Desi Parenting: Cycle of Generational Dysfunction

12 Jun

Yes, lazy DG is still alive and counting her blessings. Previous post elicited a very interesting comment. Glacier and sexantheindiancities answered it appropriately

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…

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18 Responses to “Desi Parenting: Cycle of Generational Dysfunction”

  1. veeeeeh November 15, 2011 at p11 #

    I can correlate this insight with what I had been pondering all the time. The base of the Indian society is agrarian, and all the social institutions, even festivals have been in line with the agrarian economy mode. This could be explained as the rationale for caste system to survive for such a long time, for it made all skills available in the village, which could become self sufficient and create surplus.
    Another requirement of this agrarian society was prolific breeding, necessitated by the loss of life due to diseases, wars etc.
    I realize that every social institution was aimed at keeping the family knit together, so that the land holding is not divided. And the joint family set up can support or sustain even those children who are not getting particular affection from their mother and father.
    Does anyone realize how religious doctrine helped make this social set up!
    The inherent conflict in this set up is coming to the fore now, with change in the paradigm. This also explains why we grew so much in Population. And why predominant population is Hindu, despite being ruled by others for centuries!
    And the conflict that we are seeing now, is due to the inherent resistance to the change. Its also that this social structure has been created with infusion of religiously manipulated ideas. It’s the conflict between an idea that asks one to do his duty and be selfless/ and the growing individuality that has been necessitated by the changing paradigm.
    And yes there is an inherent dysfunctionality from the individual perspective, but then how the forces of change will work against the accusation of being “Individualistic”, if you try to shake the existing social fabric and its knit design?

    @veeeeeh,
    Welcome to GGTS, a safe space.

    Yes, Desi social institutions are based on the agrarian social paradigm so are many other communities world over but they do not have caste system. Caste system is exclusive to Hinduism. Also not all castes had land holdings so they did not need the kind of family system farmers needed. The service castes served the farming families and inherited the right to service a particular family as part of caste rights. For example, a barber served X number of families, on his death his son inherited service to those families. If he had more than one sons then patron families were divided equally between the sons.
    In patriarchal societies all insititution corroborate with one another to sustain and perpetuate patriarchy through providing legitimation and proscription.

    Hinduism like all other religions offers option to individuals to practice householder or single life as majority opts for family life it serves the majority to discourage people from choosing singlehood. According to DG all religions are “individualistic” coz’ each judges the person for his/her actions not according to what their family members or friends did. The selfless and self abnegation ideals are promoted by those living in families not those who practice singlehood. Selfless duty is recommended by religions but actions are judged individually.

    Often people accuse DG of being selfish because she is single by choice, they lecture her on how family life is ideal and mandated by all religions etc. But she knows her truth, everything emerges from kindness and she has to be kind to herself before she can be kind to anyone.
    Hope this makes sense.

    Please share this message of hope with anyone who may benefiit.
    Peace,
    Desi Girl

    Like this

    • veeeeeh November 15, 2011 at p11 #

      “Be kind to yourself before being kind to the others”
      that was well said. But I think that you are presenting one side of the coin in your thoughts. (With respect to the Bahu)
      There is another coin as well. What happens when a man is not influenced by the forces that you have mentioned and is protective of his woman from these forces i.e. his father and mother!
      In my case, despite being the only son, I did rebel against my parents. I felt that they are speaking from their parenting and marital experiences. Though I agreed to marry according to his wishes, but was always protective of my wife from the word go. At times with vocal opposition, with intention of safeguarding her and make her at home at her new home.
      I did what I thought is right, made her do masters and focused with higher priority to her career over mine.
      She was heavily influenced by her mother and her family, which I permitted as I was empathizing with her.
      She completely continued her college life, after getting empowered. She neglected the marital life and began her insult and mental torture, as my career had gone down, as the focus was her education and career.
      After lot of mental torture and mental abuse, we are verge of divorce, with a young son who is caught between.
      Based on my life learning, I would recommend balance between all the relationships, instead of projecting anyone in the relationship network as victim, and empathizing with her only.
      I had to learn it hard way.

      @veeeeeh,
      DG did the same, focus on his school, internship, job and neglected her own. It was a choice she made, she thought that is what you do in love, that is the right thing for a woman to do. There are no written rules about what you ought to do when in love, media (folk, AV, history…), society, religion and significant others in our lives teach us. Those of us bitten with morals and empathy put others before ourselves and then forget we were people too. We neglect our needs and priorities. When we do that others or our objects of our kindness assume we exist to serve them. We ought to be kind/serve to “ME” before I can do that for you.
      The things go south when we tolerate the first putting down, yelling. Instead of setting strong boundaries and ground rules of relationship we resort to pouting, going around hurt or silent treatment. We go around in a victim/martyr mode. In other cases if we challenge the bad behavior, we are yelled upon, face more bad behaviors, are told we are hallucinating thus we keep quite and encourage the abuser to continue with abuse.

      You stood up to your parents to protect your partner that was the right thing to do. YOU DID RIGHT. You didn’t do her a favor. Your parents have no right to belittle another person just because she is their son’s wife or she is younger to them. To speak against the wrong is the RIGHT thing to do.

      “…She was heavily influenced by her mother and her family, which I permitted as I was empathizing with her…”

      Where did you get this impression that you had any authority or right to wean her off parental influence?
      People come into marriages with their preconceived notions and have dominant influences and then they clash with each other. It would be better if two people communicated about personal and collective goals in life and how they plan to achieve that, instead people spend more time on BAND BAAJA and guest list.

      Yes, like DG you too learned it hardway. We learn and we live. BALANCE and MODERATION are the two key words in life but we rarely use them. Relationships are all about balance. Never invest in a relationship more than you can afford to lose. Parents try to live their children’s lives, siblings try to control one another, spouses manipulate each other just because each thinks they own the other.

      Yes, her self perception and needs in the relationship changed where as you still remained at the same stop where you both began may be you even fell a notch down (neglecting self and your needs).
      Have you tried couple’s counseling? Give it a try. Go for individual counseling to see things clearly.

      Please do not say a bad word about your child’s mother to him coz’ he’ll loose respect for you in future. Just tell him over and over again no matter what mommy and daddy love him and you are always there for him. It is just that mommy and daddy have grown up problems that they are trying to sort. Their grown up problems have got nothing to do with him. He is not responsible for their problems (children internalize their parents’ problems and start blaming themselves, that is how a child’s mind works).

      Hope you be kind to yourself and find your way out.
      Sending you kindness and hope.
      Peace,
      Desi Girl

      https://girlsguidetosurvival.wordpress.com/all-about-relationships/couples-counseling-faq/

      Like this

      • veeeeeh November 15, 2011 at p11 #

        I completely agree with you that the child needs to be insulated from the day to day stress of parents fighting, or imbibing a dysfunctional concept of family in his formative mind.

        That is why I opted to move out of the stage of the drama.

        I completely agree that a woman comes into a relationship with her family linkages and heritage. I would not want to her to cut off those linkages for she has that part in her.

        All I am saying is that girls too play the game, if controlled by a manipulative mother, of pulling the boy onto their side.

        The girls can can do the all that you associate with role of the man in the equation of family, like making the man move to the place where his mother or family is. She can make you stay at her mother’s place and make the scene when she is taken to her in laws house.

        This happens when the boy is from the lower strata of society in a typical Indian set up. Role reversals are possible and its wrong to carry the perception that woman is always central victim character in the Indian family dynamics.

        @veeeeeh,
        When and where did DG say women are always abused or victims? Women are capable of all things male abusers do if given a chance. Bottom line is more women are abused by men than the other way round but that does not make right. Please browse around GGTS and familiarize yourself about DG’s stand.

        DG has dealt with her share of drama queens so she knows it better.
        Problem is based in desi lack of respect for personal boundaries, rather desis actually have no concept of boundaries. Where ever one person starts to dominate and makes it a habit things go south for the other. Relationships are partnership not my way is the highway.

        Peace,
        DG

        Here check these:
        https://girlsguidetosurvival.wordpress.com/2009/12/07/desi-mothers-in-law/
        https://girlsguidetosurvival.wordpress.com/2011/04/25/desi-sisters-nemesis-of-brothers/
        https://girlsguidetosurvival.wordpress.com/2010/11/15/desi-mothers-a-generation-lost-in-translation/
        https://girlsguidetosurvival.wordpress.com/all-about-relationships/is-my-family-dysfunctional/

        Like this

    • nolongeraslave November 21, 2011 at p11 #

      Hi Veeeh-I think I saw you at Diary of a white indian housewife, Sorry to hear that you left ,but people can be vicious there. I wish you all the best in recovering from your marriage.

      Like this

      • veeeeeh November 21, 2011 at p11 #

        thanks for your wishes.

        Yes, it was bad mood and negative emotions that I was carrying from the comment board fights, that made me leave that place.

        Now things have changed after moderation policy, and comment boards have some civlized discussions. I love to see the community using the comment board discussion to find solutions related to the inter cultural domain. I know the potential of the virtual world to resolve the real world problems.

        I am still there on the Sharell’s diary, but with a new identity. My old one has a bad history and don’t want to use that name there.

        My appreciation for you to provide support to the tortured souls here in your safe page.

        Like this

      • nolongersalave December 6, 2011 at p12 #

        Did you reply as Vinod (you don’t have to tell me). I posted as NLS for privacy reasons as well…and a very nice Indian man gave me a reasonable reply about dating Indian men. ;)

        Like this

  2. Sam October 24, 2011 at p10 #

    “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” – this is sooo true! I feel most partners in the earlier generations did not have the emotional connect. Focus was on producing progeny and staying in the marriage. Traditions and superstitions are given as reasons for following outdated customs over eras – and the best way discovered by each parent is control. But if you want to break away from these traditions, sad part is you are forced to leave the relationships too.

    @Sam,
    Welcome to GGTS, a safe space.
    Emotional compatibility and love in marriage is a very recent concept. It wasn’t until after the industrial revolution world started read west started talking about pursuit of love and love in marriage. Marriage across the globe was basically an economic exchange between the communities, families and individuals.

    The notion of spousal love in Desi thought emerged with the advent of English education and colonial interactions in the nineteenth century. It served families to keep couples emotionally unattached especially men (for their financial loyalties had to be with birth families instead of conjugl) and keep women inherently dependent on men for survival (finanical and social). It is then desi men started telling wives how to become “wife” not just “Bahu.” Desi men were equally oppressed by their moms and aunts running peticoat governance within the homes. For more follow the link below.

    Yes, the sad part is to break away from dysfunction demands forsaking these relations. That is hard to do and impractical so the dysfunction continues.

    It will be good if young generation starts learning about personal boundaries and start understanding the myth of generational reverence and questioning oppressive behavior within their natal families.

    Please share this message of hope with anyone who may benefit.
    Peace,
    Desi Girl

    http://www.jstor.org/pss/2659604

    Like this

  3. ex-wife September 8, 2011 at p09 #

    Wow, I did not realize how complicated Indian life is. Gheez, I am tired just from reading.

    I say move to another country and raise your children, visit during the holidays.

    Sign an ex-wife.

    @Ex-wife,

    Welcome to GGTS, a safe space.
    Oh we Desis love complications. What fun is to live an uncomplicated life?
    If reading this makes you tired think about those living it everyday :)

    Yeah, one can move to another country but did you read about the remote controlling from 11,000 miles away don’t forget your spineless squid with uncut umblical chord is still with you :)

    Please share this message f hope with anyone who may benefit.
    Peace,
    Desi Girl

    Like this

    • desibahu September 9, 2011 at p09 #

      telephone, skype, and vacations to mother land even if you live on mars……

      Like this

    • Jennifer Kumar May 11, 2012 at p05 #

      DG, I agree with you. Cultural upbringing has a lot of baggage. Americans tend to believe, move away and one can change completely. Many Americans should try this and see how it goes! We are all bound by our upbringing and cultural mindset. We can strip ourselves of it, but it is very hard, and not everything can be stripped! But the main thing here is to become aware of what we don’t like and try hard to change it. Change is never easy, and as you say in the Indian situation, elders and even extended family (and even nosy neighbors and strangers) get involved and everyone worries about what everyone else says – and so better to go with the flow than rock the boat! Many are comfort in discomfort because of this fear. It’s a real fear, but there are those coming out. Thanks for making us aware.

      @Jennifer Kumar,
      Hi! Again,

      DG thought she approved your comment but this one escaped her attention.
      Yes the choice is between known devil or the unknown most people choose the known coz’ it safes an effort and also there is a comfort to know it is tried and tested so no question of failure.
      People don’t change unless they want to change. I know a whole lot of Amrican friends dealing with dysfunctional parents who are equally toxic some have severed ties and others are just dragging it coz’ they are not yet ready to call out their bluff.

      Please share this message of hope with anyone who may benefit.
      Peace,
      Desi Girl

      Like this

  4. desibahu June 22, 2011 at p06 #

    I remember when I would ask my husband to hold my 2 year old because I had to do cooking/cleaning, and my in-laws would say, ” can’t the mother hold him herself?”.
    The son sometimes can repeat or is already making this statement to the mother when she gives him the child to hold if she has cooking to do. This same man will yell at his brother for not helping his wife or hold his nephew to help out his bhabhi……what about your own child?
    I remember when my son was born and my husband told me that sleeping together is, “besharmi”. So I slept with the baby and he slept on his own! This same man can yell at his brother to not sleep in the living room so he could go sleep in the bedroom with his wife, and to help his wife by holding the baby at night. And then guess what? He himself goes and sleeps on that living room mattress because his own wife has a baby who keeps her up all night long in their bedroom.
    So interesting what is mentioned about hugs from aunties and uncles. This same uncle who doesn’t hold his own child will hold his bhabhi’s child. He might not be very affectionate to his own child or repeat every negative thing his mother says about his own child, but he might show great affection to his nephew. And the bhabhi would actually tell her kids to go sit on uncle’s lap because this way her kids get more attention in the family.
    Doesn’t it all sound lovely?

    Like this

    • Jennifer Kumar May 11, 2012 at p05 #

      So, this is how the extended family feel obligated to each other, but not within the family itself. Very interesting!
      What does “besharmi” mean?

      @Jennifer Kumar,
      Welcome to GGTS, a safe space.
      So now you know how we desis have preserved our great desi traditions…

      Besharmi= shamelessness

      Please share this message of hope with anyone who may benefit.
      Peace,
      Desi Girl

      Like this

  5. seashell June 15, 2011 at p06 #

    “The older generation will not change, they don’t know anything else but perhaps more importantly don’t want to.” – True, I see this in my husband’s family and being the DIL I get the brunt of it. Not that I take it but I know what’s going on there and I also know that I cannot fix it. It’s sad but not much can be done about it. That said, I think the younger generation, particularly the ones that are educated and have a significant amount of exposure to the western culture, are quite capable of breaking this cycle of dysfunctional parenting. I loose hope when I see such people blindly following their parents’ dysfunctional parenting style either because they are too lazy to do things the right way (its easier to use the “my parents raised me this way and I turned out fine” excuse) or they want to fit in to a particular group (the desi group) or because it gives them a sense of normalcy and comfort at some level. In some cases I have seen some young parents settled in the west do this because they strongly believe that all things non-Indian (including the parenting style) are bad (the good old “desi conditioning” again) so even if they know that what they are doing is wrong they blindly follow it anyway because of the fear of the unknown.

    Like this

  6. sexandtheindiancities June 15, 2011 at p06 #

    I bet All of us have heard this ” You will not understand this now but only when you will reach our age / postion you will know we were right” , its the constant conditioning and standards you have to follow to be such and such . A good daughter will always take care khandan’s izzat (no matter how resentful she is at age 14 ..at 28 she will start believing it ), an IDeal son should be able to take care of his family ( getting siblings educated , married etc ) , he will be irritated all his life but when he will have a son he will start expecting same from him. an ideal DIL should be mute dumb servant ( she will suffer / fight / even try to kill herself at times ) but when she is at the priveliged position of MIL , she wont be a kind one .

    its like when we are juniors we all hate our bosses for being this and that ..and somehoe during our way up we all learn those dirty tricks and we are one of those we hated .

    its partly unconsicous because of constant influence of what we hear and see all around us . seeds of rebel are never let to bloom easily and most of us give up then fight . we are never allowed to gel with other rebels to even know that we are right in thinking the way we think. You are labelled a failure , irresponsible , kalank etc etc and after certain point majority become what they hated in the beginning.

    Its a viscious cycle and only very confident people can let go the control in relations without getting the feeling of loosing relationships .How many women let their men talk with other female without getting this feeling of loosing them ( vice versa is also true). sibling rivalary to out smart each other to get approval from parents. grand parents being partial to one kid because of color of skin !! control is a way to show insecurity and sadly most of us are insecure about our relations in general.

    Wish people tried just for a change how it feels to live without a need to control everything and everyone in every breathing moment. Wish people had more healthier relationship role models to look up to, may be we can be those…
    DG

    Like this

  7. Glacier June 15, 2011 at p06 #

    It’s a mess, anyone breaking away from this will surely be called anything under the Sun. There are many many people in this mess who want to break away but lose perspective because they are surrounded by this 24×7. Parental control is fed by other factors e.g. a possessive mother might be that way because she is on competition with her sisters. A need to keep ‘face’ and being dominant will drive many parents to do some incredibly crazy atrocities on their children, the sad thing about this affair is that on the outside everything is picture perfect. Religion, rights, love, authority, bullying and any other tactic will be used to keep people follow the old rigid rules. The older generation will not change, they don’t know anything else but perhaps more importantly don’t want to.

    You are very right that people will use every thing at their disposal to control and manipulate others. DG believes these people especially parents assume children to be their extension thus they try to control them like they do with their hands and feet. Their personal identity is diffused into their children and spouses and their self worth rests in them. Yes, that is all they know and nothing else they would like to know :)
    God forgive them for they not know what they are doing…
    DG

    Like this

  8. intercultured June 14, 2011 at p06 #

    Wow, I didn’t know there is so much of a “tradition baggage” to it.

    Interesting!

    The rules and regulations on hierarchical level (parent-child) and gender roles make it even more difficult to break the nonsense.

    After all un-learning things, giving up the old habits and moving on to new (better) solutions is not really a “likeable” task – especially for the privilliged ones (in Indian case) – elders and men.

    Nice post!

    Like this

  9. fakeindianbbahu June 14, 2011 at p06 #

    Great One !!!

    Like this

    • nolongeraslave June 14, 2011 at p06 #

      I would have never known that it was looked down upon for a father to show affection to a kid, as aunties and uncles expect hugs from the younger generation at Desi parties. :)

      Desi Girl said, desi fathers especially super fathers are expected to be not affectionate to “their” children so the other part of the corollary is they are expected to be affectionate to “other people’s” children. :)

      Next time ask the kids of these huggie, touchy feel uncles and aunties if their parents are so with them too :) .

      Will have to do a post on it… :)
      Enjoy,
      DG

      Like this

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