Why going to a developing country was the hardest and best thing for my parenting

By Jessica Kumar

I have written before about my husband’s Indian heritage. He is from a traditional Hindu farming village in the north of India. Since our baby was born nearly six months ago, we have been planning to visit so our boy can meet his Indian family. I was uncertain about travelling at all with a small baby, let alone to rural India, but there was never a question that we would take him when he was still small.

India is all the things you see and read about. It is intense and wonderful and frustrating and enlightening. It is all of these things all at the same time. I have often been in awe of the devoutness, inspired by the rituals and frustrated by customs all in the same moment. Time is fluid and less meaningful in a place like India.

When I am here, especially in the village, I dress like a traditional Indian wife. This means I don’t wear a watch. We have three clocks in the house and they all say a different time. I haven’t thought so much about it when I have visited before: you wake when you wake, you eat when you’re hungry and when you make a time to go out – this is always done with the understanding that it’s a loose approximation and you will have to have three cups of chai before you leave the house anyway. So I don’t look at the time lest I stress about being three hours “late”.

Now that I am here with a baby, the fluidity of time means something slightly different. I have always been pretty baby-led in my approach to parenting. Being in sync with baby is important for myself as a mum and it is a big part of the work I do with mothers as a child health nurse and lactation consultant. In Australia, mothers often feel pressured, usually by well-meaning friends and family, to get baby sleeping and feeding at certain intervals, rather than the needs of the individual baby. When working with mothers, I often spend a lot of time helping mums learn what her baby’s pattern is. Mothers often feel helpless and guilty that their baby is not following the schedule set out in a parenting book. We know that the range of normal for patterns of baby behaviour is wide and seldom follows a set routine.

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