Relocating back to India..

.. and the cultural baggage that comes with it.

IHM’s latest post triggered this, but the ‘going back to Indian culture’ bit, I keep getting from people around here. We are relocating back to India this summer, and the most common conclusion that people jump to, is, that we are relocating because of daughter – so that she gets inculcated in ‘Indian values’.

We have some reasons to relocate to India, but daughter’s cultural well being, is definitely not on that list. If anything I worry if it is the best decision for her. In fact, I think for her, UK might be a better place to grow up in. The other day, I went to watch ‘Ek main aur ek tu’ with some friends. One of my friends remarked that it is going to be so difficult to bring up daughters when movies promote having boyfriends,sex and all that. She claims that it is easier in India -because of the ‘culture’. I couldn’t help asking her if she really thought that all this does not happen in India? Yes, people might keep things under the wraps – but it does happen. Just because parents refuse to acknowledge it, does not mean that things don’t happen. Yes, it is out in the open in the Western world – but as a parent, wouldn’t you prefer that you know what your child is up to, rather than live in blissful ignorance. And hopefully, she/he might be able to take you into confidence, and you might be able to explain why getting into a relationship at that time in life may not be the best thing.

Someone once told me that it is easier to ‘stay in touch with India’ than it was some years back because we get all the Indian channels here. She lets her child watch Indian serials so that she is comfortable with ‘Indian values’. Yes, those saas-bahu serials, those are just perfect, totally appropriate for 4 or 5 year old! Nice way of inculcating ‘values’, I should say! And what glorious values too!

One of daughter’s friends told her that they are learning Bharatanatyam to learn how to be ‘good Indian girls’. I was shocked when I heard that. I then explained to her that she is learning it because she enjoys it – not because learning a dance makes you a ‘good Indian girl’! Whatever that means, anyway! I had no ideas that there were such parameters to measure the ‘goodness’ of Indian girls!

But living here, I can see the tightrope some parents are walking, They want to do everything to prove that their children are as ‘Indian’ as people back in India. They live in dread that their children will compare unfavorably to cousins/friends back in India. So much so that they compare everything from cultural values(that they believe matters), to the education system. They also refuse to believe that India has moved on since the last time they visited.

They refuse to believe that in India we might face different challenges and sometimes the same challenges. Of a teenage child rebelling, of children testing their boundaries. At the end of the day, it is going to be the test of our parenting skills, no matter where we live.

When I see the way daughter is growing up here, as a confident person, who is never told that she is different because she is a girl, exposed to age appropriate things – I sometimes, wonder if I am doing the right thing, by moving back. Of course, there are other compelling reasons to move back, and I do believe that she will be fine, even if we have some initial hiccups. One thing is for sure, it is not because of the ‘cultural benefits’ that we are moving back.

All I know is that I want her to be a confident young woman, who is in a position to decide for herself what she wants in life. That I believe would be the same, no matter where I live. I certainly do not want her to be a puppet who does things because they are expected of her. I want her to know that any relationship she gets into, she should be happy and that she need not be a doormat to be happy. That any relationship that expects her to change into some other person, is probably not right for her. That things change, and if one has to walk out of a relationship, it is not the end of the world. And that no matter what, her parents will be there for her. And these things, I think, should not change, no matter which part of the world we live in.

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Quiet and Sober Post 24

Which gender do you instantly picture when you hear the qualities ‘quiet and sober’?

Dumb question, isn’t it? Yesterday, a friend described a little girl like this, as a compliment to the girl. That set me thinking. Quiet and sober, does not sound like a compliment to me though – it sounds boring. While I am all for well-behaved children, quiet and sober goes one step ahead. It somehow indicates a suppressed personality, in my opinion.

Why quiet? I would want my child to be quiet, if she chooses to or if that is how she is, not because she thinks that it is a sign of ‘good behaviour’. I can’t help wonder if these quiet children actually stop airing their views because they have got the message that being ‘quiet and sober’ is a good thing. Maybe I am making too much of it, but it annoys me more because I have never heard a little boy being described as ‘quiet and sober’.

One of the things which husband and I feel is important is to being up our child to be confident. Confident in her abilities, confident enough to know her mind, and confident enough to speak her mind.

Some children might be gentle, some boisterous, some naughty, some quiet, by nature. Which is fantastic, as far as that is their nature, rather than an expectation that is heaped upon them. I get annoyed when people describe little girls as ‘very ladylike’. Please let her be a child first. Please let her enjoy her childhood, ladylike or not, let it be something she is, rather than something she conforms to, because of what is expected out of her.

Haven’t you come across households where girls are treated differently, and grow up in that mentality. Haven’t we all come across mums who try to boast about their little boy’s ‘naughtiness’, even if the child is question is actually a reserved, quiet child, who keeps away from trouble? Mothers who get annoyed when their sons play with dolls or prams, or love the colour pink? Why is a quiet boy, so unacceptable and a boisterous girl, so unacceptable? Wouldn’t the world be an easier place to live if every child is allowed to be true to their intrinsic nature? A boy who loves playing with dolls is and a girl who likes to repair cars encouraged equally?

Can’t we describe a child as well-behaved, sunny, confident, happy, well-mannered, instead of quiet and sober? Can a child be free of the stereotypes that society seems eager to heap upon him/her?

Please tell me, does quiet and sober make sense to you?

Adjustment – The magic word?

Couple of years back, we had friends staying over, and as usual, we spent the better part of the weekend, talking.

One of the topics that came up was of their niece who had just started working. Apparently, the family was trying to get her married off and she was being rather stubborn -according to them. They were lamenting about how girls these days have ‘fancy’ ideas and have their own demands before getting married. On asking what these demands were, it turned out that she wanted to continue working after getting married. The family was trying to get her to ‘adjust’ because obviously ‘getting married was far more important than having a career’.

I was shocked to hear this from a seemingly modern couple. They went to explain that they even tried to make her understand by giving my example. ‘My example?’ – was my reaction. Apparently they said that even career women like me gave up their jobs and adjusted. I tried explaining that I did not ‘adjust’ – it was my choice – I worked when I wanted to , I took a break when I wanted to, I was not made to ‘adjust’ at all – by anyone. I did not adjust, I just took a decision based on a lot of factors, but I certainly did not ‘adjust’.  All she wants is to have that same freedom. Why should she be expected to give up her way of life? Why not look for a man who has the same expectations as her. Why expect her to enter a relationship starting off with compromises and adjustments that she does not want to make in the first place. Of course, that fell on deaf ears.

It makes me wonder why a man can lay down expectations of wanting a working wife( or a non-working one, for that matter), but a girl having the same(or similar) expectations is told to adjust? If anything, I would think that it makes more sense to have all these thing on the table – right at the beginning, than expecting one person to give up all their expectations, and then have a frustrated life- all their life?

Last time, in India, I met a newly married girl. She had got married within the same community, near her parents. Her mother wanted more for her. She was hoping that her daughter gets married outside the community so that she gets a different life, but that did not happen because the mother does not have much of a say in matters like this. This girl, after her wedding, is now confined to wearing sarees, she can’t ride her scooty anymore, she can’t step out of the house without her in-laws permission. And to make it worse, most girls, apparently get a little freedom when they go to their parent’s place, but because her parents live in the same town/village, she has to go around with a ghunghat even when she visits her parents! And when she voices her frustration, she is asked to adjust, because that’s what married women have to do. She is told that she will get used to all this after some time. It wouldn’t surprise me if the cheerful, bubbly girl is transformed into a woman with hardly a smile on her face, the next time we meet her. Her husband’s life on the other hand, continues just as before.

Another girl, I know, married into a joint family. All the ‘family’ responsibilities came onto her. Including waking up before everybody else, cooking, getting breakfast ready, and even taking a bed-tea to her sister-in-law! On the weekends, her husband would go out with his old friends, while she stayed at home, looking after her in-laws. And this girl, in question was a professional, before she gave up her job because of all the pressure on her. When her husband went abroad on work, she was asked to stay back to ‘look after her in-laws’. I wonder how they would have managed had their son not been married? Oh wait – that is why they got him married! To get a care-taker! Is she happy with her life? Well, lets just put it this way – I would not have heard about all this, had she been happy.

The reason ‘adjust’ and ‘adjustments’ have become a dirty word, so to speak, is because more often than not, it is the women doing most of the adjustments. More often than not, a woman is expected to become part of a new family, take up responsibilities, live life according to other people’s terms, while her partner gets to lead his life just the way it was.

On the other hand, if both partners were to adjust, compromise, and work towards their marriage, one would feel less annoyed with the word – ‘adjust’. Of course, life is full of adjustments, compromises, but people would be happier doing it, if they did not feel forced into it. None of us will get everything on a platter, and we all have to work towards it, in some way or the other. All of us are fine with certain adjustments, but might draw a line at others. I guess a happy relationship is where both partners are not expected to make those adjustments, that they don’t want to make. So if a girl is clear about having a career, then don’t make her ‘adjust’ and get her married off to man who has made it clear that he doesn’t want a working wife. What is the worst that could happen? She might get married a little later – isn’t it better than a life time of unhappiness for both partners?

Like I tried explaining to my friends, if I had been forced to leave my job, I would have felt frustrated and annoyed. Today, because I have the option, I feel at peace with my decision. And if more women want that, the choice, – what is wrong with it? Unless both partners feel happy and secure  in their relationship, it can go nowhere. And an unhappy relationship affect both partners equally. Eventually.

This is my contribution to ‘The Great Adjustment Story‘ at http://www.womensweb.in.

To become or not – a parent.

Yesterday, I came across this article.

It talks about how many couples seem to be opting not have children – for various reasons. While some viewpoints support the idea, there was one viewpoint that caught my eye.

But how natural or unnatural is it for a couple to not have kids? “It’s not a socio-culturally natural way of living,” says Dr Bhavna Barmi, senior clinical psychologist and marital therapist at Escorts Heart Institute, “as physiologically, the body has a child-bearing capacity which should be optimised.” 

Surely, just because the body has a ‘child-bearing capacity’ it is not necessary to have children? What about the mind? What about not wanting to have children, does that not matter at all? If we have to do everything the body is designed to, then why ‘contraception’?

The article also reminded me of a somebody who was glorifying motherhood on Facebook. She mentioned something to the effect that women will always be ‘greater’ than men because only women can be ‘mothers’. It begged the question, what about women who don’t want to be mothers? Going by this logic, the only redeeming feature women has, is the ability to become a mother!

You hear so many people glorifying motherhood, that it makes me wonder how it makes those feel who have decided for whatever reasons, to not have children. The moment the ‘expected’ amount of time goes by after one is married, the hints, the gentle reminders start on how we need to become parents, on how it is time to have a child. And god forbid, if the child does not make an appearance soon enough to make the society happy! Whether one is ready for it or not,whether one wants to become a parent or not, is besides the point. It makes me wonder how many people decide to have a baby because of these external factors.

Having a baby is treated as a fix-all in so many cases – if your marriage is not working out, have a baby, that will fix it! A friend was lamenting on a friend of hers who was literally asked to leave the house by her husband. It was arranged marriage and her husband was just not interested in being married, apparently. She had supportive parents who supported her fully, yet when she discovered that she was pregnant,  she chose to go back to her husband because she felt that a baby would change things. This despite her parents and her close friends counseling her to think before taking this step. Apparently she strongly believed that a child would make a massive difference.

It also makes me wonder why being in a relationship is considered so important, that she went back into a relationship where she was told that she was ‘unwanted’! Not just that, she even thought that bringing a child into a relationship like this was a good idea.

Haven’t we all heard of irresponsible men, of whom people say, ‘Get him married off, he will get change once responsibility comes upon him’. I don’t understand this. A person who clearly has problems, or is not mature enough to handle his life, will get mature and responsible just because he has entered a new relationship? Does it ever work? Well, it might for some, while for others the poor wife might have to bear the brunt of it.

Any relationship, be it marriage or having a child, after all being a father or a mother is starting off a whole new relationship, isn’t it, needs to thought out. Instead of going by what society dictates, wouldn’t it be wonderful if people decided based on what they wanted from life? If couples are deciding against having babies, well, more power to them. Whatever be the reason. I hear people say, ‘oh all she is bothered about is her career’, or ‘what do they think they will do with all this money’! Surely, that is their lookout. If someone wants to focus on their career – so what? And what of a homemaker, who does not want a child? Surely that is possible. I personally know someone who is a homemaker and they have decided not to have children. I think it is remarkable that they have thought it through, and have decided based on what makes sense to them. If only every child that came into this world came because the parents truly wanted to have a child, not just because that is what is expected – by others.

If couples feel that they are not ready for a child or that they do not feel the need to be parents, I respect them for having that clarity of thought, than having a child, and then feeling cheated or wishing that they had waited more.

Not having children is far better than having a child and then regretting it, or worse, not being in a position to give the child the love and security that makes for happy childhood and a secure, confident adulthood.

Managing Expectations

In continuation to my previous post, I wanted to add a few more thoughts.

In my working life, one of the things that I used to stress to my team was on the importance of managing expectations. There were several instances where people would commit to more than they could deliver, or to time lines which were just not practical or possible, for that matter. It did far more harm to then have to go back to the client and tell them that the work item that was promised could not be delivered on time.  We have an unexplicable urge ‘to please’ people. So many times, people say ‘yes’ to things, to avoid conflict, but then end in bigger conflicts than what would have been, if they had handled it right the first time.

Managing expectation, in my experience, is the crux of all relationships, be it professional or personal. It makes much better sense to set expectations right, rather than set high expectations and fail to deliver.

And it works both ways. Some children have a sense of entitlement that is mind boggling. I remember having a conversation with somebody who was angry at his parents, because he needed money for something and his parents refused – they said they did not have it. Now this fellow is well educated, in a well paying job, surely time to stop expecting handouts from his parents? I feel it is totally fine for his parents to have refused, but he kept saying that they had enough to spare. Whether they had enough or not – surely, it is their decision. Can’t they decide what they want to do with their hard earned money? Does being somebody’s son or daughter entitle us to everything they own? I think once parents have brought us up, given us an education, we really cannot expect handouts from them. If they have money, I would rather that they kept it and used it for something they like. Have some fun, go on holidays..

There are other instances of parents assumed to be ready made, free, babysitters. I find that really unfair. Even more so, when sometimes, they are uprooted from where they are comfortable, and brought to places(sometimes abroad), where they know nobody, have no life for themselves, and have the job of looking after the grandkids.  It is perfectly acceptable if the parents want to do it, but sometimes, they just do not know how to say no and end up in a situation where everybody is unhappy.

The same goes for parents. Just because they have brought us up, does not give them a ‘right’ over our lives. I am sure that most children would love to be there for their parents, but it works much better when expectations are managed and set.  There are families where the parents live with their son and have a miserable time, because they cannot understand why their daughter-in-law comes home so late from work.  Their son coming back late is perfectly acceptable, but not for the daughter-in-law. It really helps if expectations are set right in the first instance. The fact that both of them hold down jobs and that both their jobs are equally important is something that is best understood at the beginning rather than after things spin off into a point of no return. Pixie’s comment on this post is one such example.

Unreasonable expectations from all quarters can be equally de-stabilizing. Be it from the younger generation or the older. It makes life so much easier, if we could all set, manage and handle expectations at all fronts. Although I have to admit, managing expectations in professional life is a cake-walk in comparison to the managing expectations in personal life.

Sacrifice? Really?

I decided to take time off from work, 3 years ago because I found it difficult to balance everything to my liking. I am sure, a lot of women would have managed better in my situation, but I decided to take it easy, because it worked for us as a family. And the reason I say this is, it was my decision. It was not a sacrifice. It was a well-thought out decision and my daughter (at one year of age)was one person who was not party to the decision-making process.

Why this statement? IHM’s latest post. The post touched a chord. It is a topic I feel rather strongly about, so I can’t help but pen down my thoughts here as well.

Given my background, how fair would it be if I say to my daughter – ‘I sacrificed my career for you, now it is your turn to pay me back’? She, who did not ask me to be born, she, who was not party to the decision that we made,  should she be made to bear the brunt of my expectations and my decisions in life?

As parents, I think a child gives us so many joys.  Those things itself make our life richer. Just her presence, her hugs and her love makes me glow with happiness. All I want is for her to have a happy and content childhood. For her to grown up into a good person, who is mature and sensible. I had her to enjoy being a mother – not as security for my old age.  She made my life complete – I did not do her a favour by giving birth to her. There I think is where the crux is.  In an older generation, people had children(read boys) so that they had security when they aged. Childhood joys and bringing up a child was more matter-of-fact, something that had to be done.

A child had only so much to say. A child had a lot to do though. A child had to make sure that all the expectations were met, that parents are always obeyed, irrespective of how old the children themselves were..

Now, I am not really advocating a life where we have no responsibilities. The way I look at it, if children is brought up well, there would be no need to force responsibilities on them. They will be wise enough to take care of both sets of parents. The problem occurs when the expectations from parents are so high, that they might road-roll over what a child might have planned – be it career or choice of life partner. And when I say children – I mean both girls and boys,. Both girls and boys should be equally responsible. Why should only the men be burdened with it?

Another thing that keeps coming up is how the Western society lacks family bonding and has no family ties. After living in different continents in the west, I do think that it is a blanket statement, which we use to make ourselves feel better. There are issues everywhere, and there are exemplary families everywhere too.  Every day at Poohi’s school, I see lots of grandparents pitching in with the child care. They drop and pick up their grandchildren. They participate in school trips, volunteer at school activities. They don’t seem lonely and sad. Most of them live in their own homes, with or without a partner, and are yet very involved with their families. I had a landlady who had a 90-year-old mother, and she used to be quite involved with her mother’s life as well as with her daughter and grandkids lives. All this while living with her partner.

One of the problems is that the older generation in our country( a large percentage of them atleast) are not occupied, busy, with a life and circle of friends of their own. It is almost as if, the moment retirement comes, they have no idea what to do after that. So then sets in the dis-satisfaction and unhappiness. For some, of course, it sets in earlier when their children refuse to toe the line. Then they feel that all their ‘sacrifice’ was of no use. But then, ‘sacrifice’  means that it was a ‘selfless deed’, doesn’t it? So how is a selfless deed, selfless, when one wants something in return? That is more of an investment, isn’t it?