Warning: Mental Health, Assault
As we are all stuck within the confines of our homes to save ourselves from a virus (I still find this super funny and pensive), we’re facing another challenge: we’re spending a lot of time with our families. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great, I miss living with my mom too—the comfort, candour, the homeliness, all of it.
But, the other day, my brother called me from home and said: “It’s all great, but it’s just difficult to have a conversation sometimes.” I would like to believe that we’ve all lost count of the number of times we’ve heard this statement. Given that I had all the time and privilege in the world to think about deconstructing that one statement, I did it. Here’s the attempt. Some might agree with it cohesively, some with parts of it, and some, not at all, and that’s okay.
Calling family a challenge is antagonizing, I’m aware, especially given Indian culture and tradition, which is rooted in worshipping our parents and elders. Our grandparents did, so did our parents, and now we’re expected to. Again, give me a chance to explain. If you disagree, leave a comment below the post and let’s get talking. 🙂
It’s not just COVID-19; even we are showing strong and weak strains of being communal, racist, classist and casteist in a pandemic that has literally brought this world to a pause. Can I attribute the communalism and casteism to varying forms of religious supremacy that today’s version of religions bring about? Yes, very much so, thank you.
Similarly, a culture that brings you to worship your parents is problematic. Because remember, it is asking you to be deeply, traditionally religious, and not spiritual. Religion, in India today, asks for fear from its followers: go to the temple, else what will my God think; let me do some charity and say a prayer for everyone at night, else what will my god think; I need to do good karmas, otherwise, god knows how will my next birth be? You get the drill.
Do you see the driving intention here? It’s not an innate wish to do something good; it’s the fear of repercussions in case one doesn’t do good; it is a deep-seated fear of the unknown. This dictate of ‘worshipping’ parents stems from this equivalent fear. That, I find super problematic. Respecting and fearing are different emotions, and a lot of times, respect is ‘falsely’ equated to fearing your parents, and that is unhealthy and needs to be spoken about.
We have fights and differences of opinions; and then sometimes, we bury the hatchet, and with it, the problem. There’s often a complaint that we don’t share what we’re going through or thinking. It’s only fair on your part to want to be a part of our lives, and trust me, we’d love it too!
But, I just have a few questions. Did you have a conversation with us about the boy we had a crush on when we were 12? Do you remember telling the brothers and sons to “cry if you want to?” Do you remember Papa ever telling us that “go do exactly what you want, don’t harm someone, but don’t let anyone’s expectations harm your pride or wishes”? And yes, it’s not just emotional; it’s also about gender roles.
These are the most basic conversations we have with our friends and peers because this is the reality we fight every day. So, why do children distance themselves from parents in the first place? Why does anyone distance themselves from anyone? Same common things: fear of judgement, unconstructive criticism, expectations to fit into suffocating roles and spaces, and the like. So many of us are battling varied kinds of mental health issues, some chronic too.
This is not to cast an accusation, but merely to state how we don’t want to fight our parents when we’re already fighting the world and its members. For so many of us, our homes are not our safe spaces; they act as triggers—triggers of assault, gaslighting, misogyny, mental attacks, and suffocating dreams.
I don’t know if it can be said enough, but we love, respect and want to reach out to our parents. In a world of varying degrees of toxic social relationships, we need safe spaces, and with effort, intention and understanding, we’d like our homes to be those spaces.
You want to dictate our lives with the same “samaaj yeh allow nahi karega,” when this very society jumps at the first opportunity it gets to disagree with one unconventional thing you do and then puts you in a corner for people to point at you, shame you and question you. What is this human need to please people who don’t have the nature to ever be pleased? And, more importantly, why?
There have been thousands of moments where we’ve had to apologise for not being as financially secure as Mrs X’s children. It sounds ridiculous even as I type it. Yes, parents want the best for us and there’s no denying that. But what use is that best if we don’t feel safe talking to them about how that guy who’s not from the same religion, but loves us way more than possibly anyone ever has, or that job that won’t pay us as much but will make every day worth it?
Don’t indulge in this self-victimisation. It’s a trap, parents, take it from us. This is not about you, really. This is a world where every five years, a new generation evolves. There are massive differences between your and our approaches and attitudes to life. It gets difficult to navigate and deal with two starkly different exposures and approaches: that of the family and that of the world.
In a world where productivity and skills are the ‘be-all, end-all’, it’s difficult for children to even understand that the world does have a space for them that’s just theirs; one that’s not been polluted with the whims and fancies of degrees, awards, ‘productive’ work cultures. We’re still struggling to be a society where we accept vivid and unconventional career choices, let alone support them.
So, no. Disagreeing with you is not disrespecting you. Not waking up and doing house chores exactly when you want us to; or not doing things according to your schedules and plans, or not agreeing with the decisions you take for our careers and lives—that is not us disrespecting you.
Please understand. You and we—we’re battling the same enemy. And since we’re out here, in the field, facing them up-close, we need allies, and not to be attacked from within.
No, we don’t want to. A 17-year-old is too young to decide on a career that will last her a lifetime. We’re called freshers for a reason. We don’t know how the world works. What insane pressure it is to take charge of your life all at 17 years of age? And ingraining this fear of getting it right, else signing for life-long unhappiness and suffering?
From whatever I understand, parenting is super-hard and pressurizing. Apparently, there’s this invisible system that parents think they’ve to cater to, some scales, trends and standards they have to live up to. This makes it all the more important to battle this invisible foe that is making increasingly harmful notions like productivity and contentment a “normal”. It’s like they’ve created their own happiness index with all the wrong measuring indicators.
It is genuinely difficult for both sides to push past these and try and have a conversation. Attempts at conversations are reduced to a battleground where both the sides are just always on the defensive.
Why is it that we have to plan for days to have a conversation with our parents? Why is it that we have to plan for years to come out and share something as basic to our existence as our identity and orientations?
We’re living in a society that is getting more and more toxic by the day. Parents and children, both, are trying to fight it in their own ways. But, we need to get past them. We need to be empathetic and kind. And parents, also be kind and mindful of the conversations you have with your tribe. You don’t know how they’re perceiving it. Try and break the mould, please. In the end, no one wants to fight. We want to co-exist. I apologise if you found any of my criticisms unwarranted, know that I’m willing to have a conversation about it, and I mean no harm.
Yes, it’s easier to form new worlds and build spaces when children are young, but it’s not impossible to start working on them when the realisation dawns upon us. Any time is a good time.
Yes, these pose bigger questions on the upbringing, conversations, societal norms, traditions and culture that we propagate. Those questions also deserve a discourse, a conversation.
We’re reaching out, would you please too?