Sunday, 11 January 2015

Life's like that...

[This article by me was published in the Sunday Herald of January 10, 2015]

Children are encouraged to think independently, but are censured for making independent choices in life partners.
If there is one thing we Indians are scared of, it’s our children growing up to be individuals with their own hearts and minds, and then moving away from the clutches and influence of family.

We are, after all, a collectivist society, and individualism is shunned. And nowhere does this become more apparent than when the ‘adult’ child wants to get married. This often becomes a battle between the family’s ‘needs’ and the individual’s ‘wants’.

As more and more youngsters, especially in urban areas, are beginning to choose their own life partners, parents are struggling with their own rigid beliefs and values at several levels. One of the fears that parents express is — “What will society say? We will have no face left to show in society.”

Well, society will only reflect back and say what you, as parents, allow it to say. If you believe that your child has committed a crime by choosing a life partner, then you are giving society the permission to fling this very accusation back at you. If, on the other hand, you believe that it is your child’s choice and it is perfectly legitimate for him or her to do so, then you are not giving society the permission (by your mannerisms and body language) to be critical about that decision.

Honour killings are well-known in many parts of India, especially the hinterland, and it seems that instead of society becoming more accepting of inter-cultural, inter-caste and inter-religious marriages (which seems to be a natural fallout of the spread of education and the growth of the economy), it is becoming even more condemning of them. Instead of becoming more open, it is, in fact, becoming more closed.

Fear of society
Another fear that parents have is what judgment society will pass on their parenting, if they ‘allow’ their ward to go astray and marry out of caste/religion? Indian society is very quick at using a child’s accomplishments, or lack thereof, as a ‘report card’ on their parenting.

Every parent wants an answer to the question — “Have I been a good enough parent?” — and instead of using their own judgment and assessment to answer that question for themselves, they allow society to give them a rating based on their child’s exam marks, their child’s college seat, their child’s career choice, their child’s salary, their child’s choice of life partner, their child’s obedience to parents, their child’s adherence to religious rituals, the size of their child’s house, and then finally, even the accomplishments of the grand-kids. Since they are constantly looking for an external score-card for their own performance, I believe they have a strong need to control their child’s choices. Given this framework, I guess this anxiety is understandable.

Very often parents have an objection even when their children choose their partners on their own within the ‘correct’ caste and sub-caste. They hesitate to let anyone know it was their child’s choice. They try and cover it up saying it is ‘love-cum-arranged’ or some version of that phrase. Is it because it is too much for them to fathom that their child could make such an important life decision without their involvement? After all, ‘good’ Indian children are meant to consult their parents before taking any decision, no matter how old they are, be it about their choice of job, choice of house, choice of car, or choice of investments.

The choice of partner then is obviously at the top of that list. Individuation, which is the process of leading to an individual existence as separate from that of one’s parents, is not something we encourage, culturally. On the contrary, it is probably something we are rather scared of.

One last word...
So, what is the path forward? The path forward is not to become even more rigid. The path forward, in my view, is for parents to face their fears and develop an internal score-card for themselves. Parents need to first develop their own identities and personalities, as different from that of their parents. Only then will they be able to allow their children to do the same.

They also need to develop an internal locus of control and learn to take responsibility for their own successes and failures, and build their own self-esteem. Just as parents need to be mindful of helping their children build their self-esteem, they also need to be mindful of their own self-esteem and the impact it is having on their life and relationships. They must then take all the help they need to build it.

While strong inter-generational bonds between parents and children are a critical element in Indian culture, and are also a great asset of our society, at many levels, I do believe they must be built on a foundation of love, communication and a respect for one’s individual choices, not on a need to protect and project external societal ratings and family pride and honour.

2 comments:

  1. Although a collectivist culture promotes love, protection and emotional support for its members, if traditional "clan" restrictions are too rigidly adhered to, they become retarding factors in the maturation and spiritual maturity of its members. I'm reminded of Plato's allegory of the cave and how the members were treated when they returned with the news of the world they had discovered. The cave dweller's egotistical fear of loss of control was rampant. Like the Vatican, if it doesn't adjust with the times it will become a defunct organization in the face of increasing spiritual maturity. Our individuation in terms of the physical world is most certainly a catalyst in the domain of our ego. But individuation in terms of our spirit and energy is an indication of accepted responsibility for our existence and circumstances.

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  2. True! Thanks for your comment and insight - found the cave analogy very relevant and interesting.

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