A dog is NOT a substitute baby!!

Every now and then trend spotting stories like this article appears in American media trying to stir controversy and generate heated comments.

According to this article published last week, more and more young, educated women in New York are choosing dogs over kids.

Aarrrrrgggghhhh. Or rather, BHOOOWWWW WOWWWW…

As a young ( ahem!) couple who chose not to have kids and love our dog to bits, we routinely clarify that our dog is not a replacement for a child.

The article quotes supporting data ( of course!!).

‘Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that a big drop in the number of babies born to women ages 15 to 29 corresponds with a huge increase in the number of tiny pooches owned by young US women, reports the business-news site Quartz. ‘

A comment on the article succinctly sums up our ( and I suspect many others’) sentiments :

“There’s definitely some replacement happening there.” UGH! Replacement? How about DIFFERENT choice. Everything a woman does – run a business, take care of her parents, travel, get a cute pooch, ANYTHING – it is considered replacement. Cuz you know, a woman ONLY wants to have kids so she’ll replace that need/want/yearning/desire/biological pull with something else.”

We have come across, from well meaning to smug to totally clueless comments on how we might ‘think’ that our dog is a replacement for a child, but he is not, and we are deluded and we will realise it when it is too late and what is wrong with people who think a dog can replace a child, blehh blehh blehh..

My polite answer is always as follows.

“It is VERY simple. We love dogs, since we both were kids. We wanted dog forever and got him when we could. We will have more when we move out of the city. Our dream for future features multiple dogs and cats – it is super high priority. We never wanted kids and thus never had one. These two have nothing, repeat, NOTHING to do with each other. We are knowledgeable enough to understand the difference between two totally different species with totally different life-cycles. Sorry to bust your ignorant presumptions.”

I wonder where this logic of ‘replacement’ comes from. After all,people with kids routinely have dogs. My parents had two kids and dozens of cats and couple of dogs since I remember. So did most of our family friends. Majority of pet videos feature kids. And virtually every ad about a canine product features the lush golden retriever playing with a kid as the loving parents look on. What replacement are they looking for? Some hypothetical kid who died in the condom???

I think the confusion comes from what people see- the affection, the attachment, the innocence, the dependence that pets and their humans have for each other. It ‘sounds’ like a baby-parent relationship.

Why don’t we safely assume that adults know the difference between a homo-sepien and a Canis lupus: two totally different species altogether. Hell, that is an easy difference to spot. It is not like toad and frog, who require you to get in-depth of their characteristics to identify them correctly. A dog has a tail, and walks on four legs after all- HUUUUGE difference from a tiny human with two legs and no tail, no??

Just because people are called pet-parents( definitely a better term than owners, but I prefer just ‘ XYZ’s humans’ ) and cuddle with their pets to death, and love to take care of them, and some even go to ridiculous heights of pampering , doesn’t mean that they are some second-rate substitute for a baby one never wanted in the first place!!

We and many others like us- with or without kids, have made and are ready to make adjustments to our lives to accommodate pets because we love these animals and we enjoy spending time with them and feel fulfilment with them.

It is not rocket science to realise that people for thousands of years have loved their pets and vice versa, because, NEWSFLASH- every goddamn thing on this earth is not only about human beings . We are capable of loving non-humans without comparing them to ourselves. It is a beautiful and liberating expereience to love pet animals and care for them like a member of the family and be loved and cared for by them. One doesn’t have to be an animal activist living with Gorillas for a decade or a sobbing non-parent burying her face in the dog’s fur while dreaming about a cute baby to do that!!

Ask my dog who will promptly tell you that he loves his humans NOT as a replacement-canines, but for what we are. It is quite telling that the smug human beings don’t have that clarity and wisdom!!

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Another nonsensical lip service a.k.a MOTHERHOOD IS THE TOUGHEST JOB EVER…

Another ‘pat on your back plus hollow lip service‘ message for mothers.

From President Obama to your neighbourhood Facebook banshees, everyone screams hoarse on how motherhood is the world’s toughest job, like EVER EVER EVER…

Yes ladies, bring forth that Gajar Ka Halwa or its modern childcare equivalent, be garlanded for your holy martyrdom and shut-up about your postpartum depression. You might be a commissioner of the police or a prime-minister, it is NOTHING as compared to the celestial and 24 hr. job of being a mamma. Do not dare to ask for privileges, or equality, because hey, we all know it is also THE MOST REWARDING WORK YOU WOULD EVER DO EVER..

Forget the coal miners or women labourers who break their backs doing construction work for 18 hrs. or finance minister working on annual budget of the country or a social worker working tirelessly with child prostitutes… well, you get the drift.

I really wonder if mothers buy this kind of nonsense? Going by media coverage, a significant number of them do. And other mothers, thank god, call out the hypocrisy and the saccharine sweet gender stereotyping such messages re-enforce. This is a sophisticated version of the Nirupa Roy syndrome Mothers. No hunky Vijay is going to save you from baddies or take revenge or raise you from poverty kyunki mere paas maaa hai!!

It is one thing to recognise the tremendously valuable work of child raring that (largely) women do, for no money, meaningless titles of CEO of the HOUSEHOLD notwithstanding. And it is another to give this dumbified messages which would raise the hackles of any self-respecting woman or man, mother/parent or not.

Stay At Home Moms and $$$

$$ value of a SAHM's labour

$$ value of a SAHM’s labour

Charts such as these which assign $$$ value to Stay At Home Mums’ work abound the modern American debate- from feminist blogs to Mommy blogs to conservative blogs to general controversy mongering headlines.

What would be the Indian counterpart to this chart? Especially since labour in India is pretty cheap vis-a-vis United States ( ask Devyani Khobragade), how would this chart look like in Indian context?

This particular chart is hugely problematic because it compares salaries of professionals with SAHM who is clearly not executing these duties on that scale of professionalism. When you assign salaries for skills, there is an assumption that you execute them in a professional environment, have a financial goal associated with your performance which is appraised in financial terms.
Emotional feelings of all-powerfulness of mother aside, we can not take professional salaries and assign them to SAHMs without these parameters then.

So what are SAHMs truly worth, in hardcore financial terms? ( We had this debate a year and half ago when a bill was going to be proposed that would ensure housewives get a salary. )

Related to this and more important perhaps is to ask what of financial security for SAHMS in Indian context? Especially today, when financial dynamics practically dictates social and family life.

I know that many women ( I will not say ‘parents’ because the number of male parents who stay at home to look after their kids is too minuscule to consider here) do not stay home just as a replacement of paid child care, but to ensure that their children grow in healthy ( mental, intellectual, physical) manner. Many have no support system of parents/ grandparents to look after their child. Many do not want paid care to raise children because it might be unsafe or unsatisfactory. Many leave their salaried jobs for emotional satisfaction of being with their children.

So, how can we put price on what these women bring on the table? While you can not assign market value to everything, especially emotions and relationships, I firmly believe that financial security is paramount to Indian women. And if they are spending their prime years working hard, it should be recognised- in real terms and not Bollywood songs.

So let us not only sentimentalise about priceless experience of child-rearing, but also try to look at it from financial perspective.

Fair Labour and wage laws are sign of an evolved society and logic that some work is ‘outside’ these laws is dangerous to the people who do the said work.

I want to puke when people offer sentimental lip service about how women are sacrificing their lives for building the nation. The same people then leave these builders of nation to the mercy of their earning husbands and a vague notion of moral responsibility.

I am not even talking about the choice that women make to stay at home because they miss their kids. In absence of gender equality in parenting, we can not call something a choice when it is overwhelmingly expected of one gender. More often than not, society, culture and economic need expects women to be the primary parent and ‘choose’ between career and childrearing.

So, what about hardcore monetary security?

If something goes wrong in the marriage and the woman wants to leave her husband, the non-working-for-salary woman gets a pretty raw deal even when it comes to the same kids she spent her live raising. A cousin undergoing divorce is finding it tough to retain custody of her kids since she has no property in her name. In real life, the welfare of kids would require financial security which is not compatible with our divorce laws.

Tougher is the life of a woman who might not want to look after her kids anymore, and do something of her own in late stage of her life.

And what about women whose kids have grown up and do not require their mums as much as they did? What would be the financial worth of these women then?

And how is the performance to be appraised? What if an excellent mother’s kid turns out to be a thug? Whose parenting will be under scanner then? ( Rhetorical question this. For centuries people have blamed mothers for ill doings of their offsprings.)

While alimony, child-support and joint- investments exist , most women would find themselves in tough corner, especially middle-age onwards, if they do not have financial security that they can call their own.

When we say that the family- husband, parents, kids – would ensure that the woman who devoted her life for their comfort, we are putting the woman in dependent position. Because familial relationships may or may not be based on objectivity and fairness, how to ensure that the women get their due?

For this, we need to know what is their due in financial terms.

In absence of the same, the woman is dependent on her spouse to ‘recognise’ her work- both in terms of quality and quantity.

I am not writing this as yet another ‘mommy-war ke aag mein tel’ provocation. Women who work outside home do many of these tasks as well, and the ‘double shift’ is topic of another post.

For the first time in my life, I have formed acquaintance with SAHMs, thanks to the kids and babies who are attracted to Puppyjaan and want to talk/touch/play with him. As the babies coo, gurgle and wave their hands while Puppyjaan stands like a patient tiger; the mum and me usually chat with each other. I go to lunches with them sometime and this very new group experience always forces me to think about the tremendous financial punt these women are taking by leaving their jobs and looking after their kid full time.

I really do not understand how to put value to the work of women who choose to stay home. I also do not understand why 100% of stay-at-home-parents in my 21st century, Mumbai housing society are women. I do not understand how to make sure that child-rearing is seen as a specialised job that requires special privileges.

What do you think?

Childfree in India..

childfree

(PHOTO-ILLUSTRATION BY RANDAL FORD FOR TIME)

Every now and then, magazines like Time throw in a cover story that aims to capture fringe trends that are fast becoming mainstream.

This week’s story on Americans and childfree-ness is one such. Childfree forums and concerns are not new to the internet, but the TIME doing a cover story makes it a ‘legitimate’ trend,so to speak.

The cover shows a totally model-like couple with smug expressions, who claim, as the byline says provocatively, ‘ When having it all means not having children.’

Husband grinned when he saw the picture on the cover. ” Is that couple supposed to represent us?” he asked sarcastically.” Fuck, they look as fake as those pictures of saccharine families around the dinner table”.

He is right of course. We are childfree by choice and so are virtually 90% of our friends. But none of us can claim to ‘have it all’ just because we don’t have kids. Same goes for people who choose to have kids.

All of us,kids or not, have our usual troubles. Jobs, family, stress, money, health, meaning of life- all the urban worries that plague the modern urban person.

However, the very fact that most of our socialization happens with similar couples/ singles who don’t have kids says volumes about how profoundly life-changing having/ not having kids is in our society. Virtually all our best friends are childfree .I am talking about people in the creative/content side of media, which is perhaps the most socially/ economically flexible set in India. Even here, having kids or not having kids profoundly affects your life plans or orientation.

Even in our bubble like slice of life, I have seen how people drift apart depending on the kids in their lives. This is largely because of the different priorities people have depending on kids. Finances, attitudes, daily lifestyle, aspirations become quite different as you become/ not become a parent.

In India, in certain set at least, people are available to care for young kids and the burden is less on young mothers compared to those in the west. So it is not always the sheer ‘need’ of childcare that changes the pattern. But the priorities, which for parents, are usually kids, that moulds the life so to speak.

Parents naturally socialize with other parents, prioritize kids education when it comes to their decision to stay in a particular locality or job, go to holidays that their kids can enjoy, spend the time and energy on moulding the young child, plan financially keeping kids in mind.

The childfree tend to, in my experience, lead more flexible and footloosish lives, compared to parents.

No choice exists in vacuum. In Indian society having kids is defacto and voluntarily not having kids is so exceptional ( except in small bubbles like media, where childfree are almost equal in number), that there is very little mainstream discussion about it ( except stray articles like this or this ) . Unlike in American media, where every lifestyle choice has a name and an acronym ( GINK means ‘green inclination no kids’, for example!! By god one has to give it to the Americans!!), in India the term child-free is virtually unknown. Our entire social structure and notion of family is built around having kids. Most of our non-Indian friends/ colleagues are impressed by the sheer childfriendliness of our society. Majority of the people’s lives are structured around their kids. So not having kids becomes a matter of choice while having kids is more or less given.

But it has been my observation that the number of childfree are on the rise and the raised eye brows have been replaced by understanding smiles in the recent years. My small town extended family, for example, completely accepts our decision not to have kids. Our parents would have been happier with grandkids but they see that we don’t want kids and have accepted our choice more or less happily.

Because there are so few Indian people who decide not to have kids , and so many who decide to have some, there is no threat or concern for population or social change.

Most childfree come from a certain social / economic set that excuses their behaviour as ‘oh they are quite different/ western types’ by majority of the people.

Our society for centuries has gleefully championed values of duty and familial responsibility over all others, and since globalization, we have gone through major social changes that have challenged this tradition. I have observed that many people, with or without kids, find childfree life quite an extention of nuclear family and an interesting new trend, if not a social staple. It struck me with force during youth market researches I was involved in, where even small town youngsters ( especially girls) look at childfree ness as some sort of glamourous, ‘modern’ choice.

Most of my western european friends are amazed at the lack of friction between childfree and mainstream society in India. I think that because of awareness and exposure, ‘different’ lifestyles are still seen as ‘harmless curiosities’ and childfree-ness is one of them.

Of course, I am generalizing grossly, but I do have at least a decade of observation, market researches on youth and insider status as a childfree woman from small town to back some of these statements:)

In India, not having kids is sort of accepted as a fringe social trend and it will be decades before it becomes mainstream enough for magazines to write cover stories about it.

Coming back to TIME, Americans, much like the other advanced industrial nations, are having less number of kids and that one woman in five is in fact, choosing not to have kids at all. Virtually all advanced nations give attractive incentives to women to produce kids since birth rate is steadily plummeting. Economists worry that a skewed birth-death ratio would affect the future aging population. Conservatives bemoan the death of traditional values while some environmentalists declare that population growth is disastrous for earth.

Internet is strife with childfree forums/ blogs that range from genuine to rabid. Grave issues like ‘whether children should be allowed on planes’ to ‘ whether there should be child-free restaurants’ are discussed with passion. Most people on the forums say that they are not anti-kids, but are rather against:
1. Assumption that everyone has to have kids to lead fulfilling life and blames those who don’t as selfish.
2. hyper parents who force their ill-mannered offspring on society without care
3. Baby obsessed culture that pressurizes women to equate motherhood with womanhood

breeder bingo

I do surf these sites once in a while and do agree with the spirit on the above points, but sometimes get amazed at the vitriol with which these points are sometimes made. Like any other ‘alternative’ choice, the child-free internetizens are quite vocal and aggressive. That is also understandable if the whole world is assuming that you are somewhat incomplete/ childish if you choose not to have kids. But I really think there are more well-behaved kids than unruly ones, that more parents try to control kids than not, that there are always going to be stupid judgemental people in life that are best ignored and that if one has made a choice that goes against the flow, one has to be confident about it. Calling mothers ‘moos’ and ‘breeding cows’ is as unfair as being called selfish and unfeminine for not wanting to be a mother. But then, there are all kinds of corners on net and I like to believe that they all add to the social dialogue ( not to mention provide hilarious entertainment.)

I think, at least for a few privileged people, it boils down to simple “Do you want kids in your life?” question. Some people do not want to have kids because they do not feel the need of having kids. Some people find kids limit their lives’ choices. Some people do not find enough time or energy or money to dedicate to kids.

We for example, have never felt that need or desire. We realised quite early on when we both were very young , that we are not ‘that’ fond of kids to change our lifestyle, nature and dreams, which would have been compromised with a kid. It is lucky that we both found each other because if one partner desires a child and one doesn’t, it becomes quite a bad compromise no matter what you decide to do. We both firmly believe that a kid is a big responsibility and kids should be given full care and love. We both get along quite well with kids, especially husband who works for one of the biggest kids’ brands in the world. But a child has never been even on a radar as far as our future is concerned. We do like the possibility that we are free to do anything without having to think about another human being. And these range from stupid irresponsible things to serious life-altering decisions.

I am not advocating any ‘lifestyle’ so to speak, but I do think that if people are not sure whether they want to be parents or not: it is better that they don’t become parents. One has no right to bring the child into life with unsure mind, seriously. And all that BS about ‘you will love your own child’, ‘you will adjust’, ‘so many people have kids and yours will also raise itself’ actually works against the very children it purports to advocate.

Of course, having kids is a rich and fulfilling experience. I am sure people who have kids get a glimpse into growing mind and life that is magical. I also think it gives people roots when they have kids and it is a beautiful feeling. If one wants that feeling and is ready to choose that , great. If one doesn’t, then we all should respect that choice.

There would always be judgements and marginalization, but hell, that comes with many choices, so be it.

Amusingly Annoying: Born Again Parents

There are several people who are annoying, but some are amusing as well.

Like Born again Parents.

I am not talking about parents who naturally are concerned about their kids, are sincerely happy to have kids and wish to share their experiences with their friends.

The Born Again Parents is a special breed.

They typically have kids when they are financially very secure, reside in metros, move around in relatively liberal circles and are in their thirties or forties.

Now that they have kids, they suddenly discover the elusive meaning of life and secret of universe.

HAVING KIDS!!

This HAS TO BE the CORRECT choice for EVERYONE. Especially those in their vicinity who are still child-free.

They have a smug ‘ been there done that but now we find this happiness much more fulfilling’ philosophy which they are not shy of spouting at any given chance.

They tell you – whenever they get a chance- how everyone should have kids since this is an experience that is ABOVE ALL.

They tell you how they thought that your type of life was good for them but then lightning struck!!! And they became parents!!! Voila!! A Primetime Aakashwani about what the poor childfree sods are missing.

They get very defensive if someone makes a life choice that would have been difficult ( not impossible, mind you, but difficult) to make with kids. Like travelling for a year, or quitting a job or watching violent movies.

They look at all this with a benevolence laced with competitiveness. They hurry to tell you how they are actually not interested in doing all these things ANYMORE. This ‘ANYMORE’ is loaded with ‘holier than thou’ air, btw.

They hardly realize that other people’s choices have nothing to do with them. And vice versa.

Born Again Parents will never say ‘we wanted to have kids because we like them’.

Nope. It is too mundane and commonplace. In fact they often look down upon parents who don’t pretend to be Socretes or Einstein.

It has to be this whole spinning wheel about finding meaning in life, being in tune with your inner child, higher calling, staying with times, life altering experience, blahblahblah.

I don’t deny that a child will bring all these wonderful experiences, in fact I am quite sure that having kids is an extraordinary and fascinating experience.

But this breed is not happy unless everyone else recognises that their choice to have kids is mighty complex and fucking philosophical. Far above all the poor mortals who:
1. Decide to have kids because they simply want to.
2. Decide not have kids because they simply don’t want to.

Born Again Parents make everything about their kid a rocket science and are in a hurry to tell you about the latest (and best) parenting trend, the best school they have booked for their baby, how they give the kid the best childhood, how other parents are un-enlightened.

These people expect their poor kids to bear the weight of their mighty decision, I strongly suspect.

Give me an honest parent’s simple delight or genuine concern any day.