Sabrina F Ahmad and Sayeed Mahmud Nizam
he comes back from home, there's no Mummy waiting for him with a hug
and a hot spread. Lunch for this independent young man is a microwaved
meal, which he heats up for himself. Meet Asif, a latchkey child.
What is a 'latchkey child'? The phrase originated
in the early 1800's, when youngsters who were responsible for their
own care wore the key to their home tied on a string around their
necks. Back then, well before the women's lib revolution took place,
this kind of lifestyle for children was not very common. Fast-forward
to the 21st century where a larger percentage of women are pursuing
full-time careers, right along with their men, and you have a sudden
boom in the number of children who are left to fend for themselves.
Bangladesh is not left out of this picture either.
The concept of a nuclear family (a family solely comprised
of two parents and their children) is now entrenched in our society.
Consequently, relying on a family member to take care of children
is no longer an option. Although now there are day-care centres in
Dhaka, they are few and far between and not really a viable option
for most parents. "There is not a single day-care centre near
my house and therefore I am compelled to make my son a latchkey child",
says Dr. Ishrat Zareen. On the other hand, those who have day-care
centres near their houses cannot always afford to avail their services.
"I am a civil servant and so I do not get paid much. With my
income I cannot afford to pay the exorbitant charges of a day-care
centre. Reluctantly, I have made my daughter a latchkey child",
informs Mrs. Jahanara Imam.
The safety of their children is a cause for sleepless
nights amongst working parents. "I constantly remain anxious
about my daughter as nowadays young children are kidnapped on a regular
basis. For this reason I have told her to return home with a friend
and also to take the same route every day from school", says
Mrs. Rokeya Monsur. "My son is very accident-prone and so I wish
I did not have to leave him alone at home. But without my income it
would be difficult for my husband to maintain our expenses. I feel
as if I am in a Catch-22 situation. To somewhat counter the problem,
I have taught my son about how to make use of a First Aid kit. Also,
I have provided him with my office phone number so that he can contact
me in case of an emergency," tells Mrs. Fahmida Sultana.
So what do the daddies have to say on the matter?
The vast majority of fathers that we spoke to regretted the fact that
they could not spend too much time with their children. "I really
miss my son at office. After I return home I feel extremely tired
and so I cannot have a decent conversation with him," says Mr.
Asghar Ali. "My son regularly requests me to help him out with
his homework, but I cannot always do so as I have to take care of
my patients," says Dr Anupam Ghosh. So it remains, that a father's
role in his child's life hasn't changed all that much over the past
couple of decades. Only today's children are doubly deprived as their
mothers also go missing from their daily schedules.
The latchkey children themselves have many different
attitudes towards their lifestyles. The responses that we received
from the children on how they felt about their parents working were
mixed. "It is not as if they both work intentionally. The fact
of the matter is that they have to work to provide for all of our
expenses," says Dipa. On the other hand, Asif informs: "I
think my parents value their careers more than me."
Before you hit the panic button, though, consider
the pros of the latchkey lifestyle. During our research we found that
most of these children made good use of the community resources available
to them while their parents were at work. In other words, they regularly
participate in sports, debate competitions, or have after-school lessons.
These enable them to develop social skills, which come in handy when
applying for employment. Also being compelled to look after themselves
from a young age, these children are also more street-smart than those
living in conventional households.
However one feels about this lifestyle, one has to
face the fact that with changing times, latchkey children are becoming
the norm. At the end of the day, the decision to adopt this lifestyle
must come from the whole family in question.
and me ...
She used to be
my only enemy and never let me be free,
Catching me in places that I knew I shouldn't be
Every other day I'd cross the line
I didn't mean to be so bad
Never knew she'd become the friend I never had.
~ Spice Girls ~
Yes, yes, I did
the 'uncool' thing and quoted the Spice Girls. Love them (not that
you'd admit it if you did), or hate them, you have to admit: their
song 'Mama' beautifully captures the bittersweet bonds that bind a
mother and her teenage child. May 9 is Mother's Day, a day we devote
to celebrating those special people who play important roles in every
aspect of our lives. They are the difference between a house and a
home. They are the ones towards whom our thoughts turn whenever we're
depressed and lonely. They are our mothers.
In the first few
months of a person's life, a mother is literally the centre of the
universe. The baby recognises her as the caregiver, the provider of
food, comforter and protection. Those guys who marketed the 'Mum'
mineral water really knew what they were doing when they made the
slogan "Mum it comes naturally." Just so, from the day that
we learn to voice our thoughts, no matter how old we get, whenever
we're down and out, or in need of assistance, the first person that
pops to mind is Mum. The very thought of our mothers is enough to
encouragement. I'm sure you've seen the ad where Indian batsman Sehwag
finds himself in a do-or-die situation, and then suddenly he receives
an SMS from his mother, which inspires him to hit a six that leads
his team to victory. It might look cheesy on TV, but it really works
that way for a lot of people.
and beautiful is the relationship between mothers and daughters. At
the beginning of mother- daughter relationships, the child thinks
her mother is a goddess. She smudges her face with her mother's lipstick
and wears her jewellery and high heels, desiring to be just like her
mum. Then she turns thirteen, and Mum abruptly becomes the most uninformed,
irrelevant, off-the-planet dragon around. In the rough and tough teen
years of mother daughter relationships, the main form of communication
for the next five years or so will be a few words, "No way mum!"
Then, somewhere amidst the twenties and thirties, if the girl is fortunate,
Mum becomes her greatest buddy.
For boys it's
a little different, sociologists say. They spend their lives competing
with their fathers for their mothers' attention, something that is
called the Oedipus complex. The intensity of this competition varies
within families, and of course, depends a lot on the son's relationship
with his father, and his closeness to his mother, as well as the relationship
between the parents. In any case, the competition peaks during the
teen years, as the son begins to assert himself, trying to prove he's
a man, and the father wants to hold his ground as the head male of
the family. The mothers are often caught in between, as they have
to act as a buffer between the two opposing fronts. The mother-son
relationship will also cool off a little during this stage, as the
boys find other women in their lives…
yes, their girlfriends. Then they find wives, and start their own
families, and how close they remain to their mothers really depends
on their relationship with their wives and vice versa. In most cases,
there is no significant 'emotional reunion with Mum' that girls experience.
However, interestingly enough, the men seek to fill the gap with their
wives. According to studies, the care, the nurturing that they received
as children from their mothers, is what they seek from their wives
once they get married. The wives find themselves in the awkward position
of trying to fulfil those needs without morphing into their mothers-in-law,
but that's a different story altogether.
I see my friends
with their mothers, and each relationship is unique and beautiful
in its own way. The girls fight viciously with their mothers, and
are equally fierce in their defence of them. The boys try to pretend
they are 'cool' and independent, but most of them would take a bullet
for their mothers. Each of their stories would make a novel in itself.
My own relationship
with my mother has had its hills and valleys. When we were kids, my
sister and I fought relentlessly for her attention, staging elaborate
"This Mum ain't big enough for the both of us" scenarios.
I honestly think we both had the Oedipus Complex. Then suddenly, I
hit the teen years, and the best way to annoy me was to tell me that
I looked just like my mother. Just like that outdated, unfashionable,
Hitler-woman? I didn't think so… Yet, despite my most desperate attempts
to avoid it, I'd invariably find myself dressing the way my mother
does, choosing a hairstyle similar to hers, speaking her lingo.
We've come a long
way from that phase, but it's still a roller coaster ride being her
daughter. On good days, we'll be each other's perfect twin, and she'll
share all her thoughts with me, and I'd confide in her. On bad days,
we'll be at daggers drawn, and hell hath no fury like Sabrina and
her mother at odds. For the most part, I recognise the huge impact
she's had on my life, and the person I am today, the principles and
values in me, are the products of the love and energy she has invested
in me. I am grateful to her for all she's done for me, the times she's
stood by my side, the times she has taken the heat for me, and yes,
even for the times when she made me toe the line. I am not ashamed
to admit that as bitter as those episodes have been, I am stronger
and more capable because of them.
Mother's Day, let's all take a few moments to take these incredible
women by the hand and tell them that they are good and beautiful,
and that life is worth living because they are in it. The debt that
we owe our mothers simply for bringing us into the world cannot be
repaid, but at least one can try. Go on, buy your mother some flowers.
Bring her breakfast in bed. Take her out on a special date and treat
her like royalty for a day. Don't forget to tell her you love her.
Happy Mother's Day!