Maa never gets tired. I grew up listening to this, and even in my 30s, I continue to see this so-called praise being heaped on older women around me. The tone may differ. A son might be complaining to his mother- don’t you ever get tired? Why can’t you just take a rest? A grandmother might be telling a new mom at home- hamare zamane me to hum din raat bacche akele hi sambhalte the, why do you need a nanny? And then a mother might be telling herself, “There is so much to do, maybe just one more chore and then I’ll take a tea break.” Mothers have an eternal reserve of energy is a motherhood myth that has been passed down to generations like an heirloom.
So do moms really never get tired? Is there a superhuman strength hidden within women which get activated the minute they embrace motherhood? How are women expected to keep up the same level of energy through every decade of their lives from their 20s and 30s to their 60s and 70s? Even if a mom does feel tired, can she say it out loud or act on her fatigue? And will we still put moms on a pedestal if they refuse to perform certain chores because they are not up for the task?
The age-old myth that moms never get tired is actually a ruse intended to ensure that women keep up with their chores as care providers, no matter what age or level of fitness levels. That’s the reason why, despite suffering from diseases like diabetes, hypertension or arthritis, older women of the household never take a step back or throw in the towel. I am yet to hear a mom say, “I quit. I can’t do this.” I have never seen a mom pick a fight with her family, demanding that a cook be hired so that she can strike off making three meals a day and endless cups of tea off her daily agenda.
What keeps Indian moms from addressing the fact that factors like age or overworking themselves have worn them out? That it takes them ten minutes to get out of bed in the morning due to various aches and pains, and yet they are the first ones to get up and last in the house to lie down? But even then, mothers across various age groups will run after their sons, and daughters, fetching them a pair of fresh socks, helping with childcare and household chores and they continue to do so till the day it becomes physically impossible to keep up with the demands of the job profile that is motherhood.
So what happens then? Their duties gets passed on the next mom in line. The older ones sit and supervise, or shame, as the relatively younger one starts pretending that she never tires out. The factors here in play aren’t just shaming- not only at hands of society, but also the womenkind itself, but also the fear that one is relevant to their loved ones as long as they can serve them. Who needs a maa who sits all day long and does nothing? Wouldn’t children stop asking after her? Wouldn’t she be forced into oblivion when she is no longer needed, because there is someone else to perform the chores that she does?
More children (the grown up ones, that is) in our society need to sit their moms down and tell them- it is natural to feel exhausted, with the sheer amount of physical labour that you put in on a daily basis. It is okay to delegate your duties and put your feet up every now and then. The son will fetch his own socks when you don’t and you will be surprised, but that doesn’t bother him as much as you might think. The grandchild can play by themselves, they do not need your constant supervision. The daughter-in-law can cook curry for dinner without your supervision.
Women need to stop tiring themselves out for the sake of remaining relevant in the lives of their loved ones. Their families don’t just love them because they make each member’s life so easy, but because they are bound by relationships and emotions that go beyond the simple give-and-take. Also, they need to stop internalising this myth, which leaves them feeling guilty for needing rest. No person’s life should just be defined by their duties and that holds true for moms too.
Views expressed are the author’s own.