I sometimes wonder whether the equation between children and parents is undergoing a very subtle change to the extent that one hardly notices it? I cannot help thinking of a past in which parents dictated terms and children willingly or unwillingly abided by their terms and conditions. It was not easy and one did revolt occasionally. But one generally muttered under one's breath and made faces when the offender was not looking but stuck to rules all the same. it was the practice at my mother's to gradually initiate daughters and daughters in law to house work giving them time enough to pick up the customs and ways of the family. Daughters were however warned that once married they'd have to listen to their mothers in law and unlearn whatever they had picked up in their own homes. At my husband's place things were different. Once the DIL arrived on the scene the mother in law took voluntary retirement from house work. Oh yes, she gave directions as to how things may be done, she'd do the marketting and stuff but it was the daughter in law who took whole and sole responsibility. I remember feeling that the arrangement at my mother's was better while my brother's wife might have felt that she ought to be given more responsibility instead of having to play second fiddle to my mother. The grass is always greener on the other side isn't it? anyway that is beside the point. In a recent trip to the south I met two unknown ladies who travelled with me by local transport on two different occasions. We had about 40 minutes together in the first instance and with Chennai traffic at its worst it took us nearly 75 minutes to reach our destinations in the second case. I've always noticed that complete strangers feel inclined to open up with me. But what surprised me that the problems faced by both ladies were astonishingly similar. Both ladies had married children and both felt that their daughters and daughters in law were using them and it was becoming increasingly difficult for them to cope with house keeping, looking after kids etc.etc. The second lady had an employed daughter in law but the first one's daughter in law was a home maker. With my own children in far off USA I often wish they were staying anywhere in India and I'd often say that I could have helped them out if it were so. It is again the question of grass being greener on the other side. Hearing the version of these ladies has set me thinking. Despite the facility of modern gadgets that are available is house work and the associated responsibility exhausting and would it be better to lead a quiet retired life cooking for just two people than to offer to help children and allowing them to take one for granted? I am unable to decide.
The second lady traveled with me from Velacheri to Chennai central. She was visiting her daughter whose mother in law was hospitalized and needed her mother's help at home. With a smile that kind of forced she told me that she had her own house elsewhere in Chennai and planned to leave for the railway station from there but her daughter had soaked dal and rice for idly and she came all the way to her place to grind it and store part it in the fridge for future use and leave the rest for immediate consumption.
"My daughter rang me up in the morning to ask if it was okay with me. I could not say 'no'. After all she can take liberties only with me".
Why was she rushing back to Erode to her son's place I asked.
"My daughter works as an Asst. Engineer with BSNL and she had taken a week's leave while I was in Chennai She has to resume work from day after tomorrow," she said. My grand daughter will return from school well before her mother returns from work. I cannot allow the child to remain unattended as long as I am alive."
It is okay to expect parents to help and I am sure the lady did her bit willingly. But I did sense a kind of frustration in her tone. I felt that the least her daughter could have done was to have arranged for someone to drop her off at the station. It was well past nine in the night when we reached the station and with a bag in each of her hands she did have difficulty in getting down at the station in the pouring rain. I was travelling alone and had my own luggage to take care of and could not offer much help. She spoke of her son who'd come straight from home to see her off.
For what purpose, I wondered. Could he not have picked her up from his sister's house and dropped her off at the station?
The other lady I mentioned got into a local train at Mambalam and was on her way to Ennore. She had to change trains to reach her destination. She had picked up stuff for her nine month old grandson from T nagar and was returning home.
"My daughter in law finds it difficult to shop with a small child so she asked me to get some readymades for him".
She then told me that she was rushing back home because her school going son would be back from school and would soon leave for his tuitions.
"Won't your DIL attend to him?" I asked.
"We don't stay together" she said. "She stays separately in the upper floor of our house and can barely manage to look after the kid. In fact I have another daughter in law who stays in Tambaram. I 've realized one thing. You can love your children and their better halves as much as you want. You do it for yourself. It is always better to be a little formal and cordial with them once they grow up and get married. Never take any liberty with them. My husband gets angry with me but I feel that as parents we cannot let them suffer even though their priorities differ."
There have been times when I miss my children particularly during festivals but is it possible that the parent children equation has changed even without my noticing it? Roles of mothers are no longer limited to cooking and cleaning. I've seen grandparents standing at bus stops to drop or pick up grandchilren. They gladly take on more and more responsibilities. I have no problem with that. But is it not the duty of children to make life comfortable for them? Like in the case of the lady who was rushing back to attend to her school going son was it not the daughter in law's duty to offer to attend to him? I can almost hear my daughter asking why the mother could not have asked her to do so. I really have no answer except that what is right by me could be wrong by you!