WHEN the video of a baby being slapped, pinched and kicked by a young woman went viral via YouTube last month, the case shocked and angered many.
As it turns out though, the case was a year old, the abuser had been charged, convicted and was serving 18 months in prison. Adding more shock and anger to the case, she was the biological mother of the baby. Public comment got even more scathing as a result, because society expects children to be looked after in general, and they expect parents to play the lead role for this in particular.
Yet, if the latest Women, Family and Community Development Ministry statistics of child abuse cases of the past three years are anything to go by, in Malaysia at least parents can be almost as abusive of their children as anyone else. Of the 9,474 child abuse cases, 44.3 per cent of child abusers were parents, with mothers pipping fathers at 25.4 per cent to 18.9 per cent. Though the exact circumstances of the abuse were not revealed, the reason alluded to for why mothers were the greatest abusers is stress from bearing the burden of multiple tasks.
Parenthood, when all goes well, is an experience few would even think of giving up. But even so, it is also a moral duty, a legal responsibility and an unpaid job that is full time for at least the first 18 years, and from which (for mothers, at least) it is very difficult to escape. It is emotionally challenging, physically tiring and expensive. And while no good parent would ever condone child abuse, many would surely understand how stress could tempt a parent into losing his or her self-control. Even if parenting were to be a singular career (sans even housecleaning), it would still be stressful. The key is in learning to cope with and diffuse stress, as well as being conscious that parenting will always be a work in progress.
But there is a difference between what is morally expected of parents and what they are capable of delivering. For parenting may not come naturally or instinctively to everyone. Indeed, it would be presumptive to think that all people who have children actually care about them, or know how to care for them.
For instance, many parents love their children, but won't secure them in a child safety seat, even though they can afford a car. And, because child abuse can take many forms -- physical, sexual, emotional -- it is not easy to detect or interpret. One thing is clear though: "parent" can sometimes be just a noun, not an adjective.