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Somebody’s Child


The first time I ever held an infant in my hands was when I held my own daughter 32 years ago. Since then I’ve held many an infant but each time I look at a child that I have to take care of, I am filled with the same sense of awe and bewilderment and a hint of apprehension too – am I responsible for the well being of this helpless, totally dependent soul?

Indeed, I am not alone because all parents have this moment of realization when the baby is placed in their arms. While filled with uncontrollable love, there is often a faint panic that henceforth your life will be governed by the needs of your infant. Will you be able to fulfill those responsibilities to the best of your ability? And if you are a young working mother, your apprehensions are multiplied manyfold.

Of course there are lots of options available like day care, live-in nannies and crêches but increasingly many young mothers are resorting to the laps of their mothers to provide their children with reliable care. And contrary to what I thought, this is not restricted to Indians as world over, young mothers call upon their own moms or mothers-in-law to pitch in with child care. My Dutch friend shares the responsibility with her daughter’s mother-in-law so that the child benefits from the company of both sets of grandparents while giving the child’s mother an opportunity to continue with her work.

While visiting my daughter in Italy last year, I saw many transfers of babies from grandparents to parents take place in the local park when the children were handed over to their respective parents coming home from work after being cared for by their grandparents all day. But yesterday when I met two business acquaintances from China talking about their own children and their child care, I actually felt sorry for all the parents who have to leave their children in the care of others.

Wang Hui is the father of a sixteen year old who sees his only child on weekends only even though they stay in the same town, simply because she is being taken care of by his mother-in-law. Ever since the girl was of a school going age, Wang insisted she stay with her grandmother simply because the grandmother stayed in a better school district. Luckily for Wang, he could bring home his daughter on weekends so that he could give his mother-in-law a break and enjoy the company of his daughter, but his colleague and compatriot, Mary Tang wasn’t so lucky.

This young woman has to leave her 15 month old daughter in far away Beijing to her mother for three months of the year only because it is too cold where she lives and there is no central heating. This also gives her mother-in-law a break from babysitting and allows her to visit her own ailing mother whom she cares for in these three months.

For these three months Mary gets to see her baby on weekends only but she will have to take a call on a long term solution particularly when the child starts going to school. Can Mary then still send her daughter to her mom’s for three months? Or will the child have to learn to face the cold and stay with Mary’s mother-in-law while Mary goes to work? I could sense the anguish of these parents as they left their children in the care of others while they went off to seek their fortunes to give their children a better chance.

Of course, the Chinese are not the only ones facing such a situation; in our own country there are millions of people who have left their children in the care of grandparents far away somewhere, simply because it makes more sense than to cart them wherever their work beckons . How many of us even think of our own caregivers or nannies who have left their children behind while they care for yours? Nothing can be more heartbreaking than leaving behind your child, not seeing it every day and worse still, looking after another’s child while your own grows up without you.

As a mother of two thirty-year old daughters and a grandmother of a nineteen week old grandson, Sunita Rajwade has been there and done that. A hands on mom, she has seen two girls grow successfully through babyhood, toddler hood, adolescence and adulthood; solving their maths problems and contributing to their angst of growing up with a mom “who doesn’t understand”. But now as a grandmother, she’s being appreciated for her “wisdom” and “understanding” and would like to share her experiences of this wonderful journey from motherhood to grand-motherhood.