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The Other Parent(s)

Parenting is often a lonely task. When your children are newborns, there are the late night feedings, the lonely vigils when you sit by the side of your sick child’s bed….then there are the toddler years when playdates are cut short because your baby had an unexplained meltdown. Oftentimes, when you are having a bad day because, well, your child is having a bad day, it feels like you are the last human on the planet. You glance at the clock over and over again wishing for the day to be over but darn it, the clock seems to have stopped working. How can only 30 seconds have passed since you last checked the clock?

The teen years might be loneliest, though. At least when you are the parent of a young child there are enough articles in popular media, Twitter accounts and Facebook posts that offer a humorous spin and the comforting notion that we have not been saddled with the devil’s spawn.

By the time your children are teens though, most of the sympathy and empathy is gone. Your children are older, they look independent and yes there are articles around how said child might be suffering from multiple personality disorder – given how they were sweetness and sunshine 6 minutes ago and now they look at you like you are some sort of primordial ooze that crawled out of the drain, but for the most part the sense of community you experience when your babies are young, is gone. No longer do you have friends and family offering advice or asking to help. Nobody wants to “babysit” your teens and the teens themselves are not sharing anything with you making this the loneliest time of your lives.

What then do I mean about the other parent(s)? Am I talking about parents who might be traversing the same path you are? Yes, to some extent, I am. More importantly, I am talking about people who share your journey of parenthood, the ones that parent your child along with you.

When your children are really young, the other parent(s) might be family viz: grandparents, aunts and uncles, all of whom are in and out of your lives, if you are lucky. They have a wealth of advice, they mean it when they say they want to take the baby off your hands for a bit and with rare exceptions what they’re saying can be taken at face value.

From personal experience, I know that when such help was offered to me, it was rebuffed. Every time my mother, mother-in-law, aunts, and friends offered advice, it sounded, to me, like they were judging me and my parenting skills. When they offered to take the baby off my hands, I thought it was because I wasn’t doing a good enough job. In a bid to prove that I was the best damned parent for my child, I decided to go it alone. I’d handle all the late night feedings myself. When my baby was sick, I’d be the one tending her. When friends called to offer help, I’d say “Oh yes, I’ll absolutely let you know if I need anything” and then of course, I wouldn’t.

Somehow, my child had become my badge of honor, my measure of success and my certificate of excellence all rolled into one. I’d invested so much of my sense of self-worth in raising her that I failed to see I wasn’t doing a very good job despite my best efforts. I was often frazzled, the smallest things would set me off and oh yes, the loneliness was killing me.

In hindsight, I wish I’d taken advantage of every offer that came my way. Maybe my mother-in-law would not have fed my daughter the exact same way I did or not have put her down for naps per my schedule but surely, no harm would have come to the child. Sure, my mom had a different way of swaddling the baby but that didn’t mean she’d be uncomfortable. Anyway you slice it, there were going to be no long lasting effects from a nap time or two going awry and if the toddler ate idli for breakfast as opposed to organic cereal.

As the daughter grew older, there were other influences in her life. She was at a daycare from the age of two and what do you know, the child who refused to be potty trained at home was perfectly capable of using the bathroom at school when her teachers asked her. All day long she’d patter about what Miss Rusudaan had taught her and how lovely Miss Christine was and at home, I’d be hard pressed to get her to sit down and listen to one single story. In an epic meltdown at age 3, she once yelled “I will never read, you cannot make me read” and threw all her books to the floor and the next day at school I found her on her teacher’s lap, painfully sounding out b-r-i-n-g. All this had me believe that I was not being a very good parent. Why else would my child insist on using diapers at home and not listen to a story, never mind, read one?

Wisdom came and thankfully, before long. I realized, at home she’s the focus of my attention. I wanted, like every other parent that she be a happy, well-adjusted and well-behaved child. She, meanwhile, had cottoned onto the fact that her performance in public was a measure of my success as a parent. So her behaviour was the Damocles sword she’d hold over my head. That is, if I let her.

One day, at the grocery store, she had a full blown, lying-on-the-floor-scream-my-lungs-out kind of tantrum. At first, I was mortified, everyone was looking at us and she refused to get up until I bought whatever crap she wanted. Then, in a moment of blinding clarity, it hit me that she was doing this to provoke a reaction. I told her that I was going to be shopping and she could join me when she was done having her tantrum or she could stay back and have the store call me when she was ready to be picked up. In under 5 minutes I had a teary eyed 3 year old trailing me.

That was the day I realized that my child spends about 8 hours a day at daycare. She has a life separate from what she does at home. She has relationships that I can observe and to some extent, understand but I cannot replace those relationships. I cannot be everything to her, no matter how hard I try. And that’s okay. It has to be.

I stopped pushing her to use the bathroom, I would ask her to read and if she didn’t want to, I’d try my hardest not to push. I’d love to tell you that I did all this graciously but no, it was ugly. I had temper tantrums of my own and long bouts of crying but I learned to leverage the other relationships my child has.

Today, she hates it if I nag her to practise piano but when my brother (a long time, ardent piano student) asks what she’s playing and how long before she nails a piece, she redoubles her efforts in a bid to impress him.

My husband and I have tried to get her to dance at parties but she’ll stand in a corner and refuse to join, until this year. Her teacher at school has regular dance breaks between classes to help the kids relax and the child dances and has picked up some snazzy moves too.

Her teacher, this year, also got her to lead a couple of projects. My baby, the one who doesn’t raise her hand in class for fear that she’ll be asked to answer, actually lead a team of her own and delivered some good work.

Her piano teacher pushes hard and has, at times, berated her. I’m often sitting in the same room where she takes class and much as I’d like to intervene, I have learned not to. Her piano teacher knows how best to motivate her and get her to deliver.

As much as I’d like to protect my child from criticism, it is not my place to get between her and her teachers. Instead, I have started talking to her teachers to understand how to co parent with them. I ask them for advice on what I should be emphasizing at home to get her to do better. By the same token, I have made it a point to get to know the parents of most of her friends. We have them over for dinner or at least try and meet for joint activities with the kids.

My child is 11 and she will only spend more and more time with friends, going forward. It is in our best interests to get to know the various people she’ll meet, talk with and be influenced by. They are my co-drivers in this parenting gig. I have realized that what I say most of the time is sensible but uncool but the same advice coming from a friend’s mom is so much easier to take. These other parent(s) are the only way I can keep my sanity as I navigate the teen years.

I am mom to a quickly growing 11 year old. I have lived abroad for over 15 years and I struggle daily with the challenges that parenting and straddling 2 different cultures throws at me. I am an avid reader, a huge fan of the movies (Bollywood, especially) and a somewhat sporadic writer. I blog at MM’s musings.