My plant dried but the relationship didn’t.
“She does not listen to me!”
“He does not understand me!”
It feels too close to home, doesn’t it? We experience such conversations as parents or children at some point. The generation gap has repeatedly been highlighted as a major roadblock in such relationships. We all are affected by this gap and want to overcome it. Yet, we feel stuck, stuck with previous painful experiences and lack of faith in ourselves and others. Healing a broken relationship can be the most challenging and an important thing at the same time to do.
I have struggled in my relationship with my parents. I often resort to humour to express the issues I am dealing with. Once I found myself joking about how our relationship was similar to the one I had with my plant. I watered it and kept it under the sunlight every day, yet it died, due to overwatering. I did everything I knew about caring for my plant, and yet it withered away. I used to speak to the plant while it was alive — if only I could have listened to it also. It did speak, but I made no efforts to learn my plant’s language.
With my parents, it often feels the same. We do a lot of talking to or at each other, but I wonder how much we listen to each other. We have conflicts and unresolved feelings. There was a point where I could see our relationship dying, so I did everything I knew about caring for them, and so did they. We continued to fail and hurt each other. We could not understand each other; it was as if we spoke two completely different languages. I wonder if it was due to the much-hyped ‘generation gap’ or a ‘generated gap’ in our communication.
Plants thrive in togetherness and so do we (Have you noticed how they flourish when they have their plant friends around them?).
It was around this time when I joined Pravah. I expected to learn and grow with the organisation, though I could not foresee how this space would impact my professional and personal life so deeply. As part of my leadership journey, I attended a workshop where I had to practice interpersonal conflict resolution — choosing a deeply personal conflict I was avoiding. When I saw my colleagues opening up and being vulnerable, I too found the courage to be authentic. I found it safe to talked about my conflict with my parents, and was surprised to realise that I was not the only one struggling.
Miracles don’t happen overnight. Earlier in the workshop, I was asked if I am doing my 100% to resolve the conflict. It hit me then, that I was not even looking at it from the lens of resolution. I was watching my relationship with my parents wither away, just like I did with my plant — unable to understand its needs, feeling frustrated about not knowing what to do, and waking up each day hoping it does not die.
But this time, I knew where to begin. Realising that change requires efforts, I began my journey of removing the generated gap by listening to them without judgement, being assertive and not aggressive, and not closing myself. The first step was scary, I was afraid to worsen the dynamics, be rejected and judged. However, I chose to take a leap of faith and try. The tools that I received from this workshop helped me gain clarity on the way forward and the personal stories being shared by my colleagues gave me hope — if they could, why can’t I?
I shifted my mindset from intrusion to inclusion, from not wanting to involve my parents in my decisions to seeking their opinion and engaging in a dialogue; from not expressing how I felt to let myself be vulnerable; from not believing in their capacity to understand me to sharing my aspirations and why I feel strongly about them; and finally, from complaining that I do not feel comfortable in their company to creating a safe space for all of us.
It was difficult to engage in a dialogue since they would come from a position of fear and concern, and I would react from fear and assumption. On some days, it was easier to not engage and let things go on. Just like my plant, I felt like I was doing my best to convey my needs and understand theirs, but I realised that I cannot be the only one doing it. I had learnt the skills through the workshop, but my tools were not their tools, right? I realised that the only way forward was to walk the talk and inspire them to walk with me.
I got immense peer support at Pravah, but what surprised me was the realisation that relationships do not heal overnight. They need time, space and nourishment, and it is an ongoing process. That is when I started taking care of another baby plant.
Are you ready to learn their language?
Sometimes, I wonder if my efforts are really making a difference. Shouldn’t they as parents know better? I tend to lose hope when it seems like nothing has changed!
It was my new plant that gave me hope — love, attention and listening to it was the only language that seemed to be working. I can get a new plant to care for, but I only have one set of parents. I just needed to continue trying to nourish the most important relationship in my life. I now communicate my story to them with greater openness, participation and empathy. We are still a work in progress, but as long as we are willing to work towards our relationship, I am sure there will be progress.
It is scary beyond imagination to work on ourselves, and even scarier when it comes to working on the relationships closest to us. The miracle was when I changed, everything changed. For those of you wanting to take the first step and immersing yourself in the journey of bridging the great Indian generated gap, you are not alone. We would love to hear your story and share some of ours with you.
It’s time to channel your inner Kung Fu Panda. You are the secret recipe, you are the magic that you are waiting for. Start the dialogue!
—Kung Fu Panda