The Sunday News
ORPHANAGES have been a part of our societies for years. We have also seen grandparents all over the country, raising grandchildren, whose parents are alive and productive. At my son’s school, for severely disabled children, are three boys, whose parents dumped them with their grandparents and disappeared.
There’s a girl I know, who says the birthday stated on her birth certificate is an estimate. Her mother went to South Africa soon after she was born. Her grandparents took it upon themselves to get her a birth certificate, unfortunately they did not know her exact birth date. All they could remember was that she had been born sometime in 1997, at the beginning of the year. She is 20 years old now and her mother has not been heard from since she left.
She says she has no idea whether her mother died or she dumped her and went away to start a new life.
Not all orphans’ parents are deceased. We have orphans whose mothers dumped them, whose mothers gave them away and orphans who have no idea how and why they came to have no mothers.
We have always attacked men for neglecting their children; denying paternity; refusing to pay maintenance; sexually, physically and emotionally abusing their children. Men have always been fingered in cases of abandoning children, it is sad, but because we have accepted it, it’s nothing out of this world.
We are brought up to believe that when we have children we will automatically love them. We are given the impression that once a baby pops out of you, you are flooded with love, acceptance and devotion to that child. This reaction is instinctive apparently, it is natural. They call it “maternal instinct.”
Not only is it untrue, it is misleading and reckless to peddle this fallacy that all biological mothers will love their children. If maternal instinct is such a common reality, why are there so many children in orphanages? Why are so many grandparents and uncles finding themselves raising children they did not give birth to?
Society needs to accept the fact that there are many mothers out there, who have no desire to raise their children. We need to educate children to be ready for that moment when they give birth to their own children, only to discover that the “maternal instinct” switch has malfunctioned. Once we accept that reality, the fact that some mothers regret getting pregnant, that some mothers regret having children, we will be forced to set up structures to deal with those realities.
The Government has accepted that not all biological fathers want to live with their children and their mothers so they have set up the maintenance system. There are some mothers out there, who have no desire to live with their children or even to be part of their children’s lives and we need to find a way of dealing with that.
In a country where infertility rears its head in hundreds of homes, we still have hundreds of girls illegally aborting pregnancies out of desperation and several others trying to flush newborn babies in toilets. Imagine a world where girls could openly declare that they made a mistake and fell pregnant but they have no desire to have a child?
We have mothers who abuse their children verbally, physically and emotionally simply because they cannot cope with having children and other life’s pressures. All of us know someone like that. Should we maintain the stance of blaming such mothers while offering those kids no help at all? Should we keep pretending that all mothers “love” their children and resign those unwanted children and “unwanting” mothers to lifetimes of suffering?
What is this love that we force mothers to have for their children? Seeing as we have failed to find a universal definition of love, it is high time we stop forcing mothers to develop an “instinct” they do not have and instead force them to act responsibly when they discover they lack “maternal instinct.”
Once we stop stigmatising those that do not want their children, they will be free to openly give up their children for adoption. Mothers who suffer from post natal depression will be free to openly declare that they are failing to find any joy in the “joys of motherhood” and they can be assisted with mechanisms that will ensure the emotional health of both mother and child.
We are judged daily for not projecting “maternal instinct” but who defines what it is. We have different ideas on how to raise children so who determines which one is the best? There is diversity in types of mothers. There are potential mothers who desperately want children but cannot have them. They are willing and ready to raise children they did not give birth to.
There are mothers who seem to have been “born to do it,” who just seem to know exactly what to do when it comes to raising children. We also have mothers who have no idea what to do. Mothers who find themselves thrown in the deep-end and struggle to stay afloat.
We have strict mothers, who believe that children must be brought up with tough love. These are the mothers who shout at, beat and “overwork” their children. We look at these mothers and accuse them of being abusive. How should they know at what point they are being abusive if we just assume all mothers are born to know how to love a child?
We have mothers who smother their children with affection, attention and gifts. These are the mothers who indulge their children’s whims and give hugs and kisses. We look at them and accuse them of raising spoiled brats.
Then there are mothers who have absolutely no time for their children. Mothers who do not enjoy their children’s company. Those who are annoyed by their children. Those who love their children but wish they had not had them.
If a mother who does not want to be a mother decides to leave her child to be raised by someone more capable of giving the love and affection she cannot give the child herself, is that not love? If we force mothers to pretend to love their children, when they discover they cannot; they will run away and never come back; they will dump newborns in pit latrines just to save face; they will abuse their children out of bitterness. They will abort pregnancies illegally.
Sometimes we unwittingly breed criminal behaviour by refusing to accept realities presented upon us. Accepting reality does not mean we are condoning bad behaviour. We are simply seeking solutions to deal with issues that arise instead of wishing them away.
Without structures to deal with these realities, without standards that define the lines between tough love and abuse, indulgent love and spoiling; we shall have generations upon generations of frustrated mothers and damaged children. The only way we ever address this is by accepting that not all mothers have a magical bond with their children.