Panic. Hysteria. Paranoia. That is how Benazir Hussain, 30, remembers the days when she turned first-time mother two years ago. “I wanted to race to the paediatrician at the slightest sign of a cold in my son,” says this special educator at a Noida school. “My father would tell me, let him be, it’s a natural process, let his immune system build up. But I wouldn’t pause even for a moment to think. I would have a 101 questions, so I would Google and read 10 articles on my worries, then confirm it from people around me, just to be sure.” She had enough company in this paranoia, surrounded by friends and colleagues, all equally nervous about bringing up babies in this day and age.
Yes, hyper-parenting was about last decade. But it’s alive and kicking five years down this decade as well, with parenting no longer a mundane, routine, everybody-knows-how-to-do-it thing, but an art to be perfected in double-quick time. Every step of parenting, right from conception to feeding, clothing and playing is to be thought through as carefully as a complicated science project. Chinks in the armour you can ill-afford. And should there be any, there is enough help to iron them out. Nitin Pandey, founder at Parentune, an online community, is one such saviour. “For too long have parents in India focused on academics. That is now changing, with parents looking for specific solutions to specific issues, right from infancy,” says the Gurgaon-based entrepreneur who finds new parents increasingly aware of what they lack in providing for their kids, and try and fill that gap immediately. It has resulted in a lot more debate, exchanging of notes and a lot more questions among parents themselves.
And why not, asks Neha Modi, mother to one-year-old Manan in Mumbai, who says her parents followed what their parents did, but she is not willing to do so. “When I was pregnant,” she says, “I followed my baby’s development week by week thanks to online resources. Once he was born, I joined various parenting-related groups on Facebook, one for feeding support, another for baby-led weaning and so on. The difference between then and now is, my generation is constantly questioning old parenting practices; we think, analyse much more. I do a lot of research before I try anything on my baby.” Shilangi Mukherji, media professional and mother of a seven-month-old boy, is well aware that the pitfall of information overload is over-analysis. “But I like to think I take an informed decision as opposed to following old wives’ tales or ‘hota hai, no need to be so fussy, bachche to bade ho jaate hain’ approach. I’m super particular about what my child eats. I am trying to avoid synthetic and processed food such as Cerelac for as long as I can, insisting on natural milk and homemade food.” In Gurgaon, Bayiravi Mani Mangaonkar ticks off her own list: “The principles my husband and I follow is to reuse and recycle, no disposable diapers unless travelling for more than two days, cutting down chemicals at home, and only freshly prepared food for baby till date.”
In this new-age parenting ecosystem, it’s not the elders who are the guiding principals for the urban parents. It’s more their peers, even strangers over the internet, all creatures of a can-have-will-have culture, where money is no consideration compared to the the perceived comfort of the baby. “There is a new kind of community emerging among parents as the next possible alternative support system, since the older generation is not always close by to help, and we don’t often seek out our neighbours as we did earlier,” says Nitin. This community, it would seem, understands each member better, drawn together by similar fears and anxieties, many of which didn’t exist even 10 years ago. Whether it’s about when to let your child play with your mobile phone or which baby store to pick, you are likely to get an informed answer from a recent parent.
“Parenting is so much more challenging today,” says Chetana Mishra, who gave up her consulting job at Deloitte to bring up her son. “It’s almost as if our genes are different now. Kids need to be constantly engaged and stimulated. The freedom of letting go just doesn’t come naturally to us anymore.” Chetana now runs a software development firm from home, and just this year set up a network for mothers like her who wanted to start their own ventures. Mompreneurs India fits right into this new ecosystem, letting new mothers explore fresh opportunities while letting them have the flexibility needed to bring up a baby. “I think in our generation, women are doing well in their career. Therefore, there is always a tendency to doubt our capabilities when it comes to parenting and have a sense of guilt,” muses Kochi-based Shilpa Rajan, who has gone back to work full throttle. Her pet fear: leaving her one-year-old son alone with the help. So she has worked around it, creating a mini creche at the recruitment firm she owns, where she takes her baby when she is not working from home, and encouraging other staffers, all women, to do the same.
If helicopter parents or hyper-parenting were the catchwords of the yesteryear, micro-parenting would be the current buzz. That’s the term for setting off on one tangent under the parenting umbrella and making it your pet project. Midweek on a recent December afternoon, five of us new mums meet in a South Delhi drawing room, babies in tow, brought together by a relatively new Facebook group, Babywearing India. Soon enough, the kids wobble about freely—aged 6 months to 1.5 years—with no agenda to pin them down. The mothers have a definite agenda, however: to exchange notes on the business of babywearing, the term for the well-worn art of carrying your baby in a sling. An ancient practice it may be, but for the new urban parent, it’s a thing to do. And so we do, threadbare, ticking off the pros and cons of various types of slings and carriers, where to wear which one and why, salivating over new and attractive colours and patterns up for grabs. “All of us are allowed one craziness as parents; mine is baby carriers,” says Bayiravi, who is also at the gathering, having started her own range of baby slings, named after her son Advait’s first words, ‘Kol Kol’. India’s first ‘Babywearing walk’ was held early this year (Jan 4) where many new mothers turned up with their tots strapped on in a carrier, to raise awareness about the goodness of wearing your baby, old style.
In Mumbai, Neha Modi is just as passionate about eco-friendly baby clothing, which has led to her own line of baby cloth diapers called Peekaboo. “My parents and in-laws keep asking me why I am so taken with all these trends, why the shosha?” she chuckles. But she has her own ideas. “As I see it, there are two sets of parents out there. One, the kinds who want to carry on with tried-and-tested methods. The other, which I belong to, wants to experiment and try and adapt to changing times.” That’s parenthood in new clothes.
The Art Of New-Age Parenting
- Welcome to Babywearing The old practice of carrying babies in slings while you work, walk, shop is back in a new avatar avatar. Hence babywearing meet-ups, babywearing walks, even local ‘sling libraries’ where you find a whole collection of baby carriers.
- Go Organic No shiny, glossy ware from baby stores for these new mom-dads. Instead they prefer recycled, reused, environment-friendly baby things—cloth diapers, second-hand clothes, furniture, only fresh, natural baby food
- Learning the ropes Pre-baby and post-baby parenting workshops, mom-and-baby outings, parenting carnivals, plenty of childcare websites and online support groups designed for the modern, working parent
- Boutique baby shops The online marketplace is flooded with all baby things generic, but personally curated stores selling handcrafted ware are becoming popular, be it The Almirah for clothes or The Yellow Giraffe for toys
- Mommy-go-lucky Stay-at-home or working, new moms are blogging, kickstarting new ventures or leading support groups for other mums like Mompreneurs India, Flexi Moms India, New Mommies World
Top 10 Qs Paranoid Parents Ask
- Did my baby sneeze? Should we call the doctor?
- Is my baby feeding enough/too much? He doesn’t look chubby/he has a paunch.
- Is my baby getting the right kind of oil/powder/lotion?
- Did I use the hand sanitiser before changing the diaper?
- Is my baby’s poo colour okay?
- Is my baby reaching his milestones before my friend’s kid does?
- Why is my baby not interested in bed- time stories? He’s three months already!
- Is my baby’s cot not large enough? Should I have bought the one that was 2 cm wider?
- Why is my baby still waking up at night; the baby manual said he should be sleeping all night by now?
- Will my baby be all right if I leave him alone in his crib for two minutes?
- TTC Trying to conceive
- LO Little one
- DD Dear daughter
- DS Dear son
- DH Dear husband
- SAHM Stay at home mom
- FTM First time mom
- WAHM Work at home mom
- BW Babywearing
- EBF Exclusive breastfeeding
- NIP Nursing in public
- NAK Nursing at keyboard
- OWT Old wives tale
- CIO Cry it out