Sunday, December 20, 2009

Changing parenthood??

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!


Anonymous said...

Not to sound off putting but where are the men in all of this. In the US increasingly men are taking up larger roles in child rearing and helping around the house whereas in India where parents are around especially mothers sons/son-in-laws behave like kings refusing to take up even the minimum amount of work, it must be frustrating for the women who puts in a whole day of work outside the home and end up slaving it at home as well. Its time that moms taught their precious sons to take responsibilities as well.

Sraboney said...

I know what you mean...I think children are becoming more selfish these days...Instead of letting their parents enjoy their retirement, they are using them as babysitters and housekeepers...Not fair...I see this happening here in Singapore as well...Parents shouldn't be taken for granted and parents should also learn to say no once in a while...

apu said...

Well,frankly, my thinking on this is a bit muddled. I feel the root of all such problems is the lack of honesty and open communication, where people say what they really feel - which means, a mother may throw out hints about how tired she is, but children may not pick this up - OR - use it as an excuse not to!

Parents (esp. moms) feel that they "have to" help out with their children/ grand children - after all, there are always other options such as daycare centers or hiring an extra maid, but people are not comfortable with this - again, in the example you mention, what was to prevent the girl from buying store idli batter rather than calling in her mother all the way to grind it - frankly, that struck me as ridiculous - parents need to stand up and say no to ridiculous demands if children don't have the sense to stop making them!

However, parents who are financially dependent on their children may be worse off in this regard...

WhatsInAName said...

brilliant post yet again and so much after my own heart. Though my case might be similar to your brother's wife. I yearn for freedom in kitchen which somehow my MIL is reluctant to give me!

I agree with Apu. Parents should learn to put their foot down. I have seen my Brother inlaw' wife suffer quietly while her daughter was making her run around after delivery and that too for more than a year. They could have easily said "NO". Open communication is a must. Children might feel hurt at that moment but am sure, they will understand later. And if they dont, well.... they just dont deserve us!
I know its easy to preach. When my daughters get married et al, I really dont know how honest I would be. But I am surely trying to learn looking at all these types of PARENTs you have just mentioned.

Swapna Raghu Sanand said...

What a beautiful, thought provoking post! Kids are definitely becoming more and more selfish these days, treating their parents as caretakers or baby sitters whenever it suits them. I hate to see this happening. Parents should never be taken for granted and yes, I think parents need to stop bending all the time and take a firm grip over their own emotions by saying 'NO' when it really can't be done.

rm said...

its my feeling that complaining dosent mean they dosent like the task. i believe parents are happy to be taking care of grandchildren and they are happy to be busy. sharing stories or hardships is just letting of the steam. but if children dont depend on them i am sure parents feel left out. and everyday is a diffrent story. a parent should know where to draw a line whether kids young or old and it depens on individuals.

Choxbox said...

First time here. What a thought-provoking post.

workhard said...

I guess its the relationship you have from childhood to adulthood between the daughter and mother that makes the difference.. but after a while i personally feel our moms need a break..

Work from home India

Naveen Prabhu said...

this is touching & thought provoking ... i work at a place far from my parents place & am always consumed by the guilt of not being able to support them as well as i should ...

Hip Grandma said...

Anon: I agree with you in that men should help at home and i have emphasized this in earlier posts. But why don't daughters and daughters in law ask their husbands to help out and do their bit? After marriage one cannot deny the influence a wife has over the husband and vice versa. Can this influence not be utilized to ensure division of labor in the house?

Sraboney:I don't think parents mind baby sitting but one should always look out for warning signals and if possible a servant could be hired and parents can just monitor their activities. My daughter did just that and I insisted on her hiring a baby sitter for at least 4 hours per day to allow her mother in law to relax.

apu:Oh yes, mothers too love to play martyrs and take on more responsibility than they are able to handle. They should have a frank discussion with their children about the extent of help they can offer. They should also tell them that over work may actually affect their health and this in turn would be a cause for worry to the very people they wish to help.

WhatsInaname:'Though my case might be similar to your brother's wife. I yearn for freedom in kitchen which somehow my MIL is reluctant to give me!'
There are two sides to a coin isn't it?He,he!I think you are right.With my daughters in USA I can pass judgement. Had they been in India I might have also done the same.After all with the usual complain of not having sufficient leave I did go to America in summer to help my daughter relocate. It is difficult to let one's children manage on their own if one is able to help. I must confess that I too would feel relaxef with my mother taking up cooking!As the lady mentioned one does feel inclined to take liberties with one's mother.

Swapna Raghu Sanand:It may not actually be selfishness. But children should not over exhaust their mothers and should relieve them from time to time. Like cooking a special meal for her on a Sunday or planning a surprise outing. These little things go a long way in rejuvenating their spirits.

rm:No, I didn't for a minute think that the ladies were complaining. But I did feel that asking one's mother to come all the way to grind rice and dal was taking undue advantage. The girl was not even a working woman. The same way if a DIL felt free to ask her mother in law to pick up stuff for her child she should also offer to prepare some evening snacks for the brother in law who would be comimg back from school. No relationship can be one sided. I found the lady quite mature and willing to allow her children to lead their own lives. She certainly deserved to go shopping without worrying about her son.

Choxbox:welcome here and thanks.

workhard:welcome here. In the mother/daughter relationship a little disagreement here and an occasional quarrel can be taken in one's stride. It is not so with the MIL/DIL equation. At least not initially. In the latter case effort should be put in from both sides to build mutual confidence.The line between taking liberty and taking advantage is very thin. And as anon pointed out it is time our Indian male did his bit.

Naveen:Don't fret. My own children live far away and all I expect from them is an occasional phone call and a little concern.

tys said...

wow! i cant imagine taking that liberties with my parents. They would kick my arse. Once I got a job, they told me to either find my own place or start paying rent...when i got married, they insisted that we find a place of our own...they love the grandkids but i wouldnt dream of asking them to babysit or things like that..

Usha said...

Another funny thing is that it is these same daughters who want their independence right from their teen years. The moment they become mothers they want to turn to their mothers for help. I think mothers should feel free to refuse and not be emotionally blackmailed like this. I am appalled at the behaviour of the daughters and dil's in your examples.

Unknown said...

Dear Padma,

My name is vijaya. I chanced to read your write up about the wonderful Prema, just now. It is dated Friday, 12, January,2007, under the heading "Health, Wealth or Happiness?" Even though this is an entry pretty dated, in your interesting blog,I would consider myself fortunate, if I can be of some financial assistance to this child,Prema. Is she still alive?

Anonymous said...

first time on your blog
a burning topic with hot views
this has become the way of life these days. with both the partners working,parents are taken for granted and they are expected to look after the grandchildren
worst is the case when children settled abroad invite their parents and make them handle the household responsibilities that too in unknown places where they are just marooned in the house.

Hip Grandma said...

tys:'Once I got a job, they told me to either find my own place or start paying rent.'

with a person like you I'd have charged twice the prevailing market rate :-))!! Anyway jokes apart it is not uncommon to see children being insensitive to the fact that parents are no longer as healthy as they were earlier and it is not fair to expect them to stretch beyond a limit.

Usha:It was not fair on the part of a daughter to let her mother travel by herself to the station at night in pouring rain, I felt.I don't know how one can become so very self centred.But then it was perhaps the mother's fault also.She could have refused politely.A difficult situation though.

Vijaya:Thanks for your offer and welcome here.Prema is very much alive and cheerful inspite of her health problems.She will be getting her medical separation allowance till nov.2011. As for financial assitance I will have to ask her.If you give me your e mail id may be I can get back to you.

Hip Grandma said...

anjugandhi:True, with both partners working parents are expected to pitch in and help.And most of them do it willingly. But looking after high energy kids can be quite tiring. So if money is not a constraint a domestic help ought to be hired and parents could just monitor things.

aayanman said...

most outcomes are a function of time.
some change their mindset,some disagree and some find alternatives. This is the circle of life.

Unknown said...

Dear Padma,

Thanx for the prompt reply! My mail-id is as follows:
Would it be better to make it a monthly affair, by way of augmenting her reduced salary? what is your advice?

Uma said...

Delurking for the first time - a very pertinent post. I have a 3 year old and am blessed that I have my in-laws living with us and my mom living just two blocks away. I have a care taker coming in during the day while I am away. I do encounter a lot of people who ask me why I have to employ a care taker when I have them around! The physical discomfort apart, I think it is important for them to have a life of their own. While grandchildren are dear to them, baby sitting is another thing altogether - it is a chore, let's face it! It means that they cannot pursue their interests/ go out till the parents get back and take over. That's unreasonable. My MIL takes active interest in a lot of things around her - including cricket, tennis, gardening, and she has a big social circle. I think it is important that they are happy and not forced into something.
This arrangement keeps both of us happy - my daughter gets to listen to all grandma tales, slokas, bhajans, gets to eat healthier murukku, thattai and sweets and the grandmoms get to 'enjoy' the company of my daughter while the chores are taken care of by the care taker.

Uma said...

Also, a lot of times, I also see that children just don't realise their parents have grown older and weaker.
And like Apu says, I think the root cause is lack of communication. Many parents feel guilty about voicing their discomfort forget disinclination.

Renu said...

It is always better to be a little formal and cordial with them once they grow up and get married..I totally agree to this..I am sailing in the same boat, ilike to do everything for my children, but in the process somewhere frustration seeps in when my DIl just doesnt bother thinking that I am good at it.

and then if we say something, tchildren think its all about work only, to me its not work its their attitude which matters...If I do everything, then atleast in a week I want my DIl also to take care of everything atleast once in a week or atleast on my fast days..but today saying anything means you are complaining etc....itsreally a difficult situation to be in...specailly to me as I love them a lot and cant let them suffer.

Hip Grandma said...

gyanban:'most outcomes are a function of time'

but isn't it proper to be considerate towards an ageing parent at all times?

uma:welcome are lucky to have your mother and mother in law showering their affection on your little pattu and they are lucky to have a concerned daughter/DIL who does not impose baby sitting on them.Unfortunately it is not the same everywhere. Very often parents themselves take on more burden than they can safely manage.It is not always the daughter or son's fault.Open communication is a must.

Renu:I can understand your frustration and if things don't get settled within the first two or three years very often it remains unsettled for life. As mothers in law we have no choice but to give time for realization and be open to accepting the fact that each one is different and any change of heart can only come from within and it will come with time.

Uma said...

I had to come back here to share a different kind of dilemma. I have a colleague who has a 2 year old and lives with in laws. She wants to employ a care taker to ease the burden on the elders but they would have none of that. The reason - they are picky and no one is good enough! Now this is a difficult situation and frustration would set in at some point...

Hip Grandma said...

uma:you are right.Such an attitude does put one in a tight spot. with changing demands of society a certain amount of flexibility isa must from both sides. Domestic help is hard to find and one bends backwards to accomodate them let alone find fault with them. It is give a little and take a little situation. But if the elders are able to manage I suppose one can thank god and breathe easy.

Mana said...

completely agree with you.

When they see their kids suffering, they would realize how you felt for them as a parent. Few things are learned only by experience.