I recently received a video on my phone. This particular one was forwarded to me by three different people. This is what it contained.
A man escorts his elderly father to an old age home ostensibly on the encouragement of his ‘modern’ (read westernised) wife who is shown in the background. After some time when disaster befalls him he remembers his loving father. Struck by guilt he goes to the old age home and brings his father back to his house.
Many of these videos on popular social media platforms have this recurring theme: abandonment of parents. There are certain similarities in all these videos.
They are all invariably preachy. It is always the son and never the daughter who abandons the parents. It is often the son’s scheming wife who plots to oust his parents. In the end the son all teary and repentant realises his mistake and brings the parents back home often giving his erring wife either a sanctimonious lecture or a tight slap.
Apart from the fact that patriarchal values and stereotypes are subtly reinforced (It is always the son’s duty and never the daughter’s to look after parents in their old age, daughter-in-law – the woman who comes into the household – is always bad. Aside: A man once told me he and his brothers never married because the strange women who would come into the household would destroy its unity. I asked him if his mother had married her brother. Wicked, haha.), these videos also express a concern that children are becoming more self-centred and are neglecting their parents in their old age, I would say a large part of the blame lies with parents.
Many of us were brought up by strict parents with a no nonsense attitude. Perhaps some of us craved a less formal and more relaxed relationship. And then as a reaction to this we thought we would bring up our children differently. Unlike in our day, we give them everything they ask for, we never make them ask twice or beg and cringe. We give them the most blissful childhood possible and want to be their best friend. We toil so they can have comfortable lives. We scrimp and save, do overtime, work a second job and neglect ourselves so that they may live in luxury. Our children are the pivot of our household. Things are organized around them. A slight change in their schedule and all our lives are thrown out of gear.
Many parents of preteens and young adults are puzzled, “I don’t know why my child is behaving so irresponsibly. We’ve sacrificed all our comforts and brought him up without letting him know any difficulty in life.”
May be that is the reason; that we have never let him experience any difficulty. That we have always catered to every whim and fancy of his. That by neglecting ourselves we taught him that we are not important and deserve to be neglected.
Earlier, in the joint family the child was never the centre of the household never the centre of attraction because he was only one of several. Now in smaller families he is only one among two; sometimes the only one. So he is made much of, mollycoddled micromanaged and spoilt silly. And is it any surprise that when he grows up (if at all he does; many don’t) he only thinks of himself and nobody else?
I once overheard a colleague of mine speak to her son on the phone. She was in the middle of a busy day and her son had called her from home because he was bored and did not know what to do!
“Amma, what should I do now?”
“How come you are free now? Why didn’t you go to your guitar class?”
“It got cancelled because Master is unwell.”
“Watch some TV.”
“None of my shows are on right now.”
“Remember the colouring book I got you? Colour something.”
“I hate drawing and colouring.”
“You haven’t finished your library book. Read that.”
“Reading is boring.”
“Go down and play.”
“No one will come out to play. Their exams are not over. Only mine are.”
The conversation went on. At no point did she think of saying, “Get bored, so what? Don’t trouble me now. I’m busy.”
I feel we should do that. Assert that certain chunks of time belong exclusively to us; that we are not to be disturbed. And it is a good idea if the child gets bored for some time. Parents are not monkeys on a leash bound to keep children entertained twenty four by seven.
Psychologists say that boredom fosters creativity.
Besides, we should ask for our piece of chocolate. Mother always said whenever someone gives your child a chocolate demand a piece. As a matter of principle. Whenever goodies are brought home divide them equally between parents and children. Not just among children. Also as a matter of principle.
And let’s accept it. We can’t be our child’s best friend. A friend is an equal. She can be contradicted, her opinions can be disregarded. She can be disobeyed. I bet we wouldn’t want our children to disregard our opinions and disobey us. When they do so, we complain. Why did we set out to be their friend in the first place? Boundaries are important. There are certain things that are acceptable between parents and children and certain others that are not.
Democracy may be the best form of government for a country. But it certainly is not for a home. I prefer benign dictatorship. Mothers are not politicians. They can’t afford to fall for popularity. They ought to call a spade a spade and have the courage to confront a transgression and be brave enough to be the unpopular parent.
My son walked in from the supermarket just now. I’m sure he’s bought himself a bar of chocolate. I promptly extend my hand for a piece. I always have.
Besides, what is wrong with old age homes? I would personally like to go into one. Especially if it will save me from that hazardous, mind numbing, tiresome, irritating, time guzzling chore called cooking.