“Bad mothers make bad children”: The “Bad Child” Stigma
In India, raising a child is heavily dependent on the ‘mother’. It is difficult for the society to concieve of the father’s role to play in the upbringing of a child. He is usually excused on grounds of strenuous office work and the responsibility of being bread winner. Mothers as the providers or office-goes(in spite of a working father) are considered peculiarities. Mothers have to bear the immense social burden of raising the ‘good child’. As a very popular proverb goes, ‘bad kids are raised by bad mothers’, it is very easy to accuse mothers when children do something amiss. And the greatest proof of this sorry state of affairs is seen in schools.
Most Indian homes follow the traditional gender norms of the father going to work and mothers take care of the home. A lot of mothers in urban localities devote themselves entirely to the education of their children from early on in childhood till late into high school untill the children get a basic school education and move on to further specialise in the academic field. The Indian education system still heavily rests on thorough bookish knowledge and conventional ways of learning which prevent children from experimenting much.
The distinction between the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ kid
The concept of the ‘good child’ is associated with the obedient, obliging, studious child who refrains from having much of a social life at an early age, doesn’t make a lot of friends but instead focuses on learning the curriculum in a routined sort of way. Children coming from slightly liberal backgrounds where parents encourage their wards to experience the world around them freely and engage in the bittersweet joys of childhood are often looked down upon and spoken of in hush-hush voices. As spoken earlier, there are children( we talk about girls because most of the social stigma is reserved for them) who are aware of their sexuality from an early age. They dress and talk likewise and are quite frequently labeled by their peers’ parents as the ‘bad child’.
It is also a commonly held misconception that children with the above-mentioned qualities are ‘precocious’ and so, as a result of ‘bad’ mothering. Mothers who don’t have time for their children are considered to become wayward. If the child commits any mistake, the usual refrain used for questioning is ‘where was the mother at that time?’ Questions about parenting and the personal lives of children are quite often even the topic of staffroom gossip. This stigma is borne by children for a long time even into adult life.
The divorced mother and the ‘bad child’
There are lots of children belonging to broken or disturbed households. Very little empathy is shown towards such children. Their personal affairs become topics of discussion and backyard gossip between parents at after-school hours and even amidst teachers. A family that has chosen the path of separation is a difficult concept for most teachers or parents to swallow and children belonging to such families are viewed either in the light of unrequired pity or stigma. The label of the ‘bad mother’ is also used for divorced mothers quite frequently. The equivalent of this trope also occurs with psychologically disturbed children. It is automatically assumed or rumoured that their cause of dysfunctionality must stem from a broken family or turmoiled household.
As a society, we need to be be more aware of family structures and treat our children with dignity instead of making them the brunt of gossip and rumour mongering.