When faced with a dilemma between career and family, which would you choose? For Mdm Karthi (above left), the answer was obvious. After completing her Master’s in physics, Mdm Karthi was excited to embark on her career. But God had other plans for her as she received news of her pregnancy. The decision to put her ambitions on hold during pregnancy soon became a complete thwarting of plans when she decided to be a homemaker after the birth of her son. After all, a mother’s role can never be replaced.
1992 was a special year for Mdm Karthi and her husband, as they welcomed their newborn son, Chandru (above right), to the world. Soon after his birth, the couple observed that Chandru may have some developmental conditions. Their speculation was confirmed as Chandru was later diagnosed with cerebral palsy and mild intellectual disability.
“Initially my husband and I were very worried, but we soon realised that every child is God’s gift and is unique. We accepted our gift wholeheartedly and I trust that God chose me for Chandru. I am very happy and proud to be his mother,” Mdm Karthi said.
To take care of Chandru, Mdm Karthi became a homemaker, while her husband worked to support the family. As Chandru’s main caregiver during his growing years, Mdm Karthi and Chandru were inseparable. Even when Chandru started to attend school, she accompanied him in class to care for him. The time spent together created a special bond between them – to the envy of other parents.
The secret to her parenting strategy? Love, patience, and guidance.
Mdm Karthi made sure that she is there for Chandru during his childhood as that is when he needed her the most. Even when some parents have told her to leave Chandru alone so that he can learn to be independent, she stuck to her belief that independence should be trained at a pace suitable for the child. For instance, she involved Chandru in simple household chores like cutting the vegetables, watering the plants, and setting up the dinner table, to slowly training him to visit the nearby library and shops independently.
Each child is different, and therefore the strategies used to help them learn may also be different, Mdm Karthi shared. When Chandru was still in school, one of the challenges she encountered was getting him to sit down to do his homework. To resolve this, Mdm Karthi engaged Chandru in games – if she wins, he must listen to her and do his homework.
“He’s still a child at that time so it is obvious that I win most of the time, and that’s how I got him to do his homework. But of course, I will purposely let him win sometimes so that he gets to do what he enjoys,” she recalled.
These strategies are amongst the many others that Mdm Karthi have tried throughout the years. She gave much of the credit to Chandru’s teachers as well, who have imparted her useful tips. To return the kindness that she received, she often helped to take care of Chandru’s classmates when the teachers were busy tending to other students.
“These supportive individuals whom we met in Chandru’s schools are like family to us. We are very lucky to meet such good people in our journey,” shared Mdm Karthi.
The strong support network has made it easier for Mdm Karthi as she soldiered on in her caregiving journey. When Chandru was young, his father often had to travel overseas for work. Support from her extended family was minimal, and much of the caregiving responsibility fell on Mdm Karthi. On top of this, she also had her fair share of hurtful remarks from relatives.
“When Chandru was one month old, everyone said that he will not survive. They were all telling us that he cannot go to school and will not be of any use. No one from our family had any hopes on him,” Mdm Karthi shared.
“When people say such remarks, we take it as a challenge to show them what he is worth. There were many hurdles in school and in society, but we faced them head on and crossed each one of them,” she added.
When asked how she managed to overcome these difficult moments, Mdm Karthi said: “I just cry and pray when I feel low. I [have done] my duty as much as I can and will leave the rest to God. We have a sacred text named Thevaram and Thiruvasagam, which I sing every day and I strongly believe that’s creating a magic in my life.” Seeing Chandru’s smiling face also keeps Mdm Karthi going during challenging times.
Witnessing how Chandru has grown up to be a kind and understanding young man is something Mdm Karthi feels extremely proud of. She was pleasantly surprised when Chandru remembered his parents’ favourite dishes. When his father fell sick, Chandru always reminds his mother to cook his father’s favourite meal so that he can feel better. She once jokingly replied him: “What if I fall sick? Who will cook my favourite food for me?”. To which Chandru earnestly took up the responsibility – despite not knowing how to cook – and even named his mother’s favourite dishes correctly.
“Knowing that I have raised a warm and kind boy made me feel very heartened. His kindness makes him a well-liked man among the people around us, and I am so proud of my boy,” said Mdm Karthi.
Chandru is now a craftsman at the SPD Sheltered Workshop, creating leather products like card wallets and cup holders.
Seeing Chandru doing well and enjoying his life have given Mdm Karthi immense satisfaction as a parent. She hopes that society in general can be kinder to individuals like Chandru. Though her own journey has not been the easiest, Mdm Karthi encourages parents of children with special needs to continue to find their “rays of sunshine” in life.
“Life is like a river between the banks of pleasure and pain. We have to accept both equally. When we see beauty in everything, our life also looks beautiful. Happiness is contagious. When you are happy, the world around you will also be happy and peaceful,” she said.