Desi Parenting: Raising Confused Daughters
It is often said in Indian communities that to have good children is a result of one’s good karmas from the previous lives. Desi parents invest in their children especially sons with a hope of receiving old age care as organized state sponsored senior care is not an option. It becomes imperative for parents to keep their sons emotionally obligated to take care of old parents when the time comes. The socialization for this anticipatory duty begins early on. We all have read about the preferential treatment given to the sons in the Indian families, special foods, good education and extra liberty with money etc. Most of us have insisted it didn’t happen in my family, our parents were educated and our mothers were first generation working women. If we take a look back on our lives as children we’ll know how truthful we are being.
The other day I was speaking to Atia and Shanu about our lives and men in our lives- our fathers, brothers and spouses. Two of us are first born and Shanu is second born to first generation educated women and men working outside the homes, who had moved to urban centers for work leaving their extended families behind. We didn’t come with manuals and our parents away from their extended family were exploring new territories of childcare practices. Three of us clearly remember how our parents claimed modernity through us by insisting we were their sons until the real sons came along.
Our young mothers with two three children under the four years of age struggled to keep us well fed and quite while our fathers sat reading newspaper after work. Our little eyes were watching it all how our fathers’ eyes controlled the things around the home. Their families had more say in our lives and our mothers hardly visited their parents. Our mothers didn’t start working outside homes until their reproductive goals were met. Mean while we became little pseudo helpers of our mothers to help with their child care duties. We baby sat our siblings, walked them to school and even ran errands. We played field sports attended junior regional sports meets, debated in school competitions; got good grades and even joined NCC and then came puberty.
At puberty things changed for ever our loving fathers became distant and our mothers became so much more controlling. Sit with your legs crossed, don’t talk so loud, don’t walk like a horse, help me in the kitchen, and don’t do this do that became a regular incantation in our lives. We did not feel any discrimination in food, education and medical care the discrimination we felt was so subtle that we could not even put it in words. We had to help with cooking and family laundry where as our brothers did not move a straw. When we questioned, we were told it is not because we were girls but because we were the older ones. We often retorted if we were the older ones then why do our younger brothers have to chaperon us our friends’ place. Why do you make us go to the bazaar to buy vegetables and not our brothers? Our mothers would say the boy is not aware of how to buy good vegetables. Wao! we were not born with that knowledge either, you taught us. Why can’t you teach that to your sons?
If we gave examples from other families where boys ran errands then our mothers immediately changed their words into “we treat you like boys so that you have the confidence how to deal with the outside world.” In either way we were at loss and were always wrong because we could never win the bottom line our parents had our best interest in their hearts. More than that we resented how our parents claimed modernity and maintained tradition through our female bodies.
We were encouraged to demand our rights from the outside world be it in schools, work place or public transports that was modernity but we were always discouraged to talk back to relatives and acquaintances because it was a tradition. The dichotomy of modernity and tradition traversed between speaking English, wearing skirts, trousers and riding bikes where as tradition always came and rested on our maintaining peace at home and to listen quietly when elders spoke. Thus for us modernity was something to be done as opposed to being told. Over time three of us claimed modernity the way we understood by marrying for love against the arranged marriages of our siblings; even though we knew in our hearts we could have done better. We thought with this feat under our belt our everyday struggles with the outside world for a place of our own have come to an end. To our surprise our struggles began now, hereon we were to deal with our confused spouses who like us claimed modernity with love marriage and now wanted to maintain their family traditions by taming us; deal with over bearing in-laws who were not only vengeful but were determined to dismantle our marriages and maintain our dignity in these tiring circumstances. Our stories are very common, many educated and employed women everyday google information on how to deal with relationships because no one taught us how to.
It would have helped if our parents had taught us how to deal with relationships instead of indoctrinating us about tradition and modernity. Some days when Atia had had enough she blames it on her emotionally absent mother for her emotional failures. I have accused my mother’s passivity for my temper tantrums in the past, forgetting that her passivity was her survival technique in midst of her overbearing in-laws. Where as, Shanu charges her mother’s dramas for her lack of problem solving skills. Our parents have done their best given their understanding, resources and circumstances in raising highly educated, employed and confused daughters now it is up to us where we want to take our confused lives. Those gender discriminate nutrition, education and medical attention practices mentioned in the beginning never happened in our home. What happened in our homes has no name.