Desi Son: Obligated to Take Care of Mother
I have been away for quite sometime gathering experiences, resolving karma and counting my blessings; most of the time without access to internet and long distance calling. Now I am back and I am answering responses on GGTS one at time. Some of the responses will never make it to the front and readers will never know about their existence due to private and confidential nature. Other hateful responses have no place at GGTS as my aim is to promote understanding and create safe space not to become a venting platform for personal grievances against a person or community. At this time I am also looking at the terms people have used to find GGTS blog while I was gone. One commonly used phrase is the title of this posting “Desi son obligated to take care of mother.” The other term that frequently sprouted was “how to emotional blackmail ex spouse.” There were many other phrases but these two amused me the most.
In desi families male preference is rooted in the patriarchal infrastructural set up of communities. In the absence of state provided elder care, immediate and extended families share the burden of not only elder care but also share other responsibilities like marrying daughters and sisters; taking care of the sick; building family house and paying off debts etc. To smoothly regulate this need functional interdependence between all actors is a requirement. If this interdependence is to be maintained there has to be an effective way to channel different personalities without turning them into rebels and bitter individuals. Family and community traditions, cultural and religious rituals serve this purpose; like tradition of male primogeniture curbs the possible conflict of interests in family leadership and like wise family tradition of old parents living with a particular son- first born or last born. Generational reverence helps maintain clash between generations at the same time gender based division of labor prevent women from challenging the roles and responsibilities of men they are related to.
There is another dimension to this equation where do the incoming women fit in; women brought into the family through marriage. The question remains, how their varied personalities are tamed and kept obedient to preserve the interests of the family. One way could be to bind them in the traditions of their conjugal families that may be different or similar to those of their natal homes. Another way to keep these women in line is to keep them insecure in their primary relationship i.e. marriage itself. As most marriages across the desi communities are arranged the initial bonding between the spouses is dependent on the good will of the conjugal kin. For many conjugal kin the access to a son’s material wealth is a matter of survival and for some other access to his services (although the serving part falls of his wife) in the time of need and old age.
Women in this patriarchal set up beget social status by their association with men through marriage (spouse) and family- natal (father and brothers) and procreation (sons). Thus men are not only important to women for social status but survival too; being married to an able bodied man and siring sons seems important under such circumstance. For aging mother and young sister(s) know they cannot count on support from their spouses and conjugal kin so they have to depend on the sons and brothers for support and care if needed. Thus it is in their interest to disrupt his marital harmony. On the other hand same women (mother and sisters) resent their own husbands supporting their natal families. Just disrupting the marriage is not a sufficient condition often a back up plan is administered in the form of guilt induction and constant reminders of gendered responsibilities of the sons. With the constant guilt ridden early socialization any individual will not only fear establishing independent relationships as adults but will distrust personal relationships. Lack of confidence to handle intimate relationships magnify the fear of mother’s premonitions “you will change and forsake me once you are married” coming true becomes the basis of dealing with partner. The seeds of distrust germinate very quickly in the fertile soil of constant reminders perceived behavior of the DIL thus some married women are never secure in their relationships.
To raise the question if a desi son is obligated or should be to take care of mother in fast changing socio-economic demographies, is absurd. Not because women have started working outside homes in greater number or we are claiming to be in 21st century because it is a right thing to do for any child to take care of parents in the time of need. Why are some people still fixated on the idea- son as the savior? Why they have difficulty accepting help or even gifts from their daughters?
If it were a woman who asked this question I would like to ask her if her parents needed care will she look towards her brother (what if she had none or her brother did not have the means) or would she like to seek permission from her spouse to do so. It is high time we start questioning our sensibilities about our responsibilities as children of aging parents and at the same time we have the right to challenge the forces that stand to prevent us from doing the right thing and disrupt our marital harmony. Yes, it is difficult to reason with people accustomed of centuries old customs but someone has to take the first step. Why not begin with offering to share caring for our parents along with our brothers and challenge our mothers and ourselves for ill treating or making disparaging remarks against wives of our brothers. Or are we just using these age old customs to perpetuate a dysfunctional system because we benefit from it in the form of power over other women. It is lot easier to have power over individuals subordinate in relation to us (women brought into the family) than challenge those superior in status (female conjugal kin by virtue of their relationship to the man in question) and the impersonal larger system in general.
Change begins with me.