Parenting has always been a challenging experience, but this year was another ballgame. For new parents, and those with kids under 10 years of age, the pandemic aggravated their struggles, leaving them flummoxed at times. But experts say in these unprecedented times, parents must realise that it is alright to feel overwhelmed, to ask for help and rely on external support. And celebrity parents are no different.
Cricketer Suresh Raina and wife Priyanka Chaudhary are parents to two young kids — daughter Gracia (4) and eight-month-old son Rio. In a recent exclusive interaction with indianexpress.com, Priyanka talked about their experiences in lockdown, their struggles as young parents, their lockdown routine, and the Gracia Raina Foundation, which works for the empowerment of women and adolescent girls, among other things.
This year was pretty challenging for many people, especially parents. Personally, how difficult was it for you, since you are parents to two children, both under five?
It was quite a busy year for us, because we had a newborn at home. It was challenging, in terms of taking care of both the kids. When Rio was born, in lockdown, we didn’t have enough support, our family couldn’t come over because it was sudden. Also, he was born two weeks prior to the due date. That month was really challenging. Gracia found it all very new, being the older child and seeing a baby in the house. She had her own emotions to deal with. For us, I think this situation was exceptional.
But with time, I think we managed to find a way of working around it. Suresh has been very helpful during the entire time, and patient with me, Gracia and Rio. The positive side was that we had a lot of time for each other.
As parents, what has been your biggest fear this year, one that you think may be a lasting one?
As parents, we dedicate a lot of time to discipline our children, and explain the whole meaning of a routine — sleeping on time, eating healthy food, waking up on time, going to school, etc. Children were not able to do that this year. As a parent, I feel there should not be a long-lasting impact of this completely different routine.
There was a set routine for Gracia; she would go to school, come back, then go for extra classes, or play outdoors. And then all of a sudden, it was all different. It had an impact on her emotionally, and I think that was my biggest fear, because she is so young. She must not feel that this is how it is going to be now. And apart from that, there was panic when we learnt about the virus, about keeping the children safe, and especially since we had to visit the hospital so frequently for Rio.
Tell us about your lockdown/pandemic routine. Any major changes that you have had to incorporate?
Lockdown happened with the birth of our boy. There was no routine at all — you know, with a newborn baby. Gracia was at home, and everybody was just trying to figure out this new situation. I had to be up the entire night, and during the day there was a lot of exertion. So for quite some time, we were figuring out how to set things up. But with time, we managed to do it: wake up, have breakfast, workout at home — Gracia would be a part of it — reading something, managing our office work. Gracia has her online classes, and these activities would take up the first half of the day.
In the second half, we would do some activities together, or watch something nice on the TV. We would decide not to be too hard or harsh on Gracia, or ourselves. We have been a bit flexible. We wanted to give her time to understand the situation.
What has been Gracia’s understanding of the pandemic?
Initially, it was a bit challenging to explain it to her. But, she has been understanding of the whole situation. What played a major role is that the school and the teachers really emphasised on different ways of explaining this change. Teachers and parents spoke a lot about feelings, how the kids are dealing with it. Constant communication helped a lot.
Gracia, in general, is also a very communicative child. She loves having a chat about things. Maybe she didn’t technically understand everything, but she kind of knew there is something going on, that we all have to be extra cautious and careful, and that we all need to contribute — not just Mummy and Daddy.
Between you and your husband, who is the more patient parent, and who loses their temper first?
To be honest, we are both patient with children. This is one thing we have learnt quite efficiently, after the birth of both our children. And I think every parent has to do it, because what you do or how you react, you kind of impact your children immediately. We always make sure we behave or act in a way which we would want Gracia to learn.
I am, however, stricter about following a routine or being more structured. Suresh is more of a pampering papa! He is a fun parent and we kind of balance and complement each other that way.
Together, you launched the Gracia Raina Foundation in 2017 for women and adolescent girls. Can you tell us something more about it?
Our daughter, Gracia, was born in 2016, and I think being a new mother made me aware of a lot of challenges. It was a raw idea initially, because the more I tried understanding the healthcare system, the more I realised there were a lot of gaps which needed to be addressed. There was a lack of awareness, and it got me thinking that if a person like me, who has access to so much information still struggles to find the appropriate ways to deal with pregnancy, emotional challenges, postpartum depression, then what about those women who are more marginalised? They do not have access to information, healthcare services, or even doctors.
In India, we have maternal health issues, mortality issues, newborn health issues, which need to be addressed. And that is why I thought this is something I want to work on and launch a foundation for. We dug deeper into the problem, launched more programmes — on maternal health, adolescent health, reproductive health, mental health.
It has been three years now, and this year has been challenging, naturally — in the lockdown especially, when we could not go out and conduct our sessions. But, we are progressing, and are finding partners and experts. A lot still needs to be done.
One interesting family activity that has kept you pleasantly occupied at home?
Not one, several! There are some activities that Suresh likes to do, and then there are some which I like doing. He loves working out, so Gracia and I join him. We follow his lead. He also loves to cook and though I am not a very good cook, I join — Gracia loves it, too. We also watch movies and series together. We find things we can all enjoy. In fact, we specially ask Gracia what she would like to do and we participate. These are the simple moments you enjoy as a family.
What advice would you give to other parents on how they can find a balance at home — between managing their work and taking out time for their kids and themselves?
I think it is a lot different in the current times than what it used to be. Right now everybody is at home, we know what tomorrow looks like and we can plan it well. What is really important, I think, is to acknowledge and respect each person’s work. No work is more important or less important. We all have our own priorities and commitments, and that is something we need to respect. Understanding and planning things ahead really works.
Following a structure through the day can help a lot. I plan for things in advance, add everything to my calendar so that I don’t miss things. I also try aligning to Suresh’s calendar. And when children are involved, it is a lot of extra work, because they also have to be managed. We need to understand how much we can accommodate, and also make sure we say ‘no’ to things we cannot. Push back on things which do not deserve your time or energy. Make sure you are not exhausting yourself. Partners need to understand each other’s needs, because it is only you both who know and understand each other.
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