Tanu Shree Singh teaches psychology in a Delhi college, and is a writer, blogger and storyteller. She also runs a physical library and many virtual spaces for book discussions. Her book Keep Calm and Mommy On will be published in May 2017.
She is interviewed by Vaani Arora, writer and film-maker.
VA: Oh, you came without your cape? Now there is only one superhero in the room. *laughs out loudly-ish*
TS: Ha! You clearly are a noob in the superhero world. The capes are always well hidden. We swish them out only when we need to. *Is the only one in the room laughing*
VA: You mean, you have real problems too and all those lovely pictures of the boys sitting and reading like good, disciplined children, is all false? Don’t say that! I had children only because you make it sound easy. Mummmyyyy!!!!
TS: Ah. Surprise! The pictures were meant to lure you in.
On a serious note, there are ups and downs. The downs have a way of showing up when you least expect them. The idea is to breathe deeply, stay calm and walk on. Preferably a whole extra mile away from the madness.
VA: Do your sons know that you’ve written this book? Have you insured yourself?
TA: They do! And for once I can walk without fear. Every time I quote them or their life incidents, I ask for permission. Mostly a book seals the deal.
VA: What was that point in parenting that you thought you had to share it with the others?
TS: We are increasingly becoming a generation of over-anxious parents. We worry about the colour of poop, the extra minute spent in the washroom, the less hours spent with textbooks, the list is endless. All that anxiety made me uneasy–was I not being anxious enough?– and somewhere it also made me doubt myself occasionally. So I had to write. I had to share what was working for me in the hope that some mum out there loosens up and breathes easy.
VA: Were there things that you wrote and deleted because you were conscious of how personal the information was? Have your sons expressed discontent about the way they’ve been represented, or do they get to edit stuff before you sent it to your publishers?
TS: The boys always have a say. After all, they inspire me. Thankfully, they haven’t objected to anything. Possibly because we talk extensively about it all. And there has never been a moment when I felt I couldn’t share. Nothing is off limits. Sex, online pornography, gender bias–all of it exists. And since it is out there, it needs to be talked about.
VA: You run reading groups, and I’ve seen you help people find their way in the parenting messes there as well. Have there been times that, as a writer who shares so much of your life in the public domain, you’ve felt so threatened by other parenting approaches that you question your approach?
TS: All the time. That is what makes us human, no? There is a tiny voice always fearing, always questioning, always doubting–but then that is what parenting is about. There is no handbook that can guide us.
I still remember the first lecture on developmental psychology that I attended, in my third year of college. Our professor sauntered in and told us, ‘You are going to learn quite a few theories. None of them is going to work if and when you have your own kids.’ We were obviously puzzled. Almost two decades after college, I now know what she meant.
Each child comes equipped with their own theory. We just need to find it. And sometimes that theory might seem to be against the mainstream thought. Well, so be it.
VA: I’ve been one of those who have called you at 2 am in times of distress. I am glad many more people will have access to your approach to staying sane as a parent. How shall we change the world next, Masters in Parenting Strategy?
TS: We all need to calm down. One of my teachers used to say, ‘There is enough space for everyone in this world.’ And I truly believe that. The rat race exists, but whether or not we throw our child into it, depends entirely on us and the child. And there is no such thing as sane parent. That is an elusive concept that keeps the normal insane ones on their toes. Each parent you see running after a toddler or getting exasperated with the teen has a streak of insanity. The idea is to keep it alive.