Isha Koppikar: It’s a blessing to raise a child in a joint family

"Rianna, being a single child, has enough company in her cousins. It is a full house at home with my in-laws, my sister-in-law's kids. Rianna is busy while I am at work, which resolves my guilt about being away from her."

By Shilpi Madan

Call her supermom. Actress Isha Koppikar has just joined a political party, is wrapping up a film shoot in Chennai, running her hospitality company, all while enjoying playing mommykins to her chatty, four-and-a-half year old princess, Rianna. The glamorous star (of Company, Kaante, Don…fame) seems to have taken to parenting like a fish to water and is loving every bit of motherhood.

“Nothing prepares you for motherhood. It is the most beautiful, energising phase of my life. You know, I was supposed to return to Mumbai (from Chennai) a couple of days back but unfortunately the errant rain threw the shoot schedule out of gear. Rianna understood, while I explained to her on Facetime. I was all choked up and howled after ending my chat,” confesses Isha with a smile, perfectly comfortable with the barrage of emotions her role as “Mamma” has brought along. Excerpts from a conversation:

So what does Rianna mean?

Rianna is the name of the Queen of Horses, and our little one was born in the year of the horse. Call it a coincidence (laughs). In reality, my husband Timmy and I had come up with the name Arianna (after the Disney princess) but then everyone in the family is named with an “R”. My husband Timmy’s name is Rohit; then there is my sister in law Ramona, brother-in-law Rahul… My mother came up with the solution and zeroed in on Rianna as R for Rohit and I for Isha melded into this one along with a name starting with R. So that’s how Rianna got her name. All’s well that ends well!

What is a usual day like for you?

I get up at 6:30 am every day, irrespective of what time I have slept. I am with Rianna till she leaves for school by 8:15 am. If I have slept late, then I go to sleep again for a couple of hours. Else I get cracking on my schedule for the day.

You are a working mom. What do you count as a big blessing?

That I live in a joint family. Rianna, being a single child, has enough company in her cousins. It is a full house at home with my in-laws, my sister-in-law’s kids…Rianna is busy while I am at work. That resolves my stress and guilt about being away from her.

Does she attend any classes?

Aplenty! Spanish, ballet, taekwondo…we chat a lot. Luckily, Rianna is an expressive child and converses a lot about how her day went, what she ate and did. She is an extrovert like Timmy and me. Her dad is a complete people’s person.

Is Timmy a hands-on dad?

Absolutely. Like I am shooting in Chennai right now, and he is at a parent-teacher meeting in school. When he is out of town, I attend the school meets. It is very rare that both of us are away at the same time without Rianna. If we are then we reschedule the school meeting, but keep track of what is happening for sure.

What is it that you pay special attention to?

I make sure that I do not make things too comfortable for Rianna. I do not want to give her everything and make her reach a point when she cannot adjust at all. She needs to value what she has. As parents, all of us want to shower our kids with what we did not or could not have. Sometimes, I am consciously strict in my attitude and come across as the hard parent. Yet, Rianna knows that there is always a reason for my saying “No” when I do. I explain and reason things out with her.

What is the rule on screen consumption?

Rianna has neither an iPad nor an iPhone. Only rationed TV time. Ten minutes in the morning or else she keeps moving her head all over when I am making her (long) hair. That way she stays still (laughs). In the evening, the alarm is set for her to switch off the TV. Since there are always moments of bargaining, for two minutes and five minutes extra, I set the reminder alarm for after two minutes. Rianna is used to it and switches the telly off on her own then. I try to strike a balance of responsibility and role play.

Is Rianna multi-lingual?

Well, I speak to her in Konkani. She understands Konkani, Punjabi and Marathi, can speak in English, Hindi and Spanish. Rianna picks up languages very fast, like me.

One thing that you do together every day?

I believe a family that eats together stays together. So the dinner at 7pm is a must for all of us.

What about sleepovers?

Oh, I tell Rianna, “A princess never leaves her kingdom”. So we are sorted on that front! She loves dressing up as different Disney princesses.

How often do family vacations happen?

Every three months. We are off to Dubai next. Timmy and I believe in spending money on creating memories and experiences. Like Rianna remembers her first experience of a snowfall in London, her visit to DisneyWorld in Orlando, the Adventure Cove water park in Singapore…

You always wanted a daughter, didn’t you?

Of course! It is so much fun. In many ways I get to do other things, like I always had short hair while growing up. Rianna has long, curly hair and I love dressing her up with clips and bands.

One way motherhood has changed you?

I have definitely become more compassionate and patient. Nothing compares to the first gurgle of your baby.

Have you brought her to the sets?

Yes. A couple of times. She was moving all over with me till one-and-a-half years of age as I was also feeding her. She knows and understands my work.

What if she chooses to be in front of the camera now?

Till I can prevail upon her, I will. There is a time for everything. I want her to have a normal life right now, grow up with friends and family around, her school, hobbies…Being a child artiste does take away from being a child. There is too much of attention too soon.

Your advice to other mothers?

Spend time (there is no substitute for this) and bond with your kids, get a strong foundation and value system in place. It is vital that we teach our kids compassion and gratitude. As a parent, never hesitate to say no to your kid.

What is your tantrum guide?

I stand my ground. I cut privileges for inappropriate behaviour. I actually end up saying no more than I say yes, but that comes with the territory of being a disciplinarian. I take the disgruntled “Bad mamma” “Naughty mamma” grumbles with a pinch of salt.

And how do you pamper Rianna?

Well, I get a little something for her when I head back into town. Like hair clips. This time she wants a leotard for her ballet class.

But do you pick a gift each time you return?

No. Then it is a compensation for the time I have been unable to spend with her. It would be a conditional reflex. I don’t want Rianna to get habituated to that.

Last word?

Always remember that when you sustain a tantrum without giving in, you are actually making your child learn the value of being a good human. Hang in there.

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