Reshma Merchant with daughter Amayra and husband Sulaiman.
By Shilpi Madan
Strong-willed and independent, Reshma Merchant is disarmingly honest and genuinely amiable. The co-founder and designer at the sustainable luxury and design store, House of Milk, Reshma is a parent in progress, bringing up her nine-year-old, Amayra, with husband Sulaiman. Raised to be an independent woman by her mother, she emulates and ingrains the same value system in her daughter as she grows up. Excerpts from a conversation with Express Parenting:
What is your biggest challenge as a mom and how do you overcome it?
Grandma and cousins! I get ribbed often about following timetables and routines, which I find an outstanding tool to overcome most challenges. Honestly, my true support comes from the strong 'tribe of women' I belong to. This cluster includes my mother Renu, my sister Raunaq and her daughter Kyra. We truly belong to each other and definitely behave like we own each other - this may sound a bit mad but for sure brings in an unbeatable security that allows each one of us to sleep easy. Amayra would be half the person she is without mom, Raunaq and Kyra being hers.
Share with us the environment you were brought up in.
My mother grew up in the diplomatic services environment, all around the world, and married an Army officer. Our parents taught us everything from style, family, respect, etiquette, accent, values, religion and tradition. I only teach Amayra what I have been taught but in a more digitised, contemporary way.
Are you a part of WhatsApp mommy groups, carpools...?
Of course. Other moms are my 'tribe of women' too! I simply could not keep up with everything without their support and information they share.
Who is Amayra more emotionally welded to: her dad Sulaiman, or to you?
That is a tough one as she holds Sulaiman next to God. But, as the constant (Sulaiman's work takes him out of town aplenty), I get all the emotional stuff. This is the tough part. For instance, one day at a PTM, the teacher was very kind about Amayra and suddenly I had tears rolling down my cheeks. Seeing this Sulaiman too had tears while our daughter put her head down in complete embarrassment! Then a few days back she was selected as captain in her school, and before we left for the investiture ceremony, I was forewarned not to cry…of course, I did! I do get emotional when I hear good things about Sulaiman, Amayra, my father…but it is the exact opposite if I hear anything bad.
Do both of you do PTMs, annual days?
Yes, but when Sulaiman is travelling, my mother comes along as she is Amayra's guardian. Of course, she loves hearing anything about her grand-daughter.
Who is the bad guy that does the dirty job of disciplining?
Unfortunately, that is me. But Sulaiman is the one Amayra fears to disappoint.
One rule that must not be broken at home?
Tameez. There is absolutely no room for impertinence and spoilt behaviour.
Give us your take on:
Screen time: On holidays and weekend (post homework)
Tantrums: I simply walk out
Impolite behaviour: Needs much disciplining
Sleepovers: All of Amaya's friends are welcome. Either mom or me are always around.
Cell phones: Only for security and communication. No privileges without instructions - Amayra has 10 family members on her phone, and music. No Youtube / search engines on her mobile until she turns 16.
Pets: When asked, must get one as long as they take on at least one responsibility.
How do you do to make sure that she does not cultivate a sense of self entitlement?
It is a case of values versus privileges. All instructions are very clear and succinct and a constant reminder of who we want her to be and how she wants to turn out.
Then how cool are you as a mom on a scale of 0-10?
Not even 7! I am a tough mom and constantly at her heel.
How hands-on are you ?
So hands-on that I fear my retrenchment the day my little girl turns a teenager!
Something of you, and something of Sulaiman that Amayra has picked up?
Her inborn qualities of quiet inner strength, sense of music is all Sulaiman but her mannerism is mine.
How has motherhood changed you?
Motherhood has redefined who I am and how I want to be seen as Amayra's mother. I have Amayra in mind while taking every decision.
How involved is Sulaiman in Amayra's routine?
Sulaiman is a fabulous dad. He travels incessantly but when he is in town he discusses financial markets, politics and the digital world with Amayra. He takes up her piano and math lessons - both of them are passionate about music. Sulaiman has taught her to appreciate different sounds, instruments and now they share playlists. It is just so wonderful to watch them jam.
You are truly raising a 'universal' child.
Yes. Even though Amayra has not converted to any religion and her birth certificate says 'universal' basically meaning 'respectful of every religion', Sulaiman has certain values cast in stone for Amayra - Tehzeeb, Tareeka and Haya (politeness, a sound value system, and humility). Honestly this, compounded with the mediation we have taught her to be able go 'inward', counts as her greatest lesson from us.
Did you ever think you would be like this as a mum?
Never! I' m obsessed with Amayra being the best version of herself, and want to ensure she never makes any of our mistakes.
What's next on the bucket list on family vacations?
Mostly Japan or Australia. My soul sister, Annette adopted a koala for Amayra. This little fellow is from New South Wales and ever since the bushfires broke out in Australia, Amayra has been longing to visit Mr Edward Montana, her koala.
What is the best piece of advice that you can share with other mums?
Why are you in this insane need of getting the kids out…let them be. I never studied abroad and yet worked with three Fortune 100 companies. Why can't your kids go for their Masters or wait till they are older to specialise? Slow down!