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Space? What’s That? How Desi Parents ‘Over-Parent’ The Hell Out Of Children

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Growing up is not an easy task. The distasteful feelings I get as I type this gives me a flashback… A flashback of the past 18 years which have brought me to a point of dissatisfaction. There is so much to deal with as the years add up. It starts feeling more like a chore and less like a journey.

This, is accompanied by one of the biggest problems of growing up in an Indian household:

The expectation to grow up without being allowed the freedom to do so. Over-involved parents establish control over the most mundane parts of a child’s life to ensure that their child is “protected”.

Overbearing > Parenting

But, at what point does it become overbearing? At what point does a parent’s protectiveness become the factor that prevents a young person from exploring the world for themselves? I reached out to three 19-year-olds who have struggled with this very concern, to see what they had to say about it.

Over-involved parents establish control over the most mundane parts of a child’s life Representational image. Photo credit: debate.org

The first one of them is Kara Mehra*, currently residing and going to college in Delhi.

I feel like a majority of Indian parents don’t understand the concept of personal space or the freedom to choose, when it comes to their children. I am answerable to my parents for almost everything I do. I have to seek permission before I can go somewhere and state a reason as to why it’s important  to go. Even after this, they keep on calling me to ask me about my whereabouts.”

Kara sounded frustrated about being nagged all the time.

When asked about whether they have to deal with parental control, still, even after turning 18, the words of Ananya Sachdeva* and Sanya Mukherjee* (both of whom are currently residing and pursuing graduation outside the country) stood out to me. They provided contrasting pictures within a similar context.  

The former said, Yes, I still do… Even after living in a completely different continent and being away from my family, I am supposed to share my location every time I go out. I am strictly not allowed to attend any social events.”

Sanya on the other hand had a different experience, “After I turned 19, parental control subsided immensely. In the lockdown, I made an effort to heal my relationship with my parents. I would sit down and talk to them. I actually shared parts of my life that I was comfortable sharing with them.”

Sanya’s parents knew she had plans to apply abroad. They have been supportive of her since she was in her pre-teens. Throughout the lockdown period, Sanya convinced them that she can be independent and take charge of her adult life. Her parents recognised her effort and every time they failed to, Sanya would have a conversation with them about it.

“I don’t think my life feels constrained anymore. However, my teenage years still prevent me from embracing spontaneity. Some part of me still feels like I will let them down if I go ahead and explore a new part of my city alone,” she admitted.

Talking to people with bitter experiences reinforced my belief that parents’ interference in their children’s lives is an uncontrollable aspect for many. It is seen as something one just has to deal with, one way or another, to ultimately reach a point of independence.

Is Control Rooted In Patriarchy? 

What also stood out to me in the process of writing this piece was that it was mostly the women who recalled negative experiences related to parental control. The men’s answers were starkly different.

None of them had experiences of their parents checking their phones or not allowing them to go out to a particular place. All of them voiced the same answer: “My parents have always been pretty chill that way, bro!” 

I could relate to them, too, on some level. My parents have always given me a lot of independence to begin with. I have never felt as if I was not living my life on my own terms. Whether it be about something as basic as being outside beyond 9 p.m. or something as major as a career choice. 

This begs the question, is the practice of parental surveillance deeply rooted in patriarchy? Maybe it is not the entire picture. I am pretty sure that there are men out there who may have experiences of strict parental control to recall. But, among those around me, there was only an indication of a large gender divide. 

Illustration by Timo Kuilder. Representational Image. Photo credit: The Guardian.

A point of view to consider can be that spaces have become astronomically unsafe for women and hence it is believed that they need to be protected more than men.

But, instead of suffocating  women, what would be more effective would be to exercise the same supervision and control over men, who make these spaces unsafe for women in the first place.

Supervision, hence, while important, is positive only to the extent where it does not blur the line between parenting and over-parenting. 

Children Are Pushed To The Point Of Rebellion

I think parental supervision ultimately boils down to the question: is it helping the child in making more informed decisions? Or, is it a form of suppression they will carry with them until they reach a point where their parents can no longer effectively intervene or exercise any form of control? 

We need to start working towards building a more nurturing parenting culture for the children, who will grow up to become adults tomorrow. Parents need to understand that stopping children from living life on their own terms only leads to a breaking point of unwanted rebellion. 

Representational Image. Photo credit: You Magazine.

I believe that if parents meet their children in the middle, their children will also try their best to do the same. 

If young women like Kara, Ananya and Sanya are given more freedom to begin with, maybe they will never feel the need to go out of their way to feel independent. Maybe, they would never need to lie to their parents at various moments in their lives, to obtain a level of independence that they could have gotten through dialogue and honesty. 

But, since such spaces don’t exist for them, the only device left is to either lie or rebel or to wait until they are not under their parents’ watchful eyes. 

Letting Children Have Control Over Their Own Lives

A little independence goes a long way. It gives children the space to explore and figure out so many things about themselves. It allows them to make mistakes and come to rational decisions about various aspects of life by themselves. This is the need of the hour, especially as living at home becomes more prevalent amidst the pandemic. 

Parents need to hand over the reins of a child’s life back to them. Let them live life on their own terms and when asked to, be there as a helping hand. We don’t want to feel steered, we want to feel guided. Yes, there is a big difference between the both!

*Names changed to protect privacy of individuals

Featured image (a still from the film Taare Zameen Par) is for representational purposes only. Photo credit: filmsufi.com.

Note: The author is part of the current batch of the Writer’s Training Program

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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