How does one be a happy mom in the age of hyper-parenting? I found out in an interesting way. Last year, I got a call from my daughter’s school principal herself.  She sounded concerned. “Your daughter has eaten food with fungus coated on it. She appears to be okay but we have kept her in the infirmary. She is under observation. I am so very sorry about this. Please do come and take her home. You can take her to a doctor immediately if you like.”

I hung up, stunned. The first reaction arched inside me like a rolling wave. What if my daughter is poisoned? She could be so sick that she would have to be admitted, put on drips, have her stomach pumped. The world seemed to be spinning. About a minute after these ridiculous notions flashed before eyes, I was immediately reminded of the time when my cousin pushed me into a pond when I was 8. Or the time I accidentally cut my wrist in a gate at a neighbour’s place when I was 10.

It’s not just kids who need to self-soothe

My daughter’s school had around 35 children in each class. There were two caterers who supplied the food and the parents could choose the one they wanted. Both the caterers usually supplied child-friendly and hygienic food and they had been associated with the school for many years.

When I arrived at the school, the principal met me at the reception. The primary school’s academic coordinator, the class teacher, the doctor and the nurse also joined us. My daughter was okay. In fact, she was chirpy and drinking some juice.The principal explained that someone had left the food box in the classroom days ago and had not cleared it. Somehow, it had found its way to my daughter during lunch. She had opened it without noticing it was rotten and had taken a couple of bites, before realizing it was not okay. The teacher had then taken it away and had given her some curd rice, before taking her immediately to the infirmary.

I did not panic at the school, and neither did I even ask for more details. The principal did volunteer the information herself. “We have taken the caterer to task and threatened to fire them,” she said. “They are very sorry and have promised to adopt a more stringent approach to making sure the food is clean. From tomorrow, we are changing the routine entirely. The food boxes will be given in the classroom instead of the cafeteria. There will also be new date labels for the children and all of this will be examined before the food is distributed.”

Sure enough, these measures continued throughout the school year after that incident, as my daughter reported. “They check the boxes three, four times now mamma, before giving us the food,” she would exclaim every now and then. Besides, she now knows all about fungus and has learned to read labels!

I am glad I didn’t lose my temper with the school or shout unnecessarily. Here’s why.

What I learned

I learned three things from this incident. One, everyone makes mistakes. Two, it was just fungus. “We all eat fungus in some form and it could even be healthy,” joked our paediatrician when I took my daughter for a check up later. Three, it is sometimes essential to step back as a parent and look at the larger picture. I should let my daughter live her life, with all its uncertainties.

No doubt, we need to be careful and vigilant but we cannot bubble wrap our kids constantly. I prefer working with a school to arrive at solutions instead of fighting with them or protecting my child from the world. Somewhere along the line, we have cocooned our children so rigidly that we are not embracing the uncertainty that will stare them in the face throughout their lives.

A Collaborative Effort

Last week, I was talking to another school’s principal. She narrated an incident about a parent. This man had been furious that his twelve-year-old son had hurt himself on the school’s cricket field. It was not a serious injury but it was not a small one either. The parent screamed, shouted and accused the teacher continuously. “When the child is in the school, he is your responsibility completely. Whatever happens to him is on your head!” he shouted.

The teacher remained calm. She then said, “Sir, I understand and I am sorry about this. May I ask you a question? When your child is at home, his safety is your responsibility, isn’t it? Has your child ever hurt or injured himself at home? Has he fallen down or scratched his knee when he was under your watch? Can you promise me that he has never hurt himself under your watch or your wife’s watch?”

The parent immediately calmed down and what followed was a more peaceful and constructive dialogue between them about how to ensure more airtight safety practices, both at home and at school.

What makes parenting so unique

I think parenting is a long and interesting journey. What makes it fascinating to me is that it is so ambivalent. There are no right or wrong answers. It offers many possibilities for how we can work on our relationship with one another and with the world at large. We can learn empathy and humanity.

How did I learn to be a happy mom? I realized that this aura of perfect planning and parenting that we seem to put on for the world doesn’t exist.


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