3 Conversations to have about Motherhood in South Asian Households
The first time I heard about Mother’s Day was some eighteen odd years ago, it was the year we moved to Australia. I was thrilled and intrigued by this concept of marking a day to celebrate Motherhood.
George Dolgikh @ Giftpundits.com
A first-generation Indian Australian, I grew up in a culture where the ‘mother child’ relationship is revered and considered the holiest of relationships. The Sanskrit phrase “Matha, PItha, Guru, Deivam” (Mother, Father, Teacher, and God) is a popular adage of Indian Culture that outlines the hierarchy by which one must offer reverence, placing mother even before God. While Motherhood is seen as a pivotal milestone to achieve in most cultures, within a South Asian culture, it is still commonly set as ‘The priced goal’ to achieve: the yardstick of success for a woman.
For a culture that glorifies mother-child relationships and Motherhood, I find it ironic that it still didn’t carve out a single day to celebrate Mother’s Day. Hence my fascination and intrigue. And over the years, as I have embarked on my journey of Motherhood and the professional journey of a South Asian mental health professional, I have often wondered if not having a marked day is a missed opportunity. A missed opportunity to have meaningful conversations to unpack this topic. These are the top three conversations; I wish I had before Motherhood.
“Motherhood can be one of the most daunting journeys to be on”.
Even as a young girl, one of the early impressions and understanding (or lack of) I had about Motherhood, is that Motherhood is going to be an overwhelmingly positive life experience. An experience every woman ought to have. Be it Bollywood movies, emotional advertisements to sell products or family tales of aunties, the only information I grew up hearing was how labour was just momentary discomfort to endure, and that Motherhood is going to be a joyous experience.
Though I agree that Motherhood can be mostly a joyful experience, I wish there were conversations about how daunting and exhausting the journey to becoming a mother can get for many. I wish, women in my family or extended circles talked about how not all motherhood journeys are linear, and conceiving can sometimes be problematic. That having miscarriages, stillbirths, and congenital disabilities are real possibilities along the journey. Most importantly, I wish we verbalised that inability to conceive is not to be considered a personal failure.
What I find most problematic is the stigma surrounding talking about these issues openly, even when someone is currently experiencing them.
A personal struggle, I experienced was my inability to comprehend what was happening to me after I gave birth to my first child. The constant feeling of melancholy, the numbness, and the failure to connect with my daughter made me feel so guilty, like a ‘bad mother’. I remember staring at my cherub-faced daughter for an entire night, wondering what would happen if I never connected with her.
While postpartum depression affects all ethnicities, research suggests that women from South Asian Cultures are at a higher risk for the condition as most South Asian families are not taught or encouraged to share their emotional distress. Though in my situation, I was fortunate to receive the support and resources to navigate this tricky stage, that is not the case for many women within my community.
Imagine the excitement of looking forward to a fantastic gift, and everyone makes it out to be the best thing that can ever happen to you. Finally receiving it, everyone around you congratulates you for being the recipient of this gift. However, you feel sad or numb or even disappointed instead of feeling happy. And instead of being able to express your feelings openly, you go along pretending to be satisfied. Going through these waves laden with guilt and shame can be really confronting and downright lonely. For a culture that prides itself in its ritualistic customs, I wish we spent Mother’s Day making it a yearly ritual to pass down the wisdom to our younger generation that Motherhood can look differently for different people.
The second conversation is a personal favourite of mine. Again, a pivotal discussion I feel we must unpack to break away from inter-generational patterns that have been prevalent for centuries.
“A mother-child relationship is not always rosy, ‘walk in the park’ type of relationship”.
In our formative years, the relationship with our mothers informs both our personalities and our internal belief system. So, there is a reasonable expectation placed from birth, both on the mother and child to get along with each other. Within a South Asian Culture, it is common for “Mother-child” relationships to be entangled. Where mother often considers their offspring an extension of themselves. There is also an unspoken familial expectation that mothers are entitled to be involved in every part of their child’s life, even after the child becomes an adult. The concept of boundaries is somewhat non-existent and often shunned. When you grow up in a culture that personifies the ideal “mother-child” relationship as a kind, warm, cosy, understanding, collaborative relationship, it invalidates every other experience. This can alienate people who have a complex relationship with their mothers.
It is essential to consider and perceive mothers as human beings and acknowledge that sometimes “mother-child” relationships can be toxic, mainly when boundaries are impinged or non-existent. It is worth acknowledging that there could be a mismatch in personalities. However, like all relationships, it is normal to have an ebb and flow within a “mother-child” relationship. And like every relationship, a good relationship with your mother could be a work in progress.
Moms don’t have to be superheroes. Parenting is a team sport, not a solo game.
The last conversation is a reminder to myself and my peers and an affirmation of sorts. When you grow up in a culture that celebrates and idolizes a woman for her carer role and downplays her aspirations or career goal, it is hard not to fall into the trap of wanting to ace both. Though times are changing and, in many families, both partners consciously are stepping up to play an equal role. Sometimes, in the quest to be perceived as a “good mother” or the unconscious inter-generational guilt some carry, I notice many of my South Asian peers working themselves into a frenzy to the extent of feeling burnt out.
The only way I foresee breaking this imbibed inter-generational pattern is consciously trying to step out, take time and spend some self-care time. I feel when we showcase and normalise that self-care is not selfish, we will unshackle ourselves from the pattern. And what better opportunity than doing it as a ritual on Mother’s Day.
I found Mindkshetra with the belief that all feelings and emotions are valid, and self-expression is a key to Inner wellness. And one of the ways to express and acknowledge them is through creative art making.
And thus this idea to #makeart4her was born. So join the campaign, be part of the campaign and let’s have meaningful conversations.
From this week, we are also starting this series called Creative Arts for Wellness, and each week, we intend to combine wellness topics with creative exercises you can do at home to sustain and boost your wellness.
Tip: It’s also a great opportunity to get the family / friends involved.