Thursday, December 21, 2006

Raising J

I get a lot of "how do you manage to raise a child alone ? It must be very hard" from relative strangers but rarely if ever from my friends. One would think people closer to me would have a greater appreciation of the hardship that my situation seemingly entails. After all, they are the ones I call first in a crisis, they have volunteered to come home and stay with J for the night so I could go into work during a major production release.

They remember J's birthday and show up with home made cakes that are too beautiful to eat or send her so many presents that she falls back asleep trying to unwrap all of them first thing on the morning of her birthday. They remember she prefers “real” jazz to smooth jazz and buy her music she will be sure to love.

E, our self-appointed "Activity Director" will send me links to everything J-friendly happening in our town and follow up with reminder e-mails and phone calls to make sure laziness does not overtake my good intentions. Yet for all that, none of them think it is specially hard for a single parent to raise a child. Sure without the village that it takes (and which I am blessed to have around me), it would be but one person even if it were the spouse does not become the deal breaker in the business of raising a child.

There is huge difference being care taker parent who does what it takes to get a child from infancy to adulthood and a “true” parent. I define a true parent as one who strives to discover the best and the worst in their child so they can enhance the inherent good in them and nip the bad at the bud. Their goal is to help their child be a humane, sensitive and self-aware human being. Whether that child ends up being a trophy that they can proudly exhibit is of no concern to a true parent. Being that good and bad are highly subjective terms it is highly likely that two parents cannot even agree on the operating definitions.

My parenting style is very unconventional both by desi and western standards. It would bode ill for my success as a mother to have a partner in raising J, who did not agree with me or worse had ideas that were in stark opposition to mine. I have seen parents in similar circumstances who either fight tooth and nail to have their way if their passion for parenting is strong enough to do so or give up and "settle" for some meaningless middle ground or worse. There are a couple of things that are wrong with this.

If one parent is convinced of the right of their case, to have to cower down to spousal pressure does not make them a strong role model to the kids. However, if they engage in a constant power struggle and open warfare to prove the merits of their ideas and do not give in until allowed to implement them, the kids are likely to view marriage as a state of constant strife which seals the fate of their own relationships as adults.

I have seen both fathers and mothers give up on their dreams for their children for the sake of peace in the household. While such compromises do not significantly impair the relationship of the couple, the kids lose out big time. I have had the singular misfortune of knowing several parents with great potential raise non-descript to downright obnoxious kids. It makes me wonder if they would have not fared a whole lot better if the aggrieved parent had taken a stand and decided to go solo if that’s what it took to do right by the children.

Children thrive the most when parents work in perfect tandem and don't differ in child rearing philosophy and practice. When one of the parties is decidedly radical and will not be convinced that the mainstream school of thought is superior to theirs, the two cease to able to function like a seamless team and the kids will make best use of the dissonance to do as they please. A child is also helped most by viewing both parents as strong role models for their sex which tends to possible only when both have the proven ability to take a stand when their ideals are challenged but are not forced to do so as a matter of routine.

In the last five years, I have never had to succumb to pressure from a partner in any decisions involving J. She is not confused about what she is expected to do, between what is important in life and what is not. Despite well meaning advise from all quarters on how I should help J "fit in" and "blend in" with the other kids, I have taught her that it is important never to be like anyone else, not to compare herself or compete with others but to constantly strive for perfection in whatever she does. She knows that we do things differently and our way is best suited for our needs and for what is unique about J. To many men raising a child who will grow up to be an outlier is imminently avoidable not to mention concerning. As a responsible father, they would feel compelled to thwart my efforts in that direction.

To have her ask for roti and subzi to take to school for lunch day after day is a small but symbolic sign that she does not care about running with the herd. When kids ask her what it is she eats and she tells them they would not understand. The best gift I could give her as a mother, is to have her grow up to feel confident about what is intrinsically hers, to feel comfortable in her skin while having the capacity to feel empathy for those who are nothing like her. To have a world of her own, where she can be happy for no reason and would not need props either material or social to validate who she is. Yes, it would be dream come true if I find a man who believes in the things that I do but so far being a single mother has been just what I need to work towards my parenting goals and see J grow up a content person.


Anonymous said...

As a single parent, I empathise with much of what you've said here. I find it quite a relief to have to bring up my son on my own, with no other categorical opinions of what he 'requires'.


Heartcrossings said...

Space Bar - Thanks for stopping by. Glad to hear that another single parents feels as I do about the challenges of raising a child solo.