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Mother, writer and daydreamer. Also chocoholic and chick-flick lover. But mainly mommy. To two boys, at that! When not escorting my Elder One (EO) to karate class, I'm trying to get in as many cuddles as possible from my Younger One (YO). And when not doing either, I'm hard-at-work trying to maintain a steady relationship with my laptop. And as for the Man I Married (MIM), well, let’s just put it this way – even though we share a bedroom, our most meaningful conversations are held over the cell-phone!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Ayah: To Have or Not To?

Sue's post today, struck a chord. I started to leave a comment, but it was turning into a mini-post, so instead, I chose to blog about it. Hence, this post of mine...

Sue's 'no ayah' sentiment is something that I not only understand, but 'lived' by for a very, very long time. Being a bideshi-and-then-probaashi-bangalee until I moved to Cal, the concept of ayahs was, to me, a very Brit thing. A colonial hangover. My mother raised two kids alone in New York and then Bangalore. My aunts were doing it all over India. So when I got preggie and delivered my EO, I knew I was going to do it on my own. Having my baby run to somebody else for comforting and words of love; having my baby hugging and kissing someone else; having my baby transfer his affections to a woman other than me, his mother; letting someone else be the first to witness any of his 'firsts' and other milestones...ugh! Unthinkable! Soul-crushingly, mind-f***ingly unthinkable and cringe-inducing. No way!! Not for me!! Thank you, but no thanks!!

Well, the family that I had married into had very different ideas, including the MIM. For them, ayahs were a part and parcel of the domestic scene. Families with little kids could not function without them. It was unthinkable. But I was was anal about handing over my baby to anybody else, and yes, that included my in-laws and my parents. I was stuck to him like well dried and solidified Feviquik. The problem was that the MIM did not share my viewpoint at all. And it certainly didn't help matters that the SIL , a Calcuttan through-and-through, was visiting from Bombay with a four-month old and that she had hired an ayah for the entire time that she was here. So, I finally bowed down to pressure and hired someone; her ayah's sister in fact. But, obsessive-possessive natures are impossible to change, so even though I had someone, she wasn't allowed to touch my precious baby. And I mean literally! I let her help me out by drawing the bath water, washing the baby's clothes and keeping the room Dettol-clean, hospital spic-and-span. But I would feed the EO, bathe him, change him, put him to sleep...hell, I didn't even let her clean his potty! I never left him alone for even one second and I was, obviously, very tired and extremely sleep-deprived. But I was happy. Happy beyond measure! Because I was doing everything for him myself! I never went out anywhere at night, wanting to cuddle up next to my miracle at all times.

But things were not easy. People thought I was mad, crazy, unreasonable. The taunts I had to hear and endure broke my spirit. I cried myself to sleep many nights. Even my 'friends', the Calcutta-based ones, were so un-understanding and unsympathetic. They felt bad for the MIM who had to deal and live with such a stubborn idiot of a woman. I never felt more alone in my life!

Then I went to stay with my parents in Bangalore for three months -- maidless. Aah! The freedom and joy of it all! After I returned to Calcutta, I put my foot down -- no more ayah! I was adamant and stood my ground and nobody could make me change my mind. My son would have me and only me. And boy did he!

I am sorry to say that the MIM and I had a very tough time over this issue and it affected our marriage deeply. I stopped partying and going out anywhere at night. Anywhere my baby wasn't welcome, well, then I wouldn't be there.

In hindsight, I feel I could have been less rigid and a bit more compromising. Maybe I should have trusted my MIL a bit more with the EO, but back then, I just couldn't hand over a piece of me to anyone at all. And I do mean anyone and everyone. Did I ever hear the end of it? No. I still don't.

Do I regret not having help? NOT FOR A SINGLE SECOND. Do I wish I had gone about things differently? Maybe just a tiny bit since it affected my husband AND my marriage so much. But even then, the decision not to have an ayah was the right decision for me...then.

Now, I really need the help and I am grateful for it. I am so busy ferrying the EO to and from school and then his various activity classes and his birthday parties and keeping up with his social life in general, that I need an extra set of hands to help me with my YO. As a result of which, I am a lot less possessive about the YO. Does that mean I love him any less? My mind shouts a loud, clear and resounding "NO!!!!", but the heart? Ah well, that is another story entirely all together for the heart has a mind of its own...

Does it hurt that the YO first turns to the ayahs for comfort if he falls down and hurts himself? No, it doesn't KILLS me. Even now. I die a hundred deaths when he goes, arms outstretched, to one of the ayahs for it a cookie, a toy, a few words of endearment, some soothing... But, this is a decision I made and have to live with. Yet, there are often [in fact, very often lately :)] when the YO chooses me over anybody else, when he wants me and only me. And these are moments I cherish with an insane kind of triumph and glee. And that's when I realise that I will aways be his mother and no one else can take my place.

So the decision to have, or not have an ayah, is a very personal one. What is right for you may not be right for somebody else. Hell, it can your decision can even change along with your circumstances. As it did for me. Like I said before, I don't regret not having one during the EO's time. However with the YO around, I wish I could do without one, but I would only be fooling myself.

What I would never do though, is deride someone for having/not having an ayah. I would never force my opinions on somebody else and put the other person on a guilt-trip regarding this decision. And very frankly, I think it's the mother's call more than anybody else's in this issue.

After all, the decision to keep someone who can do huge chinks of your job is a very, VERY big one. You have to be sure. The ayah is someone who ca stand in for you whenever you're not around. Having someone 'take your place' in your baby's life...well, it's humongously HUGE. And you just have to be comfortable with it.

In conclusion, I just have this to say -- if you know someone who doesn't want an ayah even though you feel she should have one...back off. If you can't be supportive, at least keep your trap shut!


Goofy Mumma said...

Oh! I am so with you on this one you know. I have never had an ayah, or anyone else to take care of my baby. In his first year, I was very skeptical of anyone, anyone at all touching him. I was all alone at home, with my first baby, no help, no guidance, but i managed alone, and adamantly so. I did not even let the maid wash his clothes, for hygiene reasons. I just cannot hand my baby to anyone else.
Its nice that the YO is turning back to you.
Just a suggestion - why don't you take him along when you go to pick-up/drop the EO?

Sue said...


Thank you. I didn't know you felt so strongly about this. I'm more used to the ones who feel ayahs are a way of life.

Still thinking said...

You're wonderful woman! Your honesty is soo endearing.

You're gonna b EO and YO's mother for eternity :)

@lankr1ta said...

Hey I really appreciate how honest your post is. And yes, like you I too believe that one does not need "staff" to bring up a child. But of course I do not have a kid, but I like how you think

Monika,Ansh said...

M4- You are my soul sister. Really. I had big time issues about ayahs & I had to grow used to the concept due to my circumstances. & just like u I would need a whole post to write my thoughts on this.

Mama - Mia said...

i think its just ridiculous to say one SHOULD have an ayah! i guess its to each one his own!

but there are cases I have seen where a full day maid is required even if not an ayah and the stubborness with which my BIL n SIL havent even done that amazes me. i mean she is perinially unwell because she cant cope up and BIL perinially tired because he ends up doing most of the stuff at home post work. and i think it makes sense to just have someone doing ghar ka kaam once you have a baby! esp if you can afford it!

and namesake, an ayah can NEVER be as important as the parents! unlike the parents are filmy variety who never show their face to the kid and just send em off to boarding school eventually! :p

and i personally detest taking your ayah wherever you go business. i mean i have always been like the woman anywayz takes care of your kid during the day! how difficult is it to take care of him/her for few hours that you are outside?

anywayz, i dont have a live in ayah! and we never take her along because we are too busy having fun! :p



Mama - Mia said...

and oh! you have been tagged! :)

i am hoping we will see first few pictures on the blog with this one!! :)



Rohini said...

Hmmmm... interesting. I grew up with an ayah so never thought it was odd. But that was because my mom worked. And I have one because I work. If I didn't, I probably wouldn't. The 6 months I was at home, I did everything. Even now, I do everything (baths, meals) when I am at home. But for a working mom, I do think ayahs (or day cares) are a way of life...

I have felt the hurt of him turning to anyone else, because he never does. Once I get home, everyone else (including his father) ceases to exist...

Mamma mia! Me a mamma? said...

@ GM: Glad you agree. As for taking the YO along, it was a logistical issue and now, more so than ever since he's started going to Montessori. Both my boys are in two different schools. Plus, there are a lot of other issues involved. I hope it doesn't sound like I'm making excuses!

@ Sue: You're welcome! :) I still face flak for not having someone during the EO's time, so you have absolutely no idea how I feel on this issue. This post doesn't even begin to cut it!

@ ST and @: Thank you both kindly!

@ M,A: I understand, I do, I do. I soooo understand!

@ Namesake: Exactly, to each his own, naa? And will do tjhe tag...sooooon! Promise!

@ Ro: Of course it's not odd. It's what works best for the individual. What traumatised me is that not only did my decision not get any support, but I faced a LOT of bad press. That was unfair! Circumstances have changed and I have help now. Whatever works for you ya, don't grind someone into the mud just because she thinks/acts different!

Rahi said...

i too dislike the concept of ayahs (and may be there goes my reasoning for a non-working wife who can't care for her child on her own). but i think u have outdone ur possessiveness for your first child. u shud b giving attention also to ur second child, or else he will always blame u for this.

Mamma mia! Me a mamma? said...

@ Rahi: Thank you for your advice. I will indeed start to give some more attention to my second son.

Goofy Mumma said...

Why excuses? It is your life and you decide, you are not answerable to anyone, and you definitely have the BESTEST interests of your sons at heart. There is definitely going to be a difference in the way things work when you have one child compared to when you have two, you have more things to do, and you need to attend to both. I am just happy to know that there are mothers out there like me, who donot accept the idea of a nanny, till it is a must.

Goofy Mumma said...

Hi, I wanted to mail you, but i could not find an id anywhere on the site. Can i have it? Mine is

dipali said...

Never had or wanted ayahs, but I'd never diss those who have them or need them either. The sad part is that young new mothers are so damn vulnerable- they need people to support them through their choices regarding the child rather than to impose their own mostly well meaning ideas on them.
But it is saddening when this becomes an issue between the parents. Childhood conditioning plays such a major role in our adult lives.

Mala said...

Delurking because this post really spoke to me !

I went through the same emotions, except in my case it was to do with having my MIL (who is a nice person, and awesome with kids)move in after the kid arrived - in a warped sort of way I felt like it was forcing me to go back to work when I was in two minds about it. Overall, I'm terribly grateful for her presence and the fact that it lets me have a career, and that he is spending time with her rather than a less qualified person, but people (including the husband) don't understand why I am anal about wanting to do everything when I am at home, or why I reacted so negatively in the beginning when she was being so helpful and wanted to take everything off my shoulders.My only consolation is that he sticks to me when I'm home (am I a terrible clingy person for saying that?)I never thought I would feel this way - like Rohini, my mom works, I went to daycare and we had maids - but I never felt neglected or that I was being brought up by maids, it was parents all the way. Do you think our generation is more hung up somehow?

Munchkin said...

Here from Sue's.

Absolutely agree with your feelings and thoughts. Maybe its a controlling streak, maybe its just plain mistrust. But I'll live with it.

Many people think that it's so because we don't get any help here in America anyway, but the truth is I would not have it any other way :)

DotThoughts said...

Interesting post. Chip had a nanny for a year and he and I both loved her to bits. That said, she would retire when I would come home from work, and Chip was left to me. Never really had the problem of Chip running to her when I was around...