Written by Sindhu Shivalingam and published on 05 July 2021.
One of the most celebrated moms in reel life, actress Revathy is a super mom in real life. We speak to the award-winning actress about her beautiful parenting journey. It's a ParentCircle exclusive
Remember the path-breaking movie, Anjali? Nearly three decades have gone by, but we haven't forgotten a single scene from the classic. Little Anjali's mom Chitra (Revathy) gave a brilliant account of herself as an on-screen mother. From then to now, she has adorned numerous powerful mother roles becoming the face of a strong Indian mother. In real life too, she is an exceptional mother, balancing her work and duties as a parent. In a candid conversation with ParentCircle, the talented actress talks about her parenting journey.
Q: Mahi (Revathy's daughter) is now four years old. But, her entry into your world wasn't an easy one. You must have felt super special when she finally arrived.
A: It was like a gift from heaven, especially after such a long wait. I tried adoption, but they wouldn't give me a newborn, so I chose IVF with donor sperm.
Her birth made every bit of the wait and hardship worthy. I do wonder how she'd perceive it when I tell her about this, but I want to tell her the truth. My mother says, in her times, it will be easy for her to understand and I hope that's true. (smiles)
Q: As a mother, what do you think is the most important thing you must do for your child?
A: Connection! Making that connection with your child is crucial. It is important that both of you understand what is right for each other. Mahi, in that way, can connect with me and understand me. Sometimes, I ask, "Kanna can you give Amma one hour nap?" and she doesn't fuss. One hour later, if she feels bored, she says, "Amma, can you please get up?" (laughs)
As a parent, when you make a promise, stand by it or don't make one. Children could end up thinking Amma and Appa will say things but not do it. It is just us and the child. Connect with the child. Only when that little world is good, you will be able to do better in the world outside that space. When the mother and child are doing okay, the relationship between partners will also improve. If that doesn't exist, every other connection may possibly shatter. That's my opinion. And yes, keep the communication alive with your child as she grows.
A: Yes. Communication must happen every day. So, when the child talks, whatever else may be happening, listen. If you don't, children will stop talking. This is something I learnt from a friend who shares a beautiful bond with her child. That's the kind of relationship I aspire to have with Mahi. The mother needs to give time. The child needs to feel valued and important. When you make things eventful, she will get that feeling.
Q: Although you've played the mother, read extensively, and have had rich experiences, was it still a rollercoaster ride when your child arrived?
A: (laughs) It was like starting from A. On-screen, I have played mother to almost all age groups. But, playing the mother and being the mother are two different things. I always wanted a child but for some reason, it did not work out (when I wanted). And it finally worked out very late in my life. I wasn't even sure if I was making the right decision, by having a child at this age. Is it selfish of me? Will my child feel strange for having an old mother? I had all these questions and I still do. I'll know the answers only as she grows up.
For me, it has been a life-changer - like a rebirth. Of course, the ride is bumpy. There are days when I think, what was I thinking? (laughs). But when the child smiles at you, it's something else. Every little thing that she does is so fascinating. No book or film could have given me this experience.
Q: So, what are the favorite things you do with her?
A: We co-sleep. In the middle of the night, she looks for me with those little hands, pulls closer, entwines her hands into mine, and snuggles back to sleep. That just moves me! That's when I feel so blessed. This mother-child affection is something amazing.
Q: It sure is. And so, when you must discipline your child, it becomes that much harder, right? For example, how do you control her gadget usage?
A: Mahi never asks me for my phone to watch anything. It's never been given to her. I've clearly told her phone is for adults. Even to keep her occupied, I don't give her my phone.
As for TV, first I thought I must say no, but I feel saying no is very negative. Not everything we read can be applied. So, I give her some TV time. I've also learnt that I must have other creative activities available which excite her more than the TV. Little things like planting a sapling, making a salad together can make a big difference. She immediately comes for anything that interests her.
Initially, she used to eat in front of the TV, but I' am slowly weaning her off that. Now, we all sit together and eat, talk about the day. The dining table is our conversation place. So, my parents and I share about our days. She also tells us about hers. Although it sounds easy, the process wasn't. It took me months. First, I had to come up with ideas, then understand how to handle her, and then implement them.
When I want to build a routine, be it for brushing teeth or having a bath, I make it a game. A song, rhyme, or silly role-play. "Let's brush at night or the germs are going to sing all night and not let us sleep", I say and then we laugh and go about the ritual! It's not just fun, it's effective too (laughs). But again, you need a lot of patience and it takes time.
Q: So, what is your secret weapon when it comes to handling tantrums?
A: Oh! All that you read about tantrums, you feel the hit only when it unfolds in front of you. But I've decided and realized that there is no point in yelling. It is counter-productive. She cries I get hurt and still, the issue doesn't get resolved.
Once it happened in a supermarket. She wanted something and I said no. She sat down and started wailing. I said, "It's okay Mahi. You can cry. I'll wait for you. I cannot get this because it's bad for you." I went to the counter and stood firm. I did not care about what onlookers would think about me or my parenting. And because I took that stand of connecting with her directly, even today when I tell her, "Kanna, this is not good for you", she listens. And sometimes I give in. She is, after all, a child. It can't be about discipline all the time.
Make your child understand you are the authority. Because until a certain age, children don't have the maturity to make responsible decisions. They will listen to you only when they believe in your authority. But, first build the security of love. Don't confuse it with discipline. When they believe in your authority, they will come to you when they have a problem.
Q: What are other activities you do together?
A: We cut vegetables, she helps me load the washing machine; we do gardening and play in the mud. When she goes to a birthday party and sees a muddy puddle and wants to sit there, I am fine. We sure can clean up, but she is having fun! I am not swayed by the judgments people pass at me. If I start worrying about it, I won't ever make a connection with my child.
Q: Wow! In all the activities you speak about, I see no trace of the celebrity aura in your home.
A: Acting is only my profession(smiles). When I enter my home, I'm a normal person like anyone else. It's always been like that. My mother has taught me to look after my own needs and I do the same with my daughter.
For me acting is a profession, nothing more. Once I remove my slippers and go inside, that's it. It is the same even in my friends' circle. That's why I think I'm able to work with NGOs and they know me as a very normal person.
Q: Can you tell us about your work with non-profits?
A: For about 20-25 years I supported and helped in building various non-profit organizations. But now I've taken a break to focus on my priority. They do know I'm around though and they can reach out to me anytime. But for now, it's all about me, my daughter, my parents, and my career. I've put myself first because unless I'm good mentally and physically, I cannot take care of my child or my parents.
And I think the child needs the parent till a certain age. Until she knows to say yes and no to what she really wants. After that, you can go and take care of the world. If you leave your child unattended and go after changing the world, there is no meaning. Because I've seen some children being ignored because the mother or father is taking care of the world. I don't think it's worth it.
Q: Even now, your work keeps you on your toes. How do you manage to make time?
A: Thankfully, I'm now in a position to decide that I can work only from Monday through Friday and not on weekends. We have our quality time, fun time then. And when I get back home from the shoot, I don't know how, but even when I'm tired, I get extra energy on seeing her. Some days she is already asleep, and I am secretly thankful about it (laughs). Because when that fatigue gets to you, you get irritated and you don't want to show it to your child. Sometimes when I address her in a stern voice "Mahi, please do that", she looks straight into my eyes and goes "Why are you shouting Amma? Did I shout? Am I crying? Then why?" Then I realize that I'm shouting for nothing! I'm mentally tired. A lot of learning and self-realization happens when you have a child.
Q: Do you think that sometimes, a mother can feel very overwhelmed by the weight of things she has to handle?
A: Yes, and during those times I have a tool to pull myself together. I write. I put down on paper what my priorities are. Then I can realign my focus in that direction. I urge all mothers to get into this habit because it helps.
Q: How do you make time to replenish yourself?
A: On some days I am so tired that I ask my mum if she can sleep with my daughter. Because when you are with your child you don't get 100% sleep. I think it's an instinctive protection mode. With her every turn or sound, you want to make sure your baby is okay.
And my sister takes over sometimes so I can have some me-time. You needn't even do anything great. Just a visit to a cafe, sipping some coffee by yourself will do. Your child also needs time away from you other than school and other things.
Q: How difficult is single parenting?
A: Yes, single parenting has its challenges. Mahi's little friends ask her about her dad and she says I have Daddy Thaatha -that's my dad. She calls him that. Sometimes, I wish I had someone to talk to about my child and to discuss important decisions (medicine, education, etc.,) A mother's job cannot be explained. No book can ever sum it up. But I have my support system. From day one, my parents, who are thankfully healthy, have been with me to take care of Mahi. So, she is equally attached to them. My sister is also very involved when it comes to Mahi. She is my go-to person whenever I feel the need to discuss.
Q: Do you read to Mahi? Any favorite children's books that you both enjoy?
A: Yes, I read to Mahi and I want her to be a reader. I want her to write and express as well. Now, it's Dr Seuss books. We love how they rhyme, and the books are silly and fun to read. It's like a tongue twister for her, and she loves them. I have also bought a few Tamil books that my house-help reads to Mahi when I'm not around. Mahi narrates those stories to me when I get back home. She is now able to pick up on the language. I'm also telling my dad to read Malayalam stories to her, so she gets exposure to multiple languages. Stories are very important for a child. Because when the child wants to tell us something, she is able to articulate it better. Mahi makes up her own little stories with all of us playing characters. Its so much fun.
Q: Tell us about your relationship with your parents...
A: If you ask my mother about me she will say "Oh, she has ruined her life and is now trying to stand up". Whatever pain you go through hurts your parents as well. Yes, I have hurt them a lot. But, they have supported me through all my decisions in life. They would warn me against some of my decisions and I wouldn't listen to them. But, whenever I took a blow and came back to them and said I' was sorry, they've taken me in again. They are always there for me. The security that Amma and Appa give me is what I'd like to give Mahi. As a mother, I will never judge her no matter what the world says.
Q: Do you travel with Mahi often?
A: I'm an adventurous person. I want Mahi to enjoy that spirit as well. So, I've started taking her on drives. We recently went to Kerala and Mahi and I did a 3-hour road trip. I've taught her to use online maps and she'd navigate, "Amma, you are not on the blue line", and things like that. We also make trips to Puducherry often. Sometimes I put on an audio story. When she has a question we'd pause and discuss. By the end of the drive, I'd be so tired but I know this is an investment I'm making towards building a great relationship with my child. And I want it more than anything else.
Q: And you want her to be a strong independent woman...
A: Absolutely, because by the time she grows up I'm going to be too old (laughs). I want her to be independent. I don't want her to be academically strong. I want her to be a person who can keep reminding herself of the truth.
I was put on a platform from where the whole world could see me when I was just 17 years old. That star status comes with a tag that says whatever she says or does is right. But real life is different. Here, you make mistakes, you fall, you get up, you fall again and you get up again. So, it's important, to be true to herself and stand up for whatever she does. I want to help her not be afraid of failures.
Q: Do you have parental anxieties?
A: Nothing! Only thing I do is plan. I plan my career, so I have enough when she needs to take up higher education. If she suddenly wants to do medicine someplace abroad, I'd like to be able to give it to her. If I am not able to, I will say, "Kanna, you can do it here. You cannot do it there." And for that, I'm working on financial planning. Otherwise no anxieties.
She and I will have the connection and relationship in which we will be able to face anything together - she will accept me and I will accept her.
I believe it's all about how you treat them, how you connect to them. Children are very intelligent and very absorbent. And they are a pleasure to be around. I earnestly pray to God, to guide me in knowing her calling. I want to understand what she has come here to do. I will give her the exposure and support her in her interest. And thankfully, I'm at a point where I have the freedom and ability to do that.
Q: Two of your on-screen characters are my personal favorites. Two strong and impactful mother roles - Chitra in Anjali and Shubhangini in Margarita with a Straw. Please tell us about these roles.
A: Both roles were very strongly built and beautifully etched. In both movies, I donned a mother of a child with a disability. Anjali was practically the first time I played a mother. I began my homework by watching video footage of a child named Esther from the Spastics Society of Tamil Nadu. She was the model child for the movie. And somehow, I was naturally drawn to visit Vidya Sagar (an organization for children with cerebral palsy). I saw mothers there and realized that there cant be a bigger blessing, than to have a mother who is there for you whenever you need her. Mani Ratnam had envisioned the character Chitra so beautifully. While it was easy to fall into the character, I must admit a natural motherly instinct kicked in while I played her.
By the time I worked in Margarita with a Straw, I had matured over the years. It was exactly 20 years later. I think my personal experience of having worked in the field of differently-abled children and seeing the mothers there helped me fall into the character. Those mothers are strong and amazing. Most mothers, after they get over the shock that their child has an issue, connect with the child at a normal level. Their love is unconditional. You see such mothers more in real life and not so much on screen. Hats off to Shonali Bose to have brought that spirit alive.
Q: What is your message to parents?
A: Connect with your child that's the key. Hug your children as much as you can. Don't stop hugging them even as they grow up. It is so important! And don't feel guilty about making time for yourself. You need to find safe places or people to engage your child while you can get some me time to relax. But you need that.