Motherhood is indeed fraught with guilt. Whether you are a full-time mum or a stay-at-home mum, you are bound to be on the receiving end of usually not-so-welcomed advice.
“You should stay at home with your kids and watch them grow up”.
“You should go back to work, what a waste of your tertiary education”.
I am quite sure that most, if not all mothers can attest to this. After close to a year of being a mother, I realise that its impossible to please everyone. So honestly, I’d be better off pleasing myself! Motherhood has taught me that I’d be fraught with guilt no matter what my choices are.
I spent most of my childhood outdoors. From the top of the jackfruit tree in front of my house, I’d announce to my mum that there was a red-ant nest up there and I’d quickly scramble down. I made mud cakes, literally, from sand, water, and empty tins. My brother and I even dug a fish pond in our lawn. We cleverly (or so we thought) dug a hole and then pinned it with plastic and filled it with water. We then filled the “pond” with little fish that we caught from drains outside our house. My parents nurtured our love for the outdoors even further by building us a real fish pond, one that I’d eventually get pushed into by a gleeful sister who never forgets to regale everyone with this story 20 years on.
When I wasn’t climbing trees or playing “masak-masak” outdoors, I was riding my bike around the streets or making and flying kites with my brother. Some weekends, my dad would bring us to a fishing spot, usually a well hidden stream or river in an oil palm plantation.
I remember the excitement and the scrambling about our backyard to find earthworms as bait. In case you’re curious, warm soapy water poured into the ground will get the wriggly worms right up! We seldom caught much, but the sheer excitement of getting our tools ready, as well as the lovely time we spent with our dad was well worth the memory.
In this day and age however, how often do we see children playing outdoors, be it at the park, the playground or simply in one’s front lawn, just frolicking around? Many children we see these days have their noses glued to an iPad, iPod or iPhone and too many prefer to stay indoors, playing computer games.
It is without a doubt that these gadgets do have some benefits; many smart phone applications have child-friendly games that appeal to children. And at times, these gadgets can be quite the life-saver in sticky situations. They keep children occupied during long travel hours, be it in the car or plane. But as I mentioned earlier, motherhood (or parenthood) is often fraught with guilt. Do we deprive our children of these gadgets and keep them occupied the old-fashioned way? I myself battle with the new-age mum in me. While my other half stubbornly refuses to introduce Leah to the world of the iPad and the iPhone, I do wonder if I am selfishly depriving my little girl of new technologies, ones that would actually even come in handy during long haul flights and car rides.
At the same time, I see many of my peers sending their children – many who aren’t even a year old – to enrichment classes. I personally know of many mothers who feel compelled to send their children for music classes, tuition, martial arts – you name it, her kid’s in it! Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against these parents, and I myself grew up learning the piano and attending other classes. I personally feel though, that enrichment classes ought to be secondary to first hand life-enriching experiences in a child’s daily life.
If a mother wants her child to learn the piano or the violin, that’s great, but where do we draw the line at one too many classes? Where do we draw the line at a child spending too much time with gadgets? I know that these parents mean well and want the best for their children, but when it comes to my child, I think I’d prefer that she enjoys her childhood the natural way – whether it means climbing trees or cycling around the neighbourhood or simply curling up in a corner with a book.
My husband who is more of an indoor person than I am, naturally has fears about my daughter’s safety in the outdoor and local environment. Having moved to a new place, I eagerly joined a local playgroup where little Leah got to play with other children her age. I admit, I was a little apprehensive about her having to mingle with other kids with snotty noses and of her crawling about on the carpet where people walked on with their shoes. However, I have acknowledged that I can’t let Leah live in a sterile bubble forever. That would be denying her the opportunity to develop her social skills (and her immunity!) and when she’s a little bigger, the opportunity to take calculated risks that could hopefully guide her through a realistic and thoughtful path throughout her teen and adult years.
In our desire to protect our kids from the imagined dangers that lurk on sand, soil, trees and parks, we may just be keeping them from enjoying an active and imaginative childhood where they can obtain a sense of wonder, joy and awe.
Perhaps its time I plant a jackfruit tree in our own lawn.