Mothers are, increasingly, simultaneously present and absent in their children’s lives. With both parents working, care givers /nannies are being hired to look after children. Middle and upper-class families are especially hiring care givers for their children. Even essential acts like breastfeeding are now being done by nannies. This change in the methods of child care is, however, leading to a conflict between the upbringing desired by the parents and that being provided by a nanny. The major reason for this conflict is the different cultural values and background of the parents and the nannies. Children are being raised among both these differing, and often conflicting, cultural values.
In the family of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, the first ruling family of Kashmir, the disruption of culture and aesthetics is quite evident in a video shot by NDTV way back in 2003 where both Farooq Abdullah and his son Omar Abdullah in a remorseful tone lament the affect of nannies on the upbringing of Omar’s sons. “They (the children) picked their nannies’ accent and ways which even became difficult for us to understand,” says Omar in the video, suggesting that the upbringing by nannies had an adverse impact on the sophistication desired in the children’s behaviour and personality. In a household in uptown area of Srinagar, a family of working parents has hired a nanny, who, according to the parents, spoon feeds a toddler aged 3, while the parents wish that the child learns to eat on his own.
Sociological differences are a major cause of friction between parents and the nannies that are hired for the smooth upbringing of children. Growing urbanisation and migration of labour has brought a large number of household workers from Nepal and different parts of India to Kashmir. They mainly come from places where the majority of people live below the poverty line and their per capita income is very low. This economic and sociological background affects the way they raise the children and deal with them. Such differences also lead to a clash in cultural and moral values. Freudian psychology mainly focuses on development in the primitive years and its lasting impact on the psyche of an individual. “Children’s development of the cognitive and social skills needed later is best supported by the parenting style. Supportive and careful parenting plays an important role in providing a strong foundation for children to develop optimally,” says Dr Towseef Razavi, an associate professor in psychology. She adds that differences in the practices of caregivers and mothers can lead to conflict, a conflict that is not overt but produces discomfort and misunderstanding at an unspoken level. It has a damaging effect on the psychological health of the child.
A nanny from a poor family of Bihar who had received only primary education because she had to work as a child to help her debt-ridden family, is in Kashmir since 2012 and has been working for all these years. Her employers are doctors by profession are parents of a 4-year-old girl. The little girl can often be seen shouting and using crude words. “We believe children need to be taught the manners of eating, playing, talking and doing other things, but the nanny doesn’t even know how to teach the child to use cutlery. But our work doesn’t allow us to be with our child. We have no option other than to employ a nanny,” says Yasmeen, the mother.
The greatest test of civilisation is how it provides for the growth of individuals and the cultivating of respect for all human beings. It can never have the slightest inclination towards bringing in social life any kind of slavery, even in the feeblest form. Bringing poorly nurtured girls and entrusting them the responsibility of raising children, with meagre wages in return, is in my opinion a grave sin. By promoting this modern slavery we are feeding the innocent minds of children with the idea of class distinction and human inequality. On talking to a nanny employed by an upper-middle class family in Humhama, she said, “I never wanted to work in a far-off land but my economic conditions forced me to leave my parents alone. Kashmir was painted as a fairy land of opportunities and comfort by the broker. I was told that my work would be limited to cleaning but I have been asked by my employer to take care of a toddler, which is the most difficult task.”
A frictional relationship between a nanny and the child’s mother can be seen in a palatial house located in the posh area of Jawahar Nagar. The mother of the child says about the nanny: “She is quick to do things for him (3.5-yr-old child), even though I keep saying that the child is old enough to start doing things for himself. If he throws something on the floor, she picks it up and I say, no, no, he is old enough to do it on his own.” On being asked how the nanny reacts to this, the mother said, “I believe that when I am not around she does more for him. I don’t want my son to take undue advantage of his nanny. One day he threw something on the floor and when I protested, he replied that Reena (nanny) will pick it up. This means he is getting spoiled.”
On interviewing Dr Gowher, a paediatrician, regarding the growing nanny culture in Kashmir and its impact on children, he made it clear that it’s better for a mother to not have to work outside so as to be able to take care of her own children. He said, “The value of maternal care is more important than anything else. Children feel secure in presence of their mother. There is no alternative to the bond between a mother and her child. Presence of mother is required for the child’s overall healthy growth.”
Talking to different working women about child care revealed that they think the mother’s job is the transmission of the values of their social class to their children. Working mothers are worried that a nanny from a different social class cannot transmit these values. Nevertheless, for women who have invested in education and their careers, the concept of being at home is difficult. They don’t want their child to be deprived of maternal care and the right values because they have to step out of home for work, but simultaneously they wish to be independent and make use of their education. “There is a conflicting feeling in them that none else can meet their child’s needs the way they can, and they have an unfulfilled desire to stay home to look after their children,” said the mother of a 5-year-old who cannot do so because she works in a bank.
—The writer is studying for a PhD in Mass Communication and Journalism. [email protected]