Baby care: All hands on deck (Photo: Nidhi Dutt)
In the West, people often say "It takes a village to raise a child," but on the ground the notion that it's an entire community's job to care for kids is mostly just a quaint, nostalgic ideal.
When you have a child in India, though, the village comes to you whether you like it or not.
One month since my first child was born and my New Delhi home is bursting with people. My life--which used to basically be just two people and two cats--now involves dealing with 10 to 20 people each day. My newborn has arrived with his own entourage and we literally have nowhere to sit.
My living room resembles an Indian railway station. At any one time, the nanny, housekeeper, driver, grandmother (Nani), great grandmother (Big Nani), husband and I sit at the centre of the village council. Add to this at least a few visitors a day, some relatives who come to stay, an army of neighbourhood delivery boys, a garbage guy, a maternal-massage lady and two spooked cats and you've got an eclectic Indian nativity scene.
One month since my first child was born and my New Delhi home is bursting with people... My living room resembles an Indian railway station.
This exercise in people management skills as well as finding a happy medium between tradition and modernity, crowd-sourced parenting and privacy, has been particularly intense as I have been mostly stuck at home trying to follow the Indian tradition of 40 days of post-birth confinement.
I marvel at the diversity of my ramshackle village while being exhausted by the depth of its knowledge and practical capacity.
Simple situations -like what the baby should wear or what I should eat for breakfast (usually, the power balls I've written about previously, win)--become household talking points with everyone jostling to have their say and their way. At any one time in my immediate vicinity are at least three generations and three cultural perspectives. What should take a split second to work out takes much longer.
Here's an example. The boy is crying. What to do?
Nani: "Give him gripe water for gas."
Big Nani: "Lay him down and let him cry it out."
Nanny: "Feed him."
Husband: "This website says you should put the baby on your chest until he falls asleep."
Visiting Aunt: "Face him down on your knees and press his back."
Visiting Great Uncle: "Here's some cash, buy him something nice."
The village council has yet to find a consensus or even a majority on any issue.
The Indian version of the old school parenting bible, Dr. Spock's Baby & Childcare, has a section dedicated to handling the complexities, hierarchies and hang-ups of Indian families when raising a child.
I have wanted to lock myself in my bedroom and figure this parenting thing out on my own, away from the pressure and the passion of the household.
One surprising thing I have discovered about the Indian child-raising village unit: the village tends to sprawl well beyond the borders you have set. Not only did all the neighbourhood delivery boys and guards expect sweets and other handouts to celebrate the birth of my son, we received a visit from a couple of persistent Hijras, or transgender women, who wanted a few hundred dollars for their blessings. We sent my mum out to negotiate but in the end, we were happy to accept the traditional welcome to the world.
There are times, however, when the Indian approach to raising a child--loudly, collectively, and sometimes, chaotically-- is a blessing.
My family's stretched out support system affords me the chance to have lunch while my aunty sits crib-side; baby shift work means my mum gets to bond with her grandson in the early hours of the morning while I get to take the toothpicks out from between my eyelids and sleep. An affordable experienced nanny allows me the luxury of getting some work done in between tantrums.
Back home in Australia some of my best friends are also finding their feet as first-time parents and most of them are doing the hard yards on their own. I'm very aware that I'd be doing the same if it weren't for the comforts of village living that India has thrust upon me.
[I]n Australia some of my best friends are also finding their feet as first-time parents and most of them are doing the hard yards on their own... I'm among the lucky ones.
There have been times when I have wanted to lock myself in my bedroom and figure this parenting thing out on my own, away from the pressure and the passion of the household. But then comes a breastfeeding challenge or questions about a gassy baby or the overwhelming need to sit in my living room in pyjamas at midday among a group of people who know me better than I know myself and vent, and I realize I'm among the lucky ones.
My village, it turns out, is pretty fantastic.
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