A First-Hand Account Of What It’s Like To Raise Kids When Living Outside India

Sashya Thind Fernandes

At Team MissMalini we firmly believe that mothers should be celebrated every day. They give us life and from that moment on, we’re lucky to have and experience a love that is so unconditional, it cannot be compared to any other. So, on the occasion of Mother’s Day this year, we had asked some of the moms and mommy bloggers we know to write us a few thought pieces From Mommy’s Eyes. Sashya Thind Fernandes, an architect, interior designer and founder of iD8 Design Studio in Boston, U.S.A. shared her story on what it it is like to raise her children while living far away from her extended family and friends.

It takes a village to raise a child. Although said to have roots in Old Africa, Indians are also well-known to put this into practice. And this past Mother’s Day had me reminiscing about when and how I first became a mother.

A bun in the oven

Mother’s Day is usually about gifts and flowers mostly orchestrated by the husbands but it’s also a reminder. A reminder of the anxious and hopeful months leading up to your pregnancy. I was anticipating a tough fight having been diagnosed with PCOS at the age of 23, but it happened the first time we tried; very unexpected but I’m hugely grateful that we didn’t have to try month after month and could get onto the next phase. i.e: baby in the belly.
Morning sickness wasn’t too bad (Yes I know, I’m one of the lucky few) The healthy eating, self-care and finally some pampering from anyone and everyone armed with a copy of What To Expect When You Are Expecting—Yay!
The 10 months were great. I could eat whatever I wanted, yadda yadda yadda. Fast forward to a month before the baby is to arrive and BAM—the cavalry shows up.

The arrival of the cavalry

So, for any Indian daughter/in-law living abroad, this is what happens. Moms/In-law arrive armed with the masalas and drive you have never witnessed before. They are here to feed you so you can produce the milk to feed your infant—nutritious, full of ghee, sugar and lots of it. Add a sprinkle of unsolicited advice and you have the whole picture. (wink wink) This hustle-bustle continued for at least 2 months while I was there trying to grasp the idea of keeping this baby alive. Have you ever wondered why the first birthday is such a big deal? It’s basically for the parents to celebrate this accomplishment and personal triumph of getting through what is the hardest year of their lives. That is, until you have the next one. :)

Mommy and me

Two months go by quickly especially when you are sleep-deprived and living in a cloud of self-doubt as a new parent. And suddenly your parents depart and now it’s just the two of you, you and your baby (at least until your husband comes home)
You begin to wonder what to do with your time. It’s not like in India where the doodhwala or the nosy neighbour (aka Pammi Aunty) is going to drop in unexpectedly to have a midday chat. America is quite different that way. No one is just around, all day, in your house. No one just pops in, midday for chai or to coo over the new baby while bearing monetary gifts (sigh)

Errr, so support groups, then?

So, as every new mother is supposed to, I join a “new moms” group. Like me, everyone is facing the same dilemma; a new baby that doesn’t speak yet and the fact that there are only so many cute baby pics you can take.
So, we congregate in this church.. and chat. At first, it’s awkward. I mean how do you begin talking about swollen nipples, breast-pump mishaps or vaginal stitches with strangers? But soon, you realise that that’s what we, as women do best…. share.

Then winter comes…

Of course, winter is a whole other ballgame. There is a constant worry that the baby isn’t warm enough and so you stay home more. You end up making calls back home to India and thinking about what it might be like to be surrounded by your mother, siblings and extended family. At that moment, they are no longer the overbearing mother or the self-absorbed siblings but instead, it’s this rosy image of you holding the baby like the Madonna while everyone is fluttering around you to make you comfortable.
Sashya Thind Fernandes and her kids
Sashya Thind Fernandes and her kids

Getting out there

As the baby grows and moves, the trips to the park become more frequent and the obsession with their milestones confounding. You meet other parents and make small talk at first. It’s almost like dating. The “Will they like us? Are we cool enough?” thoughts keep buzzing through your head. I mean, it has been months at that point since you last socialised with people your own age and your only companion has been a gibberish-talking little human, cuteness aside. What you don’t know is that they are feeling the same inadequacies. Coffee turns to dinner and soon you have friends with babies who actually like hanging out with other folks who have babies. And that is how you survive living away from family. By building a community, a village if you might call it that.
There are days that you feel a tinge of sadness that you are so far away; that your children will not go to Avo and Avopa’s (grandparents’) house on a Sunday or have a sleepover as we did as children. Our parents didn’t plan a transatlantic voyage and spend dollars for tickets to get a mere 10-14 days accounting for jet lag and travel. There was a casualness to seeing our grandparents, growing up. I guess we took it for granted.

When you do make it to India

The toughest part is leaving. Leaving the familiar bonds, sights, and foods of your childhood that you share with your own children. The 2 weeks are spent absorbing all those moments and warm embraces only to be felt again a year later. In the end, it’s the simple things. And before you know it, you’re back on a plane, flying away from your village…until you realise that you have another one waiting for you on the other side. And so, I want to thank my “tribe”, my village made up of friends that fill in the gaps every time I begin to miss home and family.
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