On caring — part II

[Or, from growing out of a role to learning what it means to care]

(Here’s a link to part — I.)

Couple of days ago, Amal was falling asleep in my lap while sucking milk. My mother, currently visiting from Bombay, is here to help me take care of Amal while I am running back-to-back technology conferences. She came up to me to take Amal from my lap. She assumed that Amal had fallen asleep and needed to be put on the bed.

I knew Amal wasn’t fully asleep and needed some more time before she could fall into the state of deep sleep. However, before I could protest, my mom had taken her from my lap. Amal immediately cried because she was disturbed. My mom instantly placed her back in my lap at which point I said: “I knew she hasn’t fully fallen asleep. Which is why I haven’t put her on the bed.” Eventually, Amal fell asleep.

I was struck by the acts of the caring that manifested in those few moments:

  1. I was caring for Amal by offering her breastmilk.
  2. I was also caring for Amal by reading her cues and signs — everything unsaid, but pretty much understood between her and me.
  3. My mother was trying to care for me by offering to relieve me from Amal.
  4. My mother was also trying to care for Amal by putting her on the bed so that she’d sleep more comfortably.

I realized that every so often, two persons’ desire to care for something or for someone can work at cross purposes. And perhaps this happens, every so often, because we assume ‘the responsibility of caring’.

It is this ‘responsibility of/for caring’ that is double-edged. And perhaps, it is this ‘responsibility’ that produces the constant struggle to reconcile with an individual’s sense of freedom and space, and my constant need to care.

I believe mothers and primary caretakers assume ‘a great responsibility for caring’ over time. This responsibility stems from socio-cultural factors, perhaps gender socialization and roles, and perhaps from our own needs to find an emotional anchor or handle to hold on to. Before we know, we are ‘clinging’ to the handle, and that need to cling turns claustrophobic.

I realize how hard it must have been for my mother to give up on her ‘responsibility to care’. Years ago, I was traveling to Jammu and Kashmir because I was interested in understanding conflicts and conflict resolution. My mother stood up for me against my dad who ‘cared’ for my physical safety and did not want me to go there. My mother, however, believed that by traveling to the Valley and working there, I was growing as a person. She ‘truly cared’ despite her internal conflicts and concerns for my safety. She facilitated my growth as an individual, as a person. I am grateful to her for this.

I am a mom now. I already face these conflicts and struggles when I fight my demons to ‘care’. There are days when Amal only needs me for breast milk and for knowing when she has pooped and needs cleaning. There are days when she’d hug me if she felt startled or wanted comfort which somehow I am able to provide. It is my struggle and unlearning of how not to attach caring with responsibility that is making me a person (and incidentally a role called parent).

[End of part II.]

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