Pakistan is a place of warmth, hospitality and family connections that run deep. While becoming increasingly less common, generations still live together in the same house. There is a vast collection of uncles, aunts, grandparents and cousins that will entertain your child and bounce your baby on their lap. Children understand the hierarchies of families and adults enjoy a level of respect and deference I have not witnessed in our part of the world. Large families live together, eat together, fight together and make decisions together. And there is no concept of space.
And while it may not be all rosy (soap operas are after all based on society’s love of conflict and familial betrayals), the idea of the village raising the child, which is becoming so obsolete in our society, was almost heartwarming to me.
Someone was constantly entertaining or feeding my child. When my daughter would throw a fit, someone would invariably intervene before I turned into Momzilla. And while at first my daughter was terrified by the dizzying number of new faces and places, she eventually warmed up to her new found family and I have never seen her bask in such a degree of attention and adoration.
The idea of the village raising a child has its merits: it can give your child an enriched experience. It teaches children about care, responsibility, respect of elders and a sense of community and belonging. It can give the younglings a lesson on empathy and provide the elders company and a purpose in their golden years. It can give you the parent, a much needed break on a day to day basis. It can provide you with a support system when you are alone in the throes of parenting. There is always an ear to listen to your frustrations, a mouth to give you sage advice. The village may have become obsolete but I certainly did not find it to be irrelevant.
On the other hand, it comes with its costs too. Like the village giving your child coke when you specifically said not to. There are likely too many mouths to give you sage advice. The village may intervene in your parenting and overrule your decisions regarding your child. It can also make for an unpleasant experience if you genuinely dislike the people you share a home with. And God forbid someone leave you alone for a second. Those are things we have little tolerance for in our part of the world.
In my opinion, parenting is so much more challenging here because we often tend to do it alone. So many new moms suffer from depression, loneliness and isolation. And sometimes it’s simply because we’d rather not ask for help. Because as an individualistic society, asking for help means you can’t figure your shit out yourself. We view it as a failure of our ability to manage and parent.
I also found that people seemed to complain much less about parenting in Pakistan and generally seem to enjoy the presence of children so that parents are not socially ostracized. Children are viewed as blessings, the essence of the social fabric, a given in all settings (yes, weddings included). In our part of the world, parents won’t go to certain restaurants out of fear of judgmental eyes trained on their screaming spawn, or to the movies or even to social gatherings, where they might have been explicitly prohibited in the first place. And if you have a brood of young ones, you are never crossing your doorstep. Parenthood can sometimes feel like a STD.
So what to do about this new found, post-vacation wisdom? I wasn’t about to import all my relatives to Canada to recreate the village. What I did realize is that individualistic societies cultivate independence and confidence in children while communal societies cultivate trust and relationship-management. I was already giving my daughter the individualism (and confidence, oh a lot of confidence), I needed to give her more of the community. Create a village around me. Have a support network. Ask for help. Do the same for others. Involve others in my decisions. Share my child with others. Get her use to people being in her face. Teach her to share her space and belongings with others. And most importantly, stop being a first world parent pretending to have my shit together at all times. Because at the end of the day, people need people. And parents are people too.