It takes a village
SEPT 23 — I’ll begin with a cliché, forgive me. Lately the saying “It takes a village to raise a child” has begun to ring louder in my head.
Whenever I queue up at the bus stop, I see grandmothers carrying babies in Hong Kong-style cotton backpack-like carriers. These have thin but broad shoulder straps that criss-cross the chest or back while the baby sits in the pouch which is either against the back or chest.
These grannies do their marketing and “yum cha” with their grandchild in tow. My friend who used to patronise the playroom at the Aberdeen Municipal Building got to know an 18-month old boy who was frequently accompanied by his mother and grandmother in shifts.
They both worked at the wet market next door and would take turns to watch over the toddler who would spend the morning in the playroom.
Grandfathers are in on the game too, walking hand in hand with the little one as they escort their grandchild home after a day of babysitting or watching over them at the playground. Despite the majority of households employing a domestic helper — some have two, one for each child or a driver and a helper to help keep all the balls up in the air – grandparents, aunts and uncles are very much in the picture. They help to take the children off the helpers’ hands for a few hours during the day so that the latter may perform household chores and buy groceries.
Having extra eyes around the home also helps put parents at ease, knowing that a trusted family member is around to watch over the goings-on at home. Extended family also plays a pivotal role in teaching the mother tongue. By being a recurring daily presence in a child’s life, it becomes easier for a child to brush up on her language.
I know of a granny who speaks Cantonese to her Australian granddaughter, and I am envious of how effortlessly the granddaughter switches back and forth between English and Cantonese. Why am I banging on about this family and village business?
My husband’s job sees him making the occasional trip abroad, which has made me realise how much I depend on him returning home at 6pm every day when he bathes, plays and feeds our son (and I, our daughter). I have been single minded in my stubbornness to raise my children without a helper. What’s the big deal about that, you’re probably saying. After all, I am a stay-at-home-mum; this is a status I chose for myself.
The thing is, somehow, come 6pm, all hell breaks loose. The whinging begins, turning into full-blown tantrums by not one but sometimes both children. In the run-up to his 12-day trip to the UK, I insisted on taking care of the children on my own.
I hold great store in quiet and privacy and very much like not having to share my space with others. My husband was worried that I might not be able to cope. We compromised and hired help to come in for two hours in the evening for four days and imported my mother-in-law and sister-in-law for the remaining eight days.
I was stressed out about having my in-laws over. We get along fine but the smallest thing would eat at me, like wet towels hanging over the dining chairs. I felt I could do fine on my own. I was wrong, of course. I might have been able to get things done my way but at a cost — my four-year-old would have been neglected as I tended to cooking, cleaning and saw to my nine-month-old who is going through a clingy phase.
I was having tantrums of my own, stemming from a lack of sleep. I would snap at my son over the smallest things. This is where the village saved us. My in-laws helped with dinner and watching the kids while I showered.
My friends hosted play dates so I had a chance to catch up over a relaxing drink while my children played with their friends. My mum and dad would chat with us us via Facetime. Even the Nepalese security guard seemed extra kind as he helped me with my heavy groceries. I could have done it all on my own, sure. But it wouldn’t have been right. My children need the village and loving stimuli it provides.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.