The colour of her hair could only be described as a mocha but the fancy type you’d get at a Starbucks. It was obvious to be a personalised amalgamation of browns that resulted into a contemporary hue so that nobody would ever dare to call her mousy. Every lock had its place yet the curls appeared relaxed, unmistakably sculpted only by a professional. My mother and I recognised her immediately as the woman and her family arrived at the airport to catch the same flight as us. The woman was a well-known media personality whilst her husband was the heir to a successful family business.
It was however her popular Instagram account that stood out in our minds more than anything else. The woman frequently published pictures online of her family, doting on them and illustrating her most prized role as a mother before anything else. Her party was thus large but only significantly amplified by the three domestic helpers they had brought along with them to attend to each one of her babies. She supervises from the luggage trolley her elderly mother is pushing. The nearby pram was devoid of a child and instead loaded with several heavy bags emblazoned with the Louis Vuitton logo. The woman walked unhurriedly to the boarding gate, gripping firmly to a Dior handbag and to her affluent husband who was at her side as their apathetic family trailed behind them. They slowly disappeared into the bustling airport crowd.
My family and I were only to catch a glimpse of them again after we had already settled down in our seats and ready to doze off when they had just come onboard the plane. The woman was carrying her youngest child in her arms as she scouted for her seat. Hair was still perfect, jeans melded into her thin legs as she wandered around the cabin. As soon as the seat was found, the baby was immediately returned back to his nanny and that was to be the last contact between mother and son for the entire duration of the six hour flight. The baby bawled occasionally, only to be comforted by the coos of dutiful nanny and he would cry out for his parents which was only met with silence and without even a single turn of the head. Despite the irritated passengers in the vicinity, the cries of the youngest child continued to go on unnoticed. Only the woman’s mother would get up to soothe the baby.
I am not writing this for the purpose of berating the family nor the woman’s parenting style. I do not know her personally nor can I claim that she’s a bad mother. Behind closed doors and in the privacy of their own home, she could be as doting as she portrays to be online. Having someone to help you with your kids is a privilege after all and she’s just doing the smart thing: utilising what she is available to. The woman also has other children which I’m sure she spends most of her time on. I will not act like I know her nor will I condemn her for how she chooses to raise her children. Those are her choices and hers alone.
I am merely learning and formulating inside my head of how I want to raise my own children, thanks to this particular experience. I am also highlighting the above as quite common practice in our circles; in Malaysia, particularly. I myself was mainly raised by a nanny. My critique stems from knowing what that type of childhood is like and what is different now is that I am able to see it clearly as one of the most flawed ways to raise children. From what I picked up from the little psychology I had learnt in secondary school, babies benefit greatly from a single and primary attachment. I’m assuming that when adding multiple carers to the equation, babies are thus forced to make several attachments. It is also common knowledge that babies are innately attached to their mothers. So where does this leave a baby when he or she is frequently handed over to a stranger? Attachment, for myself and my brother (who presently has a nanny), had never seemed to be a problem. We can clearly distinguish the difference between the love we have for our mothers and our carers but we must acknowledge that our love for our ‘temporary’ carers exist as well. And to use that word, temporary, it already alludes to how things can go wrong. Unlike archaic European traditions, our nannies in Southeast Asia do not live with or care for us forever. They are also forced to do it all, not always because we might not be physically able to do it ourselves but because our parents say it is alright. It is sometimes expected. My little brother is a prime example. Despite being eight years old, he depends on his nanny to do a lot of everyday tasks for him that are considered very basic. Combined with my advice and guidance, he is now starting to become independent but at the same time, he has an entirely different problem: emotional dependence. His nanny is accustomed to entertain him, to calm him and the ilk.
I was in the same position only just a while ago. I had a dozen of different nannies growing up and the problems produced from that continues to manifest even to adulthood. I find myself more than eager to accept the help of people who can do things better than I can instead of learning and I am used to taking a lot of things for granted. I also lack a lot of knowledge of doing everyday things and now reaching this age, I certainly feel unfulfilled. Having a helper throughout childhood has created several bad habits which I am only now trying to get rid of. I am trying to achieve as much independence and self sufficiency but it all seems so strange and alien. I can feel pathetic and useless. I am learning everyday but regrettably, there are many lessons I could have learnt very early on. My parents were concerned with making my life easier from the get-go and I would never blame them for that. I will only try to teach my children differently.
I hope to become the type of mother with a phenomenal garden filled with newly harvested produce. My children will play with soil, catch worms and recognise types of flowers and plants before you can dust an iPad for traces of their fingerprints. Their faces will constantly be kissed by the sun and they’ll know how to tend a beautiful backyard because they help their parents. They’ll paint and read books if they should have a helper but they will also share the work around the house. I hope to become the mother who knows how to do and make just about everything.. In preparation to teach them how to carry out their bake-sales to fundraise to little homemade gifts for Teacher’s Day. We’ll spend a lot of time together in a lively kitchen where they’ll find a home in making bread and cookies. They’ll learn the difference between being alone and being lonely. They will listen to themselves and get to know what they are capable of. They’ll build their own characters from the skills that they have. They’ll be proud of what they can do, instead of being proud that they have someone else to do their bidding for them. I will be the type of mother who will know why they cry and what to do when they are hurting, on the inside and their outside. I will endeavour to try to fix problems myself, instead of letting someone else do it for me. I will know my family from their heads to their toes. I hope to never choose the easy way, over the right way.
Frankly, in the end, I don’t know what type of mother I’ll be. All I know is that I believe in never forcing multiple attachments and never creating dependency. I never want my children to live with that type of weird and confusing isolation I had grown up with.
The woman just posted a photo. It is a picture of her husband holding the baby, the moment where the nanny had got up to soothe the baby and the baby reached so far, encroaching on the father’s space where his hesitance to entertain the baby could not be put off any longer. He has to hold him.
Click. ‘My devoted husband with his baby boy!’ ‘It’s tough to travel, taking care of all these kids.’
Instagram worthy. Instagram famous. Instagram perfect.