A chance to connect
UNICEF staff member Soni Kumari Mipchan Tamang and her daughter Swikriti reflect on the unexpected silver lining amidst the challenges of the COVID-19 lockdown: a rare opportunity to spend some quality time together
Fifteen-year-old Swikriti Tamang recalls how, as a child, she had always longed for her mother, Soni. Soni’s work as a driver took her away from the family for long stretches of time; in fact, for most of Swikriti’s childhood, which was spent in Kathmandu, Soni was stationed in different places across the country and could not visit very often.
“I was just two and a half years old when she first left,” Swikriti says. “I used to remember her and cry.”
For Soni, too, leaving her daughter behind was beyond heartbreaking.
“I could see how difficult it was for her; it was difficult for me as well,” Soni, who now works at UNICEF, says. “But I wanted to give her a good education and a good life, and for that, I needed to work.”
Although Soni says she wouldn’t take back the decision, she regrets the gulf that she feels it built between her and her daughter. “Swikriti was always a very quiet child, and when I was home, she didn’t share too much with me,” she says. “I always wished I could connect to her better.”
What didn’t help, according to Soni, was how some family members and acquaintances often criticized the choices she had made. “They would tell me how selfish I was for leaving my family like that, as if I were doing it because I enjoyed being away from my little girl,” Soni says.
She adds that it also made clear to her the double standard that exists in society when it comes to working women. “If it had been my husband in my place, no one would have questioned his decision, they would have praised him for it.”
To make things worse, people would often voice these criticisms in front of the child. “I think that made a big impact on her,” Soni says.
“People don’t realize how deeply children internalize what they see and hear, and all my daughter kept hearing was that I had left her.”
The situation eased somewhat, Soni says, after she joined UNICEF. Although she was working in Bhairahawa and still away from the family, a few years ago, she decided to make some changes. “My daughter was just turning 13, which is a difficult time, and I wanted to be with her a bit more,” she says. Soni requested the office for leave to go to Kathmandu every month to spend the weekend with her daughter, a request that was swiftly granted.
“Getting to spend those three days with Swikriti was so precious,” she says. “I feel like I came to know her better, and felt so proud of the kind of person she was growing up to be.”
And recently, the two have had a chance to deepen that connection further. Despite the many challenges and inconveniences that the COVID-19 lockdown has caused to the family, it has also given Soni and Swikriti some valuable time together. Soni says her daughter is opening up to her much more, and they have spent long hours talking about her childhood.
“There are a lot of complicated feelings there,” Soni says. “But I feel like we’re making progress, and we both understand each other more.”
Swikriti, on her part, says she now sees that whatever her parents did, it was for her future, and that getting to spend the lockdown in her mother’s company has been amazing.
“We are enjoying ourselves so much – this time is made for us,” she says.
To other children like her whose parents might have similarly led busy lives otherwise, Swikriti advises them to take advantage of this momentary break. “Stay home, stay safe and be happy.”