Why 10 children cannot care for 1 mother

Among the many gems I’ve gleaned from countless hours of listening to my mother is this: a mother can care for 10 children but 10 children cannot care for 1 mother.

Over the years I’ve pondered the validity of this statement, like I do my mother’s many other gems and in that time, have heard of many family situations that support this. 10 children cannot possibly care for 1 mother, even though 9 out of 10 will declare some desire to. Every one will “chip in” some time or money but ultimately the heavy lifting will come down to 1 very brave (or stupid, depending on how you see it) child.

Here’s why:

1) Mother will require a lot of support; from running errands to ferrying to doctor visits. While they are fit and healthy they can lead very independent lives but you don’t have to read Atul Gawand’s “Being Mortal” like I have (and I highly recommend the book) to know that at the end of our time on earth, we all go back to being as helpless as babies – except no where near as uplifting or endearing. Mother needs someone who can commit to this reverse babysitting.

2) Everyone Mother is linked to – siblings, cousins, total strangers – will have an opinion on how well you are caring for her. They won’t hear of the many hours you play therapist for many of her unresolved issues from 5 or more decades ago or the many ways you advocate and protect her interests. Instead, they will know all about how Mother disapproves of your parenting/friends…you fill in the blank. It’s okay if they keep their opinions to themselves but as is the nature of humans, they will feel compelled to give you a critique about how you are doing.

3) Mother meddles. She is proud of how she raised you but won’t trust you to make decisions for yourself. I once had a friend from school tell me WITH TEARS IN HER EYES how her wheel-chair-bound mother was ripping her marriage apart (because she disliked her husband), guilt-tripping her with stories about filial piety in Asian culture (even though she was already catering to her mother full-time), saying the most cutting things daily (because they are supposedly pearls of wisdom) and alienating her from her children (with the many demands on her time)… Meanwhile her brother was the “family darling” for doing absolutely nothing. How typical!

Understand this: I grew up writing many essays about why the West are degenerates for putting their old in nursing homes. You scored extra points if you wrote about how you are duty-bound to change their adult diapers because they once changed yours. You were criticised if you pointed out that adult poo smells a lot worse than baby poo and that adults need pulleys to lift them whereas the average baby weighs less than a sack of rice.

But this isn’t about the challenge of changing adult diapers or old parents vs cute babies. It’s about why those who put their hands up to caring for their old (as opposed to being bullied into it by kith and kin) deserve awards. It’s so easy to say one is busy. FYI with moving from West Coast to East Coast of Australia, home buying remotely, renovating a 90 year old building, refurbishing an apartment in an increasingly competitive market, attending to the prolonged vacancy in another (after refurbishment), working for HRH (I handle his admin and bills), caring for 2 children 24/7, 365 days a year, I can honestly claim to be bogged down with work. After all, I have no nanny, no Yati or Maria (insert your favourite maid names) to do my housework, no family around to give me a day off. I wake up several times a night to nurse my 20 months old son because it protects him and me from cancer.

This is about why 10 children cannot care for 1 mother. Only 1 (at this point I’m leaning towards “stupid”) child can. This is about enduring gems like “The young are only waiting for the old to pop off so they can get their inheritance”, in Cantonese, “the old are stopping the axis of young’s world from turning”, “they don’t want the mother now that they’ve USED her”, even though you have neither demolished your mother’s house nor attempted to shove her onto your brother after she has raised your kids (these people are both still “hero children” btw) and getting up to do it again and again. You get gang-bashed by family for simply standing up for yourself because everyone expects you to roll over and play dead. They want you to shut up about your hurt and your anger and your right to that hurt and anger. Gee, and you wonder why more people are studying psychology! There is an obvious societal need for it!

So what’s your take: can or can’t 10 children care for 1 mother?
















The ease of babysitting other people’s children.

Paul, my close friend Tania’s husband, likens me to that old lady from Dr. Seuss’ “Cat in the Hat.” She comes to babysit the children but manages to fall asleep and worse still, stays in beddy bye land as the Cat reaches into his big bag of bad tricks and wreaks havoc on the house. This comparison is in reference to how Paul’s children – three lovelier girls you’ll never find, if you asked me – tear at each other over trifling things at his house, but play together peacefully at mine, even as I snooze for most of the afternoon.

“But other children don’t fight at my house either,” I tell him. For some reason, they all know better than to put me in the position of refereeing fights and arguments.

Amanda must have told them about my “putting outside the house policy.” As far as she’s concerned, all misdemeanours result in being kicked out of our apartment.

“Does she listen to you though?” once asked a friend, whose kid was coming over. “Does she think you’re serious about putting her outside?”

“Of course she knows I’m serious because I’ve done it before when she refused to listen to me.” Amanda screamed, cried and pounded and pounded on our front door. I let her in after two minutes to ask whether she was going to reoffend. She said no.

Other people’s children though, are usually so well behaved at my place that their parents scarcely believe it is their children whose flawless behaviour I am describing.

“But didn’t she cry when she woke up?” asked Melissa, Amanda’s best friend’s mother of her youngest, whom I’ve had on many occasions.

“Nope,” I tell Melissa, who looks at me in amazement. ” I guess she took one look at me and decided not to cry.”

When we first became friends, Melissa complained of her youngest sounding absolutely authoritarian and demanding like me. I have this trademark grunt that sounds like a snort that has deterred no children, least of all Amanda, from patting my head like a house pet. “Good mama cat,” she likes to say, before inviting her friends all have a go at patting my head.

More surprisingly still is that children want me to babysit them. I don’t get paid for this but their parents and I have a reciprocal arrangement that allows us adults to have some time to ourselves. Puzzlingly, among all the people their parents know, they feel happiest left with me. This reason to this, I’ve still yet to figure out.