Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Epiphany That Comes with Parenting

I am obsessive-compulsive by nurture (one day I'll introduce you to my Mom) and this trait really comes in handy in certain areas in life. But when it comes to my son, things get a little trickier.

As any human being in this world, I too am seeking that balance in life. Being a working mother, I try my best to prioritise and distribute deserved attention based on them. So in short, I stop working and bail out of meetings the moment something's wrong with my son. In these cases, it seems like an easy choice.

But lately, with Malik turning 1 year old and being exposed to more germs (from new types of food to the scariest things he picks off the floor and puts in his mouth), he gets sick more often as compared to those glorifying days of exclusive breastfeeding. His weight gain decreases and he doesn't seem to be the chubby little self he was just a couple of months ago.

So there I was, true to my nurture, began counting his calories, the AAP recommended daily intake, I read all the labels behind all of the packages and read all the articles I could find on anything that I could come up with (trust me, I do the same at work). That's when all hell began to break lose. I literally drew Arya out of his mind with my theorising of Malik's diet and growth. Of course, after driving myself a bit crazy. Just a bit.

That's when I really listened to the words of wisdom coming from the man I call my husband.

"Kalo aku sih, biarin aja Malik kaya gitu (note: susah makan). Nanti kalo laper, dia pasti cari makan sendiri. Emang sih, mungkin kalo aku yang ngasih makan, ngga sebanyak kamu yang masuk; tapi daripada stres. Toh dia sehat, ketawa, main. Kan yang lebih penting kita ada untuk dia, daripada makan tapi marah-marah."

I began reviewing what I did wrong and how I can deal with this reality. I started reshuffling priorities and reorganising thoughts.

What's important to Malik is not (only) the best of nature (food intake) but the best of nurture (energy spent on his psychological development). I always approach him as a child, as someone who needs tending and care. But I rarely deal with his problems as a human being - with needs and wants.

A (sane) human being will eat when they need to, get sick several times a year and are sometimes picky with food.

When I attempt to control variables in his environment of growth, I am at the same time depriving him of the chance to be independent and decide for himself. For instance, by trying to be more sterile and limit the places he can go to, I might be able to prevent him from getting sick. But at the same time, I am depriving his body to fight off viruses and memorise how to counterattack harmful foreign objects in his body (apparently after reading, I found out that basically this is what our bodies do). So getting sick is actually a good thing (to some extent).

Not wanting food from time to time is also a way for him to learn that he needs to be less picky (vegetables are part of a packaged deal sort of logic). Once he's hungry enough, a sane child will eat anything in sight. And that's when he learns to eat healthily; instead of me giving in to his demands to eat 'disguised' food just for the sake of his calorie intake.

All I can do, as a parent, is to tend to him. Care for him when he's sick, be there for him throughout the process of learning. At the end, it's his fight. He is the one who has to get better, I can't do it for him. It's actually also applicable to a broader context; peer pressure, bullying, losing a competition, grades - everything in Malik's life, is his battle. I can't always protect him, or more consistent to this logic, (over) protecting him means, albeit he is safe and sound, depriving him of learning how to be strong(er).

Jadi memang mesti tega. Knowing when to sit back and watch, even if we're crying inside, to allow our children to learn how to grow and defend themselves, independent from their caregivers.

It seems to me now, that parenting is not about the parents. It never about us. It's always about this child trying to survive in life, and, at the end, without us.

So the conclusion is: parenting means learning to let go.

With love
Dedicated to my parents

The two people who has loved me
So selflessly
Just so I could stand on my own two feet
When I had to

That through them
I (am) learn(ing) how to love my son
As well

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