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So You Want To Be A Great Mother? Ask A Village Mom For Advice

Amma — that's what mothers are called in India. And my amma loves me like crazy.

She is a living GPS. She knows where I am at any given moment, when I land or take off and is always worried about my safety. If I cough even to clear my throat the antibiotics are offered.

Speaking lovingly is one of the most important things that a mother can offer her children. A mother's voice and her tone can make a big difference.

Despite all these things I know what that makes her this way: She is a mother! I may never understand that crazy motherly love, but I know that with all my heart, I love my amma, and I am who I am because of sacrifices she has made. I decided to take a walk around my village in South India and interview a few mothers to get their thoughts on what it means to be a crazy loving amma.

The mother in the video above is Mercy, 40, who has two boys. Despite her busy schedule assisting her husband, who's a village preacher, she always finds time to be involved in my videos, like this dunk-a-chicken music extravaganza.

Meet the Mothers

Clockwise from upper right: Grace, Marypai, Pandian, Manju
Wilbur Sargunaraj / for NPR
for NPR
Clockwise from upper right: Grace, Marypai, Pandian, Manju

Grace: A 92-year-old mother, who was married when she was 14. Grace had eight children. She has outlived three of them.

Marypai: A 50-year-old mother of one, she comes from a village in the Virudhunagar district of Tamil Nadu and works at a rice mill.

Pandian: A 52-year-old mother of two, she is full of advice when it comes to village medicine. She is a professional cook.

Manju: A soft-spoken 33-year-old mother of four. Manju passionately loves her children, but she works far from the village, so she lives apart from them while they attend school and live in a hostel.

What's the most important thing about being a mother?

Grace: Speaking lovingly is one of the most important things that a mother can offer her children. A mother's voice and her tone can make a big difference. The way she acts toward her husband and the way she treats him is very important, especially for her children to see.

Marypai: No matter what your background, giving a spiritual and moral upbringing to your children is of utmost importance. Also we must let them know that they are always protected and loved.

Pandian: To bring your children up in a way where they love their parents is the most important thing that a mother can give to her child.

Manju: To be passionately in love with your children and with your husband.

What's the hardest thing about being a mother?

Grace: I think sometimes living or dealing with the in-laws is the hardest thing, especially when it comes to children and the different opinions we have in rearing them!

Marypai: When you pour out your life for the children and they don't give any love back in return, that has got to be the hardest thing to bear as a mother.

Pandian: When your children stop talking to you and you lose that connection because maybe they grew older, or they just don't like being around you. This is probably the hardest thing that I face as a mother.

Manju: To be separated from my children is the hardest thing. I know it's for their good to get educated and stay in a hostel, but sometimes that sacrifice is just too much to bear.

What advice would you give to a new mother?

Grace: Don't forget your husband. New mothers place so much emphasis on the new baby that they forget to take care of their husbands. Also try to be very patient with your family and in-laws.

Marypai: In the village we have much advice to give new mothers! You need to write a book about this (laughs). But on a serious note, breastfeeding is so important, and this is what I will say: Always give mother's milk. Many women in the village are not giving their babies breast milk. No matter how tired you are — wake up and feed your baby! Also try not to argue too much with your in-laws.

Pandian: There is lots of advice to give to new mothers. I was told not to give cold water [to the baby because of a folk belief that cold water can cause a cold]. I was told to use cabbage [compresses] to reduce breast engorgement and to use lots of garlic in your cooking, no salt. The list could go on! I would also add: Take care of your husband during this time.

Manju: Always be there for your children. Don't let anything get in the way — job, money, friends. Developing that bond is so important, and nothing is worth more than being close with your child.

Did you ever make a mistake as a mother? What did you learn from it?

Grace: I feel I made a mistake by not providing for my children properly but I cannot blame myself as this was the circumstance of my life, and I did the best I could.

Marypai: I suppose yelling at my son for having bad habits is not the right way to let him know I don't appreciate this. Maybe I need to find another solution so I don't push him away from me. But I get very angry I must admit!

Pandian: Oh, I get so mad at my children, like really mad! I have to realize that they have their own mindset, and I can't force them to do what I want them to do.

Manju: Yes, I may have made mistakes, but I feel my husband made the biggest mistake of drinking too much alcohol, which led to tension in the family. It was terrible for my kids to see this. Thankfully, he has stopped drinking. If there is a mistake I have made, it's always getting angry at my kids and then giving them a nice adi [spanking]. I have learned that giving some time to let my anger subside before I spank is a good solution!

What's the most special moment you had with your own mother?

Grace: Sadly, my mother and I didn't have a good relationship. She made life difficult for me and sent me away at 14 years old to get married.

Marypai: My mother would wake up early in the morning and start singing for me. I will never forget her beautiful voice.

Pandian: Going to the temple with my mother as a girl was very memorable. My mother also took me to Ooty, and that was really a special time. [Ooty is a hill station — a town that has cooler temperatures because it's at higher elevation, and so it's a popular retreat from the heat.]

Manju: My mother loves me so much, and my most memorable memory is when she came with my brothers to give a big adi [spanking] to my husband who was misbehaving toward me because of his intoxication. My husband learnt his lesson, and I love her for that!

What's your message to the mothers of the world?

Grace: Love your son-in–law or daughter-in-law like your very own! That is the mark of a great mother!

Marypai: It is hard when children don't do what you want them to do, but always let them know they are loved.

Pandian: Do your best and work hard to give your children an education.

Manju: Bring up your children in that sweet motherly love that only mothers know and can give. Try to be close to them always and avoid separation at all costs.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Wilbur Sargunaraj
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