Mumma … Oh Maa …
Ma, Mama, Mak, Mom, Mummy, Ammi, Amma, Mi, Eomma, and Ibu are names for the women in various societies that turn the lifetime social status of a woman into a mother. Children’s presence is a key predictor for women who are called as a mother. Undeniably, the relationship of the child with the mother is incomparable. The sacred relationship begins from the womb of bonding between child and mother (and parents/guardians).
A mother pregnant with the child for nine months is said to have a unique or maternal instinct to understand the feelings and needs of children more than any other individual. This is further exacerbated by the ongoing emotions of childbirth. In cases where the child is unrelated, such as adoption, a maternal bond may also develop. Mothers who give birth and mothers who adopt both should be considered as ‘biological mothers’ based on changes that occur in their bodies when they become parents (both undergoing similar neuro-endocrinological transformations even in the absence of birth or lactation).
Our society defines roles in general terms. For each of us there are certain roles that society expects us to fulfill. Women are expected to take care of their infants, elderly relatives, sick or disabled children/individuals. Women are expected to take on the role of supporting, caring for, and responding to others. That’s the main reason we value women in our society with the ability to have kids (and families).
Punjabi women are entrusted with this task which has been socialised since young. Most infants are cared for by women, often by mothers. Women are supposed to display affection, to interact in a good and inspiring language, to be sensitive to the feelings and needs of children, to affirm their feelings and, most of all, motherhood is a place for children to comfort. In short, the expectations of this society indirectly make women a ‘superhero’ (multi-tasking) for their children. No wonder, a genuinely dedicated and committed mother can do something beyond her ability and strength.
It should be remembered, however, that each woman has a different experience in growing up and raising children. Not all birth-giving women are able to immediately cultivate her offspring. Women living in nuclear families may not have strong moral support while those living with extended families may experience stress due to unreasonable expectations or surplus advice. There are also specific obstacles faced by single parents who have lost their husbands or divorced or unmarried moms in raising their children. There is, in short, no absolute manual that any woman or mother should follow in this respect. Therefore, we should respect and honour the contribution of women to this ‘maternal struggle’.
In today’s realities, there are two different narratives of coexisting motherhood: (i) liberated from conventional roles to have careers, enjoy egalitarian relationships with partners who share in homemaking and child care, and raise outstanding children (‘have it all’) and, (ii) might not be possible to get work and fewer chances for highest level of professional life. I assume that our grandmothers, mothers, aunts and sisters belong to the two groups listed above because of their education, socialisation and life opportunities.
But what happens when a mother doesn’t have a relationship with her child? We easily label her as a woman with mental ailment, attachment disorders, postpartum depression (widely known now), abnormal, less feminine, greedy, career-oriented, lack of compassion, and so on. This mark is more harmful if the woman is unable to give birth. Interestingly, it wasn’t the outsider who mocked her but the surrounding families around her – the worse, it comes from the same gender. This is the quality of society we have today that considered a married woman with children(s) as a standard metric for a ‘complete woman’. Although educated and employed, most mothers cannot make decisions about their child – whether they want to be a mother, how many children they want, delayed or content without any offspring at all. Married women who do not want children or had miscarriages or gifted with special the child are worse off, therefore.
Surprisingly, our religious bodies do not seem to be serious to address these dilemma faced by women. Motherhood is certainly a tough journey for many of us and some parents do faced challenges: emotionally, economically, socio-psychologically and spiritually. Many paid ragi jatha are repeating old stories and are not assisting the Sikh to manage their families in accordance with Sikhi way of life. Many of us are proud of the ‘our’ patriarchy culture and hesitant to adopt a Sikh culture that professes gender equality. No wonder women in our culture became the victim and blamed for any unfortunate incident happened in their married life. Ironic.
From woman, man is born; within woman, man is conceived; to woman he is engaged and married. Woman becomes his friend; through woman, the future generations come. When his woman dies, he seeks another woman; to woman he is bound. So why call her bad? From her, kings are born. From woman, woman is born; without woman, there would be no one at all. (Guru Granth Sahib, 473; English translation from srigranth.org)
For the Sikhs, every day is a blessing and lets us appreciate our parents and other individuals regardless their gender who have played a significant role as a ‘mother’ by nurturing us.
The author’s area of specialisation is cultural anthropology with a special focus on the Sikh minority community in Malaysia which touches on themes such as religious-cultural conflicts, gender identity and social behavior.
Punjabi Mums’ world turn topsy-turvy (Asia Samachar, 9 May 2020)