Thursday, April 16, 2015

Rant: Why I'm glad I'm not bringing up a baby in a Western country

This topic has been on my mind for some time but first let me disclaim that the things I'm going to say are my opinions only and I'd hate to offend anyone. Certainly, you are welcome to disagree with me as much as I'm entitled to write about it. Really, what I'd like to talk about is bringing up a baby. Not a toddler, but a baby whose only form of verbal communication is crying and who has not yet developed the skill of locomotion.

When I had E1, I took motherhood in my stride and was determined not to fight his personality in terms of meeting his needs. As it turned out, E1 was a very clingy baby and I practised what the West dubs as "attachment parenting". The main thing about the first few months of his life that I remember is a lot of carrying. A lot. I carried him when I ate, I carried him when he was sleeping, I carried him everywhere I went. Why? Not because I wanted to, but because he would only sleep while being carried and wanted to nurse constantly. Put him down and he would wake up and cry. And so I never did.

The only time I didn't carry him was when my mum or GY would relieve me for that 15-30 min a day when I could have a shower and take care of myself. And this is the beginning of where I am really grateful that I don't have to bring up my baby in a Western country.

You see, the endless nights I spent trawling the internet for motherhood advice came up with information that revolved around one main issue - how to get more sleep and get things done as a new mother. How do you get your infant to nap while you do the laundry? How do you get your baby to sleep through the night so you can sleep too? How do you get things done around a baby who wants to nurse 24/7?

You know what? I'm glad to say I didn't have to worry about these things. Or, not to the extent that my western counterparts do. It seems that as western culture has progressed to emphasise independence in the individual, it has done away with the concept of the family being involved in raising a child. Inculcating independent behaviours has somehow isolated the nuclear family, leaving much of the strain of caregiving as well as housekeeping to one parent, usually the mother, while the other brings home the bacon. But mothering is a full-time job. How can you do that to your mothers?? Also, think of the babies, the poor helpless things who are robbed of their mothers when the dishes need washing or the house needs cleaning. Human babies are born extremely dependent and I fail to see how one can expect "independence" in a being that is physiologically unprepared to be so. Babies need their mothers and mothers need to take care of their babies.

While admittedly I have not looked much into Asian parenting forums and websites, these things don't seem to concern many Asian parents. Either that or they just don't talk about it. Still, most mothers I've spoken to, newly-crowned or otherwise, often tell me that once they return to work, their babies are cared for by a relative, sometimes assisted by maids. Those who choose to enrol their child in infant care do so because they don't have family support locally. Compared to the current western culture scene depicted by the internet, not having to do housework or worry about making dinner seems like bliss. Of course you can't generalise "western culture", so I'd go so far as to hazard a guess that in western countries where extended family live together, you probably won't find these sorts of problems either. And I'm not saying that all Asian parents lead this wonderful life, just maybe our problems are not of the same nature or magnitude as those in the West. Many of us have family to help.

I had the luxury of opting to stay with my mum during the first few difficult months (and long after that) so that I never had to worry about clean clothes and hot meals. We also had a maid. (Or if some of you insist, a live-in domestic helper. I don't understand the big deal about this being politically correct and culture-sensitive, but that's enough for an entire post.)

Now before you get your knickers in a twist, I will tell you that we had never let the maid handle E1. Her duties were the housework and the meals. But she was my mum's maid, not mine. When I went home on the weekends, I still had to clean my own house and wash my own clothes, even if it meant slinging E1 while mopping the floor. Cooking while holding him was more dangerous but somehow, I managed. Yet most of the time, when I was at my mum's, I was free to concentrate on my most important role: taking care of my baby.

Point is, in this way, we survived E1's infant months without much misery. If I wasn't able to hold him, there was Grandma. If not, then Grandpa. At night, Daddy would entertain him. There was always someone around. We were the baby swing, the bouncer, the distracting toys. At night, I could focus on attending to E1's every fuss and need. I was the pacifier, the cradle and the apnoea monitoring thingamajig. E1 was never left alone, which was just as well saving money, since he would have it no other way.

Eventually, he grew out of his constant need to be carried to move on to other things, such as learning to crawl. And he is by no means a clingy or dependent toddler, in case you're wondering.

When E2 came along, we decided that we would hire a maid to help, especially if I was going to stay home full time. And I'm glad we did. If we hadn't, we would possibly be surviving, but I can confidently say I would also probably be more sleep-deprived, more highly-strung and definitely miserable. My babies might have learned to "hang in there" without me but I'm not sure what state their emotional and mental health would be in - they can really cry themselves hoarse. Without needing to worry about household chores, I can dedicate my time to my baby's needs and juggle the kids' naptimes, while still having leftover time to do other things.

So to all mums out there who are going at it mostly on your own, my hat's off to you, but I wouldn't want to be in your shoes. Otherwise I wouldn't have been able to write this post while E2 suddenly decided he only wants to sleep in mummy's arms again (and I'd probably be stressing out over dinner).

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