Our complex has a charming play-park for kids, complete with a sandpit and an assortment of miniature swings. In the evening the air resonates with sounds of running feet and excited chatter of children. Pretty little girls in their cute dresses try to bully each other in all their earnestness. The play-park comes to life with excited kiddos trying to outdo each other in calisthenics, while their maids look on stoically. The only thing missing from this picture perfect scenario is the parents. They are either too busy or have better things to do.
The ayah, an age old phenomenon, has been a ubiquitous part of a memsahib's household. She made her memsahib's life more bearable, taking care of babalog's tantrum-y ways and ironing out bothersome inconveniences. I had a full-time working Mum. She took time off for me, but when my brother was born she had to rely on a procession of ayahs to take care of him. She did what she had to do because she had no choice. For the middle class working woman, an ayah is not a luxury but a necessity.
"It's the parental avoidance in child-rearing that baffles me."
But of late I have observed a new phenomenon especially in fast-paced Gurgaon. Gone are the days when the woman of the house was content with just a bai who took care of the washing and cleaning. From fixing meals, to watering plants, to washing the family cars, even a household of three depends on a retinue of hired helps. There's Robi to walk the dog, Reena to wash the coloured lots, Babita to clean the windows twice a month. Thank God we are in India where everything including help is available for a price. And so addicted are we to this pleasure of having domestic helps at our beck and call that our life revolves around their whims and fancies.
Yes, we are hopelessly dependant on our domestic helps. And if you have kids, the ayah is now a must have accessory and not necessarily borne out of necessity.
An accessory, that Madamjee cannot do without. Where ever she goes the ayah tags along. At the birthday party squirming in the shadowy corner, at a swish five-star Sunday Brunch looking uncertainly while the family chomps on a pile of barbequed lobster, at a weekend resort running after her hyperactive charge. She is almost like the Hutch puppy - wherever Madam goes, the maid follows her around.
"I respect couples who know that they are not ready for parenting and refuse to have children just for the sake of it. "
Agreed that motherhood is not for the faint hearted - you require the patience of a saint. In one stroke you transform from a carefree girl to a woman caught in a sticky quagmire of poop, pee and feed. You can't remember the last time you slept well, you smell of curdled milk and you don't care that you have swapped your trendy totes with a diaper bag decorated with cartoons. So if you can find a willing person on whose shoulder you can unburden your motherhood blues then why not?
The trouble starts when you start thinking that most of your parenthood can be outsourced to a woman whose services you have hired. Today's modern living dictates that we don't go beyond one or two kids. The least they deserve is our time. Every minute you spend with your baby brings you closer to him/her. Even if it's something as trivial as watching her do cartwheels in a park. When I hear stories of a boy who spent most of his childhood in the company of his maid, watching television and eating Maggi - my heart breaks for him. According to a study by Unicef "the first few years of life are the most crucial during which emotional stability and feelings of trust are developed, which later become the basis for all important relationships with peers, adults and partners, and even with one's own children. A child's brain develops incredibly fast, and nerve connections that are forged during that period through interaction with those closest to them remain unchanged for the rest of their lives. During the period before the age of three, parenting skills are crucial in bringing up children, providing emotional support, encouraging their development and establishing successful communication with them."
I am not questioning a woman's career choices here. Not everyone can take time off from her job to bring up her child - every family has a different financial obligation. Nor am I implying that employing an ayah is a cardinal sin. It's the parental avoidance in child-rearing that baffles me. If from bathing to feeding to napping all the harder tasks have been outsourced - what's left of parenting? Saying "hello darling" with a kiss on the cheek and then to turn over the child to the maid!
And do you really have to drag your maid all around the town? I understand the benefits are endless; your maid is left to struggle with your child's hyperactive tantrums, while you have a good time. But tell me, is it too much to handle your child's tantrums for a few measly hours! And do you realize that your child throws tantrums because this is his way of demanding your attention. When a SAHM brags that she has a pair of maids to take care of her twins whom she calls bacchhey (the kids, not the maids). And that she'd rather take care of the cooking because she's scared that her maid's cooking will make her fat - this becomes a classic case of mixed up priorities.
The point I am trying to make is that if you have taken the decision to become a parent you might as well do a good job of it. I respect couples who know that they are not ready for parenting and refuse to have children just for the sake of it. Why do a half-hearted job and make a mess of it?
Parenting is not a burden meant to be outsourced, it is an experience meant to be cherished for a lifetime. And please don't try to be a helicopter mom or a tiger mom either - try being just a Mom to your children - this is the least they deserve.
Previously published on www.purba-ray.com