Sri Lanka is a culture which generally afford a great deal of respect to the parents – and especially to the mother. Carrying a baby around for 9 months is difficult. Caring for a child is even more difficult: we’re generally taught, through a combination of culture, societal norms, education and slaps to the face, that we really should pay attention to our parents. That they know more than us, that they know better than us, and that by and large, we should obey them.
Including when they turn out to be idiots.
Now, no offence to the parents out there, unless you’re actually one of the misguided people guilty of these things. You see, there are a thousand people willing to judge your child, including yourself, but there’s nobody willing to judge two people and consider whether they’ll actually make good parents or not. To be a good parent requires maturity: it requires conscience: and above all, it requires empathy with your child.
Who judges this? What judges this? We take it for granted that marriage is a very expensive license to procreate: but still, standing for a few hours on a pedestal and blowing a few million rupees on a saree, a suit and a wedding album cannot be a valid qualification for anyone to be a parent. Anyone can get married – you can sort yourself out even at the age of eighteen, even before school dumps you into the lap of society. Getting pregnant cannot be a valid qualification to be a parent: that, too, is all too easily done. Carrying a baby around for nine months is not a qualification. The baby didn’t ask to be born: it was you who wanted it there.
So does anything judge whether you will be a kind parent? Whether you will be a cruel one? Whether you will love your child against all odds, or whether you will constantly compare them to other children? Does it judge whether you will be by them in their times of need? Not really. In fact, not at all. Society, for all the emphasis it places on the family, has written a selection test that a monkey could pass with flying colors. Find your Juliet. Marry her. Collect the dowry. Get her pregnant. Done. It doesn’t even need to be in that specific order. All things considered, being a parent isn’t hard. A lobotomized corpse could pull it off.
But being a good parent is difficult. It’s a lifetime achievement. A child is a strange thing, you see. It starts out like a blank effigy, a doll into which you pour your dreams and desires and hard-earned lessons all the things that you wanted to do, but never could. You, the parent, are God: the child is your canvas. Or so you think: but this is never a passive canvas. This canvas is a living being. It reacts. It demands. It cries. It laughs. It dreams. It’s not your second shot at life. It’s not a chance to set things right. It is its own creature. You cannot chain this creature like a dog: you can only guide it. Hold its hand for too long, pull too hard and it will bite you.
This is why we have parents who look upon their child and hate this mewling thing for ruining their figure or career. It’s why we have parents that mercilessly push their children to become overachievers, heedless of what kind of person their child is turning out to be. It’s why we have parents who love one child more that the other; it’s why we have parents who compare their son or daughter against this cousin or that and ask, almost piteously, “Why can’t you be like so-and-so?”
It’s also why we have parents who, when their child wants to be an athlete, an astronomer, a champion rally driver, a marketer, are quick to stamp on their dreams and say “No, get a job at the bank: so-and-so did well there.” It’s why we have parents who, as time passes, are surprised and dismayed to find their sweet, pliable child is no longer so sweet or so easily manageable.
Is it surprising, then, that we have children who are only too happy to send off that hectoring parent to an Elder’s Home? To lock them and their pleas and orders and nagging malcontent out of their lives and behind four strong walls far, far away? It is surprising that so many children, at some point in their lives, vows that they hate their parents and dreams of freedom?
It’s like playing God, but unlike the Christian God, you don’t get to look down on dismay, call in a flood and start over with a clean slate. Your hideous progeny is yours to keep. We have exams for mathematics, business management, fashion design and programming, but society has no exam for the most vital of all skills – parenting. So the only question, the one that should have been asked years ago, when you slipped on that ring, is “Am I capable? Am I worthy?”