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The Heart of a Mother

May/06/2023 / by Team Seema
Heart of a Mother

women speak on their own beautiful and complicated experiences of motherhood, as a daughter, mother, or granddaughter. 

In all its iterations, motherhood is complex and unique across culture, generation, and personal experience. Yet being a mother or having a mother is often one of the most profound relationships we share in this lifetime. This Mother’s Day, we heard from seven women who have experienced motherhood as daughters, as mothers themselves, or as grandmothers to discuss the ins and outs of a mother’s love, in all its lights and shadows. 

Food for Thought

by Leena Chitnis

Indian mothers feed. I remember a time when I was in elementary school, and there was a period of time when bullies would steal my lunch out of my locker. The first few times it happened, I happened to have lunch money, so I bought myself something from the cafeteria. 

But on the fourth or fifth day, I didn’t have money, and so I went to the admin office to tell them I was hungry. They gave me a frozen peanut butter sandwich which was rock hard, without apology. As it clattered onto the table, I realized I had only 30 minutes for it to thaw and for me to eat it. So I asked to call my mom.

Twenty minutes later, my mom arrived with a cold Capri-Sun, steaming hot Top Ramen noodles in a small casserole dish, and Chip’s Ahoy cookies. It’s all she could grab, prepare, and rush over in the 10 or so minutes she had to prepare it and the 10 minutes to drive it over. 

I’ll never forget that day—how the noodles were piping hot, how they tasted, how there was condensation on the cool Capri-sun, and how my mom poked the straw through the hole for me and handed it to me to drink. I sat in the van with her and cried while I ate, because I was so touched, and also because I was sad as my lunch was repeatedly stolen. It was one of the most loving things anyone has ever done for me, and infinitely tender.

When the bell rang to end lunch, I hadn’t finished eating. My mom looked at me and said, “Don’t worry. Take your time and eat your food, you can miss this class.” It was great fun to watch kids through the windshield reluctantly head into boring social studies class, while I munched on cookies.

My Mother’s Voice

by Amita Mehta

First, my mom was my voice. When my family was among the 80,000 South Asian Ugandans expelled from the country in 1972, she moved my brothers and I to America with the clothes on her back and $140 dollars. At 38 years old, and with four young children, including infant twins (my brother and I), she left the life she had known since she was 7, when she moved to Kampala, Uganda from India. She left the land she loved with its mango trees and the stunning beauty of the Nile River.

My parents were separated during the expulsion—my father ended up in an Italian refugee camp before eventually landing in Lancaster, PA, so it was my mom who guided my brothers and I through British refugee camps for more than three months before we were all reunited in 1973. When we landed at JFK Airport in the middle of February, my mom was in a sari and sandals, exposed to the harsh Northeast winter for the first time. 

Although we were all together, it wasn’t always easy living in the middle of Amish country, and my mom carried so much of the load. She took on a lot of laboring jobs, like gluing soles on shoes. She made sacrifices for us at every turn. 

But she never had a chip on her shoulder. She never complained, never said a word about everything that had been taken from her. She never came at life like that. She nurtured her children. She taught us to be good humans. Whether a person is a waitress, janitor, or CEO, she taught us that you treat people with respect. She always embraced everyone and met them where they were. 

As early as my teenage years, our roles began to shift. With the awareness of an all-American teen, I began to see the discrimination that my mom endured on a daily basis. She still wore her traditional sari and often smelled of homemade Indian food, and people made fun of her. She also endured physical and emotional abuse at home. Coming to her defense, I found my voice, standing up for her in the face of teases, taunts, and physical harm.

Later in life, I was her voice in countless doctor’s offices, hospitals, and restaurants. I translated her words from Gudjrati to English, letting them know where she felt pain, what she wanted to eat, and, eventually, how she wanted to die.

As she watched me embrace the American experience and make the most of my education and every opportunity, she lived through me, encouraged me, and never begrudged my opportunities. Being my mother’s voice was my greatest honor. 

Three months ago in the hospital, Bhanu Mehta’s last coherent words were, “I’ll try my best.” That’s all she ever wanted for us—to try our best at everything we did in life. From how we loved to how we lived, she just wanted us to try.

Bhanumati P. Mehta died in February 2023 at the age of 88. 

Mothering Yourself 

by Dr. Masuma Rasheed

Motherhood goes beyond just raising our children—it’s also about mothering our younger selves and healing and understanding the intergenerational patterns that have shaped our families. For me, as a South Asian woman, this has been a raw and vulnerable experience.

I’ve spent years learning how to mother the younger parts of myself, the ones that didn’t receive what they fully needed in order to grow into a strong, confident, and capable person. There were times when I asked myself, “Why didn’t my mother know how to parent me the way I’m learning how to parent myself now?” The answers I found were complicated. 

My mom didn’t receive everything she needed from her own mother, so those underdeveloped parts of her had to figure out how to mother me. I can’t imagine how tough that must have been for her, trying to raise a new generation while carrying the weight of her own unmet needs.

As I continued to gain awareness of how hard I was fighting to break patterns, I wondered how many patterns my mom sought to break from the generation before her. This opened up a whole new dimension where I looked back and noticed just how many ways she, too, fought patterns and had to mother herself in so many ways. When I realized how many patterns she managed to break herself while navigating a complex web of intergenerational patterns and expectations, all while trying to raise me and my sister, makes her one of the most remarkable women I know. I know she did the best she could with the resources and capacity she had and I am so grateful to understand that.

Today motherhood means breaking the cycle of intergenerational trauma and healing the wounds we’ve inherited. It starts by nurturing our own younger parts, and then extending that healing to the next generation of children while also recognizing and appreciating the efforts of the generations that came before us.

Actively working to mother my younger self has provided a profound sense of healing and personal growth. As I have revisited and addressed the unmet needs and unresolved issues from my past, I’ve experienced a newfound sense of self-compassion, self-awareness, and emotional resilience. I’ve gained a deeper understanding of my emotions and needs and to embolden my beliefs to shift from something like “I should have done something” to “I did the best I could” or “I am not enough” to “I am okay as I am” or “I am not in control” to “I now have choices” or “I cannot trust anyone” to “I can choose whom to trust.”

All of this has helped me learn to foster healthier connections with myself and others and allows me to create a more nurturing and supportive environment for the future generations.

Balancing Motherhood as A Startup Founder

by Slisha Kankariya

I’m a South Asian immigrant who came to this country at age 4. I saw my parents work incredibly hard to financially start their life again with three daughters in tow. Juggling home and work as an entrepreneurial couple was hard for them, but it taught me so many lessons on how to be a good mom and partner.

Fast forward to today, I’ve successfully built and sold a startup with my husband, following in the footsteps of my parents. I have a 4 year old and am expecting my 2nd child now. 

My pregnancy was the first instance of our startup needing a maternity plan, even though we had a flexible policy of paid and sick leave. I took maternity leave, while working from home partially, and then reintegrated back to work by balancing some work-from-home hours with days back at the office. Because we are an e-commerce startup, I am blessed with the fact that much of my work can be done remotely when necessary.

While leaving my baby at home without me was hard, it also helped me understand I needed to establish a work-life balance. With a startup, you get used to working or thinking about work non-stop. A baby changes that. You have to prevent yourself from thinking about work all the time so that you can be fully present for your child, even if you are just playing.

Work and baby will pull you aggressively in terms of all that you must do to keep up. But remember to set aside even half an hour for yourself — not your partner, child, or work obligations — in a nurturing positive way.  Denying yourself that half an hour of yoga, a massage, a run, or even a peaceful meal will prevent you from giving your best elsewhere. 

A Grandmother’s Perspective

by Aroon Shivdasani 

I have four grandchildren. The worry quotient is minimal—I can enjoy them without worrying about homework, bedtime, and the right meals because my daughters have looked after all that and given them, and me, a hall pass for the time they spend with me. Of course, I keep tabs on their lives, worry about their sickness, or any other problems. That’s part and parcel of loving my daughters and grandchildren. 

Being a mother and having a relationship with my own mother are both extremely special for me. Both relationships are essential parts of my being and my soul. I believe a mother’s love is unconditional and unquestioned. 

My favorite part about my grandchildren is thoroughly enjoying them, spoiling them, taking them to my favorite places, and seeing the world through their eyes. I love listening to music of a different generation while simultaneously teaching them about our music. 

Today’s world is difficult to navigate — ours was much easier, a gentler time. It’s important to love them, never judge them, and ask questions sensitively. All you can do is try and understand their problems, and if you don’t just be there for them. Tell them you love them as much as possible.

Advice From Mothers Raising Children Cross-Culturally 

My daughter is a first-generation immigrant. She’s biracial. I know the statistics, the ways in which she’s at risk. My child has this South Asian sense of civility. I’m teaching her to make sure that she seeks out people who don’t mistake kindness for weakness. I need her to have the difficult conversations, to disagree, set boundaries, to ask for what she needs. I was asked to be compliant no matter what. I want her freed from that expectation. 

I love sharing my culture. It feels amazing to pass on my love of all things South Asian. My daughter is proud to be South Indian. She travels through India, eats the food, feels at home in our village. In our village, they call her ‘Ammu Ponnu’, meaning Amu’s daughter, which feels amazing. 

As a mother, you can be the steadiest voice in their ears. Remind them how valuable their roots are. Make sure their cultural pride outweighs any other influence.” 

—Amudha Rajendran

“Raise your child to love all parts of their identity. My daughter is biracial (Puerto Rican and Indian) and is being raised in a multi faith household (Catholic and Hindu). We are raising her with family traditions, religious holidays, and giving her the ‘keys’ to understand these parts of her identity. Learning to love herself starts here at home.” 

—Candace Rivera