I know it’s naive to ask this question, but if it is so obvious that many parent-child relationships in India are abusive and based on the control game, why are they often so protected, cultivated and nourished by the victims themselves?
I saw a lot behavior of the type “I had it bad, so you will have it bad for me”. Is there any logic? It should be normal for parents to protect their kids from what was wrong in the previous generation. Instead of that, there is this wheel of misfortune that is passed on for ages. What for? In the name of what?
It is a good question why desis continue with dysfunctional parenting practices for generations irrespective of the fact that each generation incessantly complains about it and yet follows the suit. If this were the case then it would mean no social change took place in centuries. But that is not the case because even though things seem unchanged yet they have changed. Each generation adapted its parenting practices according the trends of its times yet maintained some aspects of the previous generation as sacrosanct, the essence of great and proud desi culture and tradition. This is a two part post in response to the questions posed by intercultured.
There was a time desi fathers could not be affectionate to their children in the presence of their parents, it was considered disrespectful towards the elders. DG can recall an incident her high school substitute teacher narrated (he was retired English teacher substituting for a teacher on maternity leave). He said, he was the only college educated man in his village with a job in the city. One time on his trip home he lifted his toddler in the presence of his father and there was a scene in the family. His father felt affronted and declared his son (teacher) has insulted his authority by insisting his own parenthood. The only way to understand this idiocy is to examine the survival needs of the aging and their dependence on next generation for elder care. In order to ensure old age care it was important for the senior generation to prevent any deflection of attention from them and development of bonding between next generation and their children. This does not mean that he (teacher) buckled to old man’s irrationality but he pushed centuries old boundaries and drew new lines where he retained his right as a parent and assured his role as a son towards his father thus creating a dent in the system. But like many desi men he could not establish an open and out partnership with his lawfully wedded wife, even though it was an arranged marriage.
Desi Parenting From Yore
Karta, the doer; father, the provider and the head of the family model of masculinity has existed from yore across the globe. In desi context this model is collated with primogeniture and thus obliterating all other fathers in the family; the eldest male becomes the “super father” and all other men in the family become lesser fathers (his brothers, sons and nephews). This arrangement could work only if all challenges to the authority of super father were to be eliminated and dealt with a strict hand; reprimand, shaming and sometimes even excommunication.
What could be more effective than evoking the great heritage and the golden age of absolute reverence of age through folklore (a son goes into exile to honor his father’s word and yet another remains a celibate to let his horny father have another wife). Attaching honor thus value to any action cements it in the moral fabric of a social psyche; people assume it is their sacred duty to preserve these values even at the cost of their peace and lives. While reverend Karta ruled the affairs of the outer world his wife became the demagogue within the household, her job was to socialize the young men and women including incoming women (DILs) into the great family tradition and keep the authority struggles in the inner world under check. While Karta made sure the lesser fathers in the family did not bond with their children on the other hand his wife was committed to check any bonding between lesser men and their wives in the family. Remember, this super couple was lesser adults in their youth and in their grey years it is their turn to rule; it is much deserved and awaited for all those years of oppression. Bollywood does its best to revoke this model of desi parenting every now and then to rake moola as desis love to live in a glorious past that never was.
What old man was doing was exactly like in-laws checking development of any meaningful bonding between the newly married couple, discussed here. When in-laws resort to such measures they come to our notice but when parents do the same to their children it goes unnoticed because it is cloaked in generational reverence and parental affection and well-wishing. Desi parenting agendas have to be understood at both gender and generational levels.
Desi fathering was synonymous with providing and emotional restrain towards wife and children; parental and sibling commitment always preceded filial duty. Desi fathers have shown physical affection towards their prepubescent children irrespective of their gender (usually youngest child is an exception post puberty) there after they are usually authority figures to be obeyed and feared not as source of emotional sustenance and communication. Desi mothers filled in for the paternal emotional lacunae in the lives of their children, especially sons. We have to remember desi mothers are wives of emotionally absent spouses hence their emotional needs are met through their children; hence continues the cycle.
Even though the families are no longer live under one roof yet the super father syndrome has persisted. To change this parental equation demands changes in the spousal equation meaning changing the centuries’ old definitions of masculinity and family. Parental relationships cannot change for good without affecting the conjugal relationship of the parents; expecting a simultaneous change without positive role models is a hard sell. It is easier to follow the pre-established tried and tested relationship patterns without much effort and lots of complaining than to stand up and challenge the system. Change also means learning new behaviors (treating adult children as adults not juveniles), unlearn old behaviors (to stop living their children’s lives), taking responsibility for one’s actions (be prepared to be shut out of your children’s lives on crossing the line) and giving up some privileges; giving up control over adult children in a hard one to denounce. Now readers may judge for themselves why generational wheel of misfortune is passed on for ages…
TO BE CONTINUED…