Serena Williams, speaking about an open letter she wrote to her mother in 2017, said: “Looking at my daughter and looking at my mom, how she went through the negative [feedback] of myself and my body, I don’t know how she did it.”
We all know how big a role mothers play in our lives. On the occasion of Mother’s Day, we spoke to three mothers — one who has competed at the highest level internationally and recently embraced motherhood, and two who have supported their kids through the process of becoming a sportsperson in India. We also spoke to the leading goalscorer of the Indian men’s football team on the role his mother played in his life.
Here are Sania Mirza, Sushma Batra, Parameshwari Stalin and Sunil Chhetri in their own words:
Six-time Grand Slam champion Sania Mirza became a mother after giving birth to Izhaan Mirza Malik in October 2018. Since turning pro in 2003, Sania hasn’t looked back and is now looking to make a return to professional tennis.
I don’t know if motherhood is really quite the biggest change one can have in life. Of course everything begins to revolve around the baby and rightfully so. For me, it was the most natural process and it is the most selfless love that you can ever feel. I never, ever, ever, thought I had it in me so I think that was the most amazing feeling I ever had. My goal was to get fit again and return on court. Physically and emotionally, it is difficult to regain how your body used to be and get back the strength and movement. But for a top-level athlete you have to embrace all the changes that come with motherhood. So when I started practicing after all the months away, it felt really special. It is extremely challenging because your body goes through a lot when you have a baby so just to get back on court the way I was before motherhood was a really happy feeling.
For all the new athlete moms out there just believe in yourself and we can all come out of this stronger. If we can’t get back to exactly the way we were before we turned moms, it doesn’t mean we’re any less because I think we’ve already achieved the most amazing feat by bringing a new person into this world.
(As told to Susan NInan)
Sushma Batra is the mother of Manika Batra, India’s top-ranked female table tennis player whose stock has been on the rise ever since winning four medals, including two golds, at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
Personally, I can’t think of any challenges I have faced while raising Manika. I have had problems, physical and otherwise, but I didn’t complain about it, but instead I tried to be there for her. You have to be there for your children. My father-in-law used to say “Khwab dekhna hain toh thoda marna padtha hain” (If you want to dream, you have to die a little). So, you have to sacrifice something.
I wanted to become a sportsperson earlier in my life, but whatever I wanted to become, I am now living it through Manika’s life. Of course I have supported her, but it’s her hard work that has taken her to where she is right now. I would tell all the parents to support your child 100%. You cannot worry about factors like governmental support etc, all you have to tell your kids is if you put in the effort you will be rewarded, whatever sport it be.
Parameshwari Stalin is the mother of 18-year-old Sanjeev Stalin who starred for India at the U-17 Football World Cup in 2017 and is now playing for Indian Arrows in the I-League.
As a mom, you always want to protect your child. I had tears when I used to see Sanjeev jogging for so long. “What if he got injured?” and “What if he is not eating properly?” are the questions all of us think about when your kid is so young, but you have to support them.
I knew he had only football in his mind, so we as a family tried to do our best. If I talk about the hardships I had to overcome, those stories will never end. I work in a shop on the streets, but Sanjeev never once told me to worry and always told me keep my head high. That gives me confidence.
I don’t feel proud because I gave birth to him, I feel proud now because the kind of person he is becoming.
Sunil Chhetri has 107 caps and 67 goals for the Indian men’s football team, both a national record. He talks about the influence of his mother Sushila, who herself has represented Nepal in women’s football matches, alongside her sister.
She has been the most important person. If I have to take one name [on who influenced my life the most], it has to be hers. Our father was away quite a lot because he was in the Army, so most of my upbringing and that of my younger sister was down to our mother. Not just how mothers treat their kids, but my story additionally includes her being so competitive in all sports – carrom, chess, tennis, volleyball, football, to name a few. I didn’t have to look for competition outside my house until I was 10 or 11 years old.
She didn’t have a role in me picking out football as a career, though. Neither of my parents ever forced me to do anything. The fundamental rule growing up was that you had to respect everyone and everything, be disciplined, and for the rest you were allowed to do whatever you felt like doing. I was a little bit lucky, because when I looked around other households, there was such an emphasis on studies. There were a lot of kids who ended up doing things half-heartedly, but with my mother it was simple. When you are eating, just eat and enjoy the food. When you watching television, just enjoy that. When you are playing, enjoy that, and when you are studying, enjoy your studies. We never had to lie, and that was nice.
(As told to Debayan Sen)