that I saw in the comment section of a similar article: “At the end of the day, if everyone is fed and still has all their limbs, it’s a win.”
All your child needs beyond basic care is for you to be present, to listen to them and love them. If some of the aspects of intensive parenting don’t come naturally to you, don’t force it. You can be inspired and impressed by how other people parent without immediately making a comparison and putting yourself down. Anything intensive leads to burnout after some time, and then you won’t have anything left to give your children. My Mother’s Day wish to all of you, dear readers, is for you to return to a sustainable level of parenting that keeps both mother and child nourished and content. Happy Mother’s Day!
– By Priyanka Acharya