The fading innocence of little miracles
I have a new man in my life. He has light brown hair and grey eyes (I think that eventually, grey will turn to brown). He's as handsome as they come. I'm talking about my new grandson.
I recently visited my daughter in the US to welcome the little addition to the family. Seeing my daughter getting up in the middle of the night to feed the baby reminded me of when I was a new mum many years ago.
Parenthood is difficult. It's one of the most daunting challenges that anyone can tackle. In today's information age, this task is exacerbated by information overload. People used to listen to their mothers, grandmothers, aunts and friends for child-rearing advice and tips. With the internet, practically the entire world is sharing parental advice. Doctors, counsellors, psychologists, other experienced mums, nannies, caregivers, nurses — they're all online, chipping in with their expertise.
Trying to sieve good advice from the bad (and the ridiculous) is definitely an art. There are very sincere people on the internet trying to help others. And then there are the weirdos, people who post absurd things because they know how to use a computer. This is further complicated by the uniqueness of each child. So a particular tip, such as how to get a newborn to sleep, may work for one child and not another.
Information sharing is not necessarily a bad thing. Reading blogs about other parents suffering through the same difficulties such as colic can be reassuring. Parents can seek advice on topics ranging from cloth versus disposable nappies and how to deal with food allergies to how to manage disagreeable in-laws. Single parents can find forums for support and encouragement from others. People with special needs children can connect and share their experiences with particular therapies and specialists.
Though my visit was short, I saw my daughter try to make sense of all the conflicting advice from her doctor, the web, friends and family. She would try one set of advice and then the next. It was exhausting to watch. I tried not to add to the stress by being overbearing. She was already overwhelmed by a new life and a set of new responsibilities. So I resorted to short suggestions (so I didn't sound like I was preaching) and let her choose what she wanted to do. If she didn't follow my advice, I didn't take it personally. She should have a chance to learn to be a mother and the privilege to make decisions for her son.
When I returned to Thailand, I couldn't help but still feel amazed by the new life that came into my world. Babies are remarkable creatures. They are certainly miracles on Earth. And like most grandparents, I never want my grandson's little feet to be cold. I want him to be warm, full and happy all the time. I felt an instinct to shelter him from all the bad things in the world. But then I realised that overly sheltering him may not be the best thing for him.
Early last month, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon kicked off the third annual International Day of the Girl Child. The purpose is to bring awareness to violence, discrimination and harm that are still inflicted against girls worldwide. Even in the most developed countries like the United States, Britain and Australia, abuse exists.
Violence against girls means violence against friends, sisters, aunts, mothers, grandmothers, cousins and great-grandmothers. It is an injustice that is committed regardless of age, race, social status or religion. With the growth of internet access and social media, I hope that greater awareness will help bring this problem to light. And one step at a time, the world can eliminate the need for such a day.
Little by little, my grandson's innocence will wane. There will be a day when he finds out that fairy tales are not real. Or that unicorns and Superman do not exist. As he starts to detach from his favourite blanket or teddy bear, I hope to replace them with knowledge and courage. When the time is right, I will teach him to know and understand violence and its negative effects. As much as I want to protect him from the ugly sides of society, I believe that he should not be naive to the evils of the world. It is vital that he is taught empathy, kindness and the ability to stand up for what's right, including how to say no to senseless violence and discrimination.
My generation did not end violence against girls. But perhaps my grandson's generation will. To make real changes, I believe that parents should not turn a blind eye and completely shelter children from grotesque and appalling things. Pretending that difficult and dark issues do not exist only prolong their existence. As kids come of age, it is crucial to teach them about rights and wrongs. One of the essential lessons should be how to speak up against injustice, to defend basic humanity and to treat everyone fairly and with compassion.
In the meantime, I am going to enjoy all my grandson's milestones. To see his little heart grows into a big heart that he can share with everyone will certainly be something that I will treasure.
Prapai Kraisornkovit is the editor of Life section of the Bangkok Post.
Bangkok Post Life section Editor.