Our identity – what are we defined by

Today I read an article published in the New York Times, of a working mother, the title of which was ‘I picked my job over my kids’. I’d say it was a smart choice of title. Everybody has an opinion on this subject and it was bound to get her many views. Here in the article she narrates how on a number of occasions – important ones undoubtedly she chose to prioritize her work and not attend to the occasion or the children. Her justification was –

  • I’m a single parent, divorced and need to provide for self and family
  • My work as a lawyer (fighting for cases) against injustice is extremely important and my clients need me more at certain points in time.

As I read the article, somewhere I felt traces of pride on her accomplishments creeping in and the fact that she was doing a mighty important job. I have nothing against women feeling proud about their accomplishments, in fact it’s known to promote feminism and a sense of equality which is so important now to tip the balance in our favour.

What I have an issue with is the following –

  • the sense of superiority about the job she did, and her identity with it so complete
  • her sense of guilt and her explanations of conditions under which she forewent family time

So, firstly our identity is not our job or our visiting card. Some others introduce themselves as I’m a ‘housewife’ or a ‘homemaker’. But I do understand this is a problem with most of us. I’m so and so working with HDFC Bank, is how I used to introduce myself a few years ago. Now it is I’m Leena and that’s all. I’m a person as you see me. If you want more information about the work I do, the interests I pursue or my views, do ask and I’ll be happy to share it. 

Secondly, when we start thinking we are irreplaceable, it is a problem. No one in this world is. You’re out of your job and there’ll be someone the very next day/ moment ready for it. So, if she couldn’t be there for some important client meetings as the lawyer, I’m sure someone from her team (armed with adequate information) could have represented her as well. 

Thirdly, the job of saving an innocent black man from a life sentence or the other clients who she represents, as a lawyer sounded like just another one to me. Isn’t the job of a doctor mom as important, a teacher mom who readies the next generation, a mom spending time working as a clerk in an NGO, or a bank (to earn her independence), or a stay at home mom who as a parent has decided to raise confident well equipped children? All these jobs are as important. It’s great to feel a sense of purpose in the job you do, but all jobs have purpose for different individuals.

Finally, even if you’re pursuing your hobby of writing or spending some much needed ‘me’ time with friends or on a job that you describe as ‘purposeful’, and hence foregoing some time with the children – I think it’s absolutely fine. We all need time for the things we deem as important to us – not just a job. There’s no reason for guilt – ultimately, we can raise confident kids only if we are happy & confident ourselves.

Having said that, Women for (reasons of years of social conditioning) feel solely responsible for the well being of their children, that is what definitely needs to change.

The article in question is attached here. Click on the link for a read – NYT article

I have also written this as a response to LindaGHill’s Friday prompt for #SoCS

Would love to hear your take on it

Parenting – Conscious Vs Instinctive

Parents have a set of rules for parenting, or do they? What are yours?
I’ve on & off thought about my parenting style. I have asked myself many questions like is parenting over-rated? Do we overthink our actions? Does parenting have to be thought through? Isn’t it an art or is it a science? What does it really mean to me? Do I have parenting goals? What are the goals of other parents? Maybe you haven’t articulated yours just like me. Would you care to now? Maybe this article will act as that push.

I became a parent by conscious choice. I decided slowly and thankfully after 5 years of marriage (and at the threshold of 30) that maybe I was ready to take the responsibility of another being. But when I did have my son, I was all at sea.  As a parent, I was clear about the values I wanted my children to imbibe, and while I focused a lot on the ‘which’, through my journey this far, I know realise the ‘HOW’ is far more important. For a long time, I just went by instinct. However, over the years watching my husband deal with the children, I’ve understood that there is just so much that can be learnt.

As parents, we bring our personalities, sensibilities and our priorities into the upbringing of our children. Each parent is different, for instance I’m more focused on direct teaching – spending my time on educating the children, telling them stories of values, stressing on the importance of time etc. I focus more on getting them to cultivate hobbies of reading or art, on education and sport; while my husband nurtures them well with his patience and understanding, allowing them decisions and making them aware of the consequences. His approach is mostly indirect. So, what is the right way? While parenting cannot be taught, it can be learned. A couple of months ago, I took up a parenting survey because I wanted to know how other parents approach it. Was there something more I could learn – there always is, isn’t it? There’s a lot to be learnt by observing other parents when they are with their children and our own parents. And that led me to ask a few key questions to a few parents around me, who I know are all doing a great job.

The survey did not throw up anything entirely new, but it was heartening to understand that concerns & challenges we face today are common across all. Some tips shared by the parents here are reminders of what good parenting entails – something we need to revisit from time to time. So, here’s the gist of my questionnaire with responses across parents clubbed on the topics.

What does parenting mean to you?

I love the beautiful way a mother put it to me, “As a parent, I have the power to influence a whole generation’.

My father brilliantly put it, again indicating the power of good parenting when we said, “You can create a masterpiece – an MF Hussain/Mother Teresa or a Dawood Ibrahim”

A third said, “I have the power to create the best version of me’

All these statements are powerful and underline one thing – Most Parents believe they should work on their children, so they achieve their potential. I also think this is very true of Indian parents. We WANT TO shape, nurture, mould our children. When I read these statements, I immediately felt driven to chalk out a program for the children to follow 🙂

But jokes apart, Parenting is taking responsibility of the decision we took as a person to bring in another life into this world. Thus, ‘responsibility’ was a key word for a lot of the respondents. We are responsible to the child & society for the decision we took to be a parent. It means getting your child to walk, run and then fly if possible.

There’s another school of thought which believes that parenting should be GUIDING AND GIVING DIRECTION – correcting when required, but not overtly moulding. Especially given that the concept of success, happiness and well-being and careers is so different than what it was in the 70/80s. I must mention here that 75% of the respondents believed in conscious moulding and overt guidance.

Whichever school of thought you belong to, you might want to read on to know what others are doing – just knowing – but do your own thing!

Revisiting ourselves & Parenting in today’s context

For a lot of parents, Parenting also meant being REAL about the challenges that come with it. It means changing diapers, cleaning up the goo, having emotionally tricky conversations, handling difficult questions, but also being open and real with them. Being open and honest so they believe you are real and not just a sermon preacher far removed from reality.

One friend put it very well saying it was ‘re-visiting who and what you are’.  I think this is an important statement. If we ourselves are insecure, inept and feel inadequate; little wonder if the child turns out insecure himself. So, parenting asks us parents some difficult questions – Are our emotional tantrums okay? Our we mature enough, do we love ourselves enough & are we kind as persons, can we leave our egos behind and not be control freaks, so our children blossom fully?

I know as a fact, that I have changed as a person since I became a parent. I check my behavior often; I think about the example I’m setting for my children with my views & tolerance. I think about the rituals I need to follow and how they impact my children. I do not follow most rituals like ‘Karvachauth, Raksha bandhan, Thread ceremony etc. I don’t think I can explain the gender differences and the caste differences to my children – I don’t want to honestly.

Parenting today most agreed, is about agreeing to disagree. The generation today is thinking independently and that needs to be respected and not just allowed but encouraged. I have different thoughts and views compared to my parents and neither of us are apologetic about having those. But despite all the disagreements, the importance of relationship and family and the sense of security it can give needs to be stressed.

Friends are the new family and that needs to be embraced by us parents. Allow strong friendships now, these will stand your child in good stead in future. Don’t be resentful about the time he/she spends with friends – accept and encourage it.

Next, I wanted to know if good parenting requires goals?

Maybe said most, broad ones mostly, but sometimes tactical ones as well (depending on the child’s age). Mind you, the GOALS are for the parent.

Goals are required more like a roadmap to have a broad direction as to where to go. However, it was heartening to know that for all 100% of the respondents the key goals were related to inculcation of values and making children good human beings and citizens.

Fortifying them to be emotionally strong was next, as was adapting to failures or changes in life and being able to understand and take control of emotions.  Then came learning new skills especially life skills like swimming, cooking, cycling and some others like sports, arts and music. But it’s easier said than done.

Parenting Challenges & overcoming them

Parenting has huge challenges and all without exception mentioned the struggle to maintain a fine balance between exposure and innocence, the struggle to give un-divided time and attention, the outside influences of gadgets / friends, poor education system and disciplining ourselves before them. So how do we as parents influence our children?

Here are some valuable tips the respondent parents shared

  • Children are all different, but some things are universal – they learn from example, so it’s important to be a good role model. Walk the talk and practice what you preach. If we want children to stay off gadgets and games, then we need to do so ourselves. If we want them to do well in sports or get fitter; working on ourselves will have to come first. My husband is a keen marathoner and we both also trek a lot. This has motivated our children to take up running and they love the outdoors as well.
  • Avoiding confrontations on difficult issues like growing tantrums, gadget time, hormonal changes, sexual orientation, study time, good vs bad company, will turn into confidence drainers. Regular and good communication in addressing issues head on lead to a happy healthy relationship. Parents can set out a time that works for them, dinner time or weekends. I talk to my son who’ll soon be entering his teens before bed. We chat for about 20 minutes or so in a relaxed atmosphere.
  • For us parents, it important to feel the joy of parenting – enjoy the process. Parenting is not about considering your child as a ‘lifelong PROJECT’ and thus being stressed all the time. Look at the extra-ordinariness in the ordinariness of being a parent. It’s good to pause occasionally and remind oneself or recollect along with your spouse the many things that thrilled you in the early days. My husband and I talk often of the time our son first learnt to roll onto his stomach. That day he spent all afternoon turning over and over with such glee. We need to look at the small little moments of everyday togetherness and cherish those.
  • Above all, remember that love works. In our race and impatience to make perfect humans of our children, we often forget that every child is different, and not all can be class toppers or world champions. But all can be kind, sensitive and loving beings if they feel loved themselves. Show them love, more so when they might deserve it least but need it most.

Show that love to yourself as well. Be kind and patient and at peace with yourself and then you’ll find children imbibing that peace and confidence.

I do hope this has been a good read, if not an eye-opener. Would love to know if you have a special knack/ method of handling children. Something that can help us all.
Happy parenting! Remember the JOY

P.S – Here’s an exercise for you to do:  Put down the key values YOU as a parent would want your child to imbibe.  Share yours with me if possible. Here’s my set of values for my children –

  1. Courage
  2. Empathy
  3. Confidence or self belief
  4. Positivity
  5. Creativity – To be self thinkers, to be able to analyse and break down data to form your own opinions
  6. Open mindedness

 

Mumbai meri jaan!

I’m no Mumbai lover, but I love the spirit of its people. I’ve lived here almost all my life, but honestly I don’t think that time spent is a good reason to love anything. People make a place and Mumbai is no different. During my numerous travels, my best experiences have been where the locals have been friendly, welcoming and warm. Malaysia rates higher for the same reason as compared to the highly livable ‘Singapore’ where I found people rather curt and business like. In Europe France has been a big disappointment while Germany felt warm and friendly.

Back to Mumbai. During a couple of my visits to Crawford market which requires a train to be taken from Kandivali (a suburb in Mumbai) and then a taxi into the crowded by-lanes of the market. I took a shared cab as it waited for people for the train to disembark. And it was super. We were a mix of people, the Gujarati business men in the front couple of seats and 3 women including myself in the last row. The women were from UP and over middle age and presumably rural.

Typical to Mumbai, without speaking a word, the person next to the driver’s seat, automatically assumed the role of the collector of fare. Notes were handed to him from us as well as the seat in front. He patiently collected the fare, adjusted the change and passed the money to the driver. A note was torn, which was passed again from the women at the back to the front via the man in the middle seat who had been busy all through acting as the conduit. Despite having to move around quite a bit in the crowded cab, he seemed to take to his role, rather happily. At the destination about 20 mins away, the driver stopped the cab and we all filed away not speaking another word. The taxi for ready for a return trip. Super efficiency, what would you say? No time wasted and quick turn-arounds. It happens only in ‘Mumbai’.

Would love to hear more about your Mumbai travels or at any other place in the world – any such implicit understanding you see/notice among fellow human beings, that tickles you & makes life easier for all of us. 🙂

My love that follows no rituals

In India, there are many traditional rituals centred around the well-being of husbands. Wives on these designated days, fast from dawn to dusk without consuming even a drop of water. They spend the day praying for the good health and prosperity of their husband.
The region I come from also has this ritual, but I have never celebrated this day in 17 years of my married life. My husband has never once questioned me. Not that I would do it if questioned, but somewhere its credit to him that he has not had the expectation neither felt the need for it.
Love is a feeling that evolves, or rather has its phases. Some days I love him more than most, other days I could be upset and unhappy with him.
I’ve often thought about my love for him and questioned myself especially on this day (almost every year) as to whether I should follow it? Would it make my love for him greater? Would it make it lesser? Would he like it? Does it even make sense? Will I resent it later? Does it prove a point? I’ve only wondered so far, hence I’m thinking maybe I should just try it the coming year. What do you say? 😉
Here’s something I wrote this ‘Karvachauth’ – the designated day this year –
I’ve often wondered why I don’t fast for you,
Is it because I don’t love you as much as other wives their husbands do? 
But I pray for your well being and happiness all year through.
Your friendship gives me strength, takes away my worries, and I have much less to fear.
Our talks, plans of travel and little celebrations, make the mundaneness of life, a lot easier to bear.
Our challenges, our achievements and limitations, with a little compromise we overcome all of it together.
We may not be perfect, but we understand one another,
I accept you as you do me,
I don’t say it often and neither do you, 
But we know the love we share is true.
We walk together through life – literally and figuratively. The feature image is a picture of us trekking together in Nepal. 

India is my country & I’m a proud Indian!

This post took a while to complete and is a week late, but still something worth sharing.

Date 16 Aug, 2018.

Through the day yesterday, I listened to patriotic songs and found my eyes welling up every now and then.  It made me wonder why. Through the year I didn’t do much for the country, though I thought about it a few times here and there. Why didn’t I think more about my country? Why didn’t/don’t I contribute more actively to its growth? These questions kept coming back to me – How we Indians think of India and what our feelings are for her? Is our patriotism for real?

Usually on 15 Aug, there’s a movie on TV about the freedom struggle, the sacrifices made to free our country and the price paid for it. This year there were movies like – Parmanu, Dangal, Toilet etc. A refreshing change for sure.  These movies are more about fostering pride in being Indian, about wanting to bring about change. These movies indicate it’s time to change – the struggle for freedom is over, now we struggle for recognition, for being proud. We might be slow to change, we might not be as developed in our thoughts – the gender bias, the caste bias, the money bias all remain, but we can and should still be proud of our country. Only if we are, will we strive to become proud of it. We believe in working hard, studying and gaining knowledge,  we have a great sense of belonging, strong family traditions, we have a vast diverse culture, thousands of food varieties, dance, music and folk art forms. Yes, we struggle with our population, it makes resources scarce, which is the cause of most problems in our country – infrastructure inadequacy, corruption, filth, poverty but we are all to blame for it – who else? And we will need to work on it.

Coming to the more important point – how do we make ourselves proud, how can we foster and bring about a feeling of national pride? A feeling of belongingness, a want to do more for the country? In my opinion the starting point is our schools – we have to get our children more involved in the success of our nation, we have to go beyond just getting them to sing the anthem. We have to get them to do more community service. Wouldn’t community service bring about the feeling of brotherhood? Of wanting to help your fellow countrymen in need, of wanting to keep your country clean, of working together for a greater common good? When you volunteer for an NGO, and work for them – you’ll find your feeling/ and the time you spend thinking of your fellow human beings growing – you’ll find your thoughts changing to how can I do more? And this you can channelize to help our country.

Stand up and sing the anthem when you hear it in the movie theatre. It’s a controversial topic I know, but you’ll feel different singing it than just standing there. Try it.

I’d love to know and hear more ideas on how we can work on this feeling of pride. How can we make it grow? How can we influence our children? Looking forward to some ideas/comments.

Happy Women’s Day – really?

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This is a picture (shot by yours truly) of the great Maria Theresa – the Queen of Austria, Hungary and Bohemia – one of the most successful rulers of the Hapsburg dynasty

Well this happened a few days back but has stayed in mind since and hence I’m making a mention of it here. My daughter came up to me and said, ” Mama, so & so’s mother has told him not to play with me”. Before I could ask her why, she said, “because I’m a girl”!

I was not shocked about the not playing together bit, but more about the reason given. This boy and she were good friends but fought often. I thought the reason would be because the two fight constantly, but the gender word here, made things complicated. I knew what her next question would be – why? And it came invariably.

For a moment, I didn’t know what to say. But after a minute I said, “because he can’t handle you. Because you are too smart for him”. And I truly believed it then and now. Mother’s no matter how educated tell their boys not to play with girls when the girl is too much to handle or when they do not want their boys to get influenced by supposedly girly games. In this case, it wasn’t the later, because my daughter plays football, badminton, running races and climbs like a monkey, and if anything would come out tops in any race/game they played. Plus the fact that every time they fought, she gave it back squarely to him. Anyway, the point is this – mother’s (and supposedly educated women) are even in today’s world/time dishing out such crap to their children/sons – being women themselves! How then can this gender bias end?

Another incident took place a few months back – my daughter’s chess teacher casually mentioned to me that one of the boys in her group, wanted to change the group because he wanted to practice with only boys. We’re talking of 7 year olds here. So in a chess class, parents feel that boys play better and should practice with boys only & that too in a game like chess! Wow! I had no words to express my disbelief.

Further, another mother celebrated her son’s birthday – inviting only the boys of the group despite the fact that her son played with girls too! And here we celebrate women power/bonding and understanding on women’s day? We talk of ending stereotypes & biases, when we ourselves plant these seeds or accept them?  How hypocritical can we get. Women – if you can’t respect your own gender, don’t expect others to.

 

 

 

 

Why loving my mom-in-law comes easy to me

Hand picThis is a slightly long read and has a bit of my life story in it, so if you’re interested in knowing a bit about home politics in India – read on & I hope you enjoy reading it.

So here goes, a lot of people find it a little difficult to digest the fact that I have been living happily with my in-laws for the past 15 years – that’s pretty much the time I have been married. No we (neither my maternal family nor in-laws) don’t come from a traditional mind set, which requires joint living; but it just happened on its own. My FIL (father-in-law) decided he wanted to live with his son one year into our marriage (he didn’t explain his reasons & we never asked) and since then they’ve been with us. To make his decision irreversible and binding equally on himself (and his wife 🙂 – who may not have shared his enthusiasm), he sold of his house and decided that he would co-invest in another property with us jointly. That was it. Luckily, I was a new bride, young, innocent and willing to have the guidance/protection of parents nearby and I readily agreed. In fact I recall that it never struck me as a problem or something that required any thought – if anything it seemed natural and welcome. I say luckily because as we age, talk to friends/relatives (the so called well-meaning ones), we start doubting whether staying together really is a good idea. We think of all the possible problems that can arise by living together & then convince ourselves that much can go wrong than the good that might come from it.  As we age, we believe we have attained a different kind of maturity – and tend to probably scrutinise decisions more critically.

I can say it’s been a good decision even after so many years & it’s because they have been around for me as much as I have for them. They’ve helped to the best possible extent and loved me enough for me to not complain. My mother in law specially has been around my difficult times, my career years, my pregnancies and has taught me so many things about managing the household, cooking, and most importantly – patience. I’m forever grateful to her. I give more credit to her for the smooth sailing of our relationship than to myself. She has been genuine, truthful and loving towards me – caring of me and a wonderful influence on my kids.

Power struggle? – When they joined us, I was happy to have my MIL take charge of the kitchen – so much so I never bothered about the day’s menu and vegetables to be bought. Initially my MIL would be nice and ask for my preferences but as I gave her total control to decide – she became more confident and was happy to take ownership. This way there was no power struggle. Of course we have our tiffs once in a while, but which relationship doesn’t. I’ve seen women who want to control running their homes, even when they are absent or travelling or have other commitments.

We’ve had our share of rough weather as well. Right after my first child was born we ran into our first serious phase of disagreements. My MIL had specific views about child rearing and I was a new mother – having devoured lots of parenting books . When it comes to rearing your own child, giving up any kind of responsibility is not as easy. We found common ground somewhere after a few months – but until then those were stressful times. I had overnight turned into a mother, and was unwilling to take the back seat anymore. My days of pregnancy with her fawning over me and I listening to her indulgently were over. During my pregnancy she took extremely good care of me – I can say much more than my own mother. I was happy to be the pampered child. But overnight after the child was born, I changed into the assertive mother and we had numerous disagreements. She must’ve found those times hard – to accept such a change in me; but it was inevitable. She learnt that this was an area she would have to allow me to lead in. She made peace – slightly grudgingly but thankfully things fell into place. My son grew up and is extremely fond of her and she of him; and I’m grateful for the warm and emotional relationship they share.

I give my mother in law the credit of being able to detach herself – first from her own son when he married me and then her grandson. She allowed us to take decisions as a young couple and then later me as a mother.

Finance – Another important thing here is that a lot of young people look at their own parents/ inlaws as more mouths to feed. They are, but then they fed you when you were financially dependent – so make no mistake – it’s your turn now. Whether you feel like doing so out of love or duty; it is your turn to give back. If you do not want to – then you have to own up that you are selfish & ungrateful – there can be no other excuse/reason. Finances will be stretched but naturally. If both partners are working, then ideally the financial responsibility should be ours primarily. If not, then they can be shared to a larger extent depending on the potential of old parents. But the primary responsibility remains yours.

Culture – When two families meet, there will be an amalgamation of cultures. Best to accept both and allow all to practice their own freely. Anything restrictive is never conducive. Sometimes young parents do not want their parents/in-laws to teach their young kids about religion, rituals – that’s a tricky area – children should not be pushed in one direction rather encouraged to know more about religion/practices etc by reading more – then the choice of practicing a particular religion/ritual can be theirs. Of course a lot of rituals today are irrelevant and those one has to strictly ensure are not practiced at home. I do not believe in Karva-chauth, Prathamastami or any other ritual that celebrates one gender or one child (first born etc) and hence even during Raksha-bandhan both my children tie each other rakhis. It is explained in our home as protecting & loving one another. Anyway, back to the main topic.

Well begun is half done – On the part of in-laws it’s important to make the new bride feel welcome and wanted. In India, women leave the home of their parents where they’ve lived their lives hitherto and step into another world – another family with a different value system, culture and history. I know of many families where my young friends felt alienated by their in-laws, unwelcomed and were constantly asked to prove their worth and earn their place (so as to say) in the household. The young bride is put on test – can she cook, is she homely as well as well read, can she manage expenses, can she care for the young and the old? A big deal is made of small mistakes or misunderstandings – in such an environment of mistrust and competition – where & how can the young girl – (now removed from her earlier support system- and struggling to find her own identity) blossom into a confident home-maker/wife of daughter-in-law. Mother-in-laws have to give their DILs a free hand to experiment, make mistakes and learn. They have to be forgiving – its not easy for women, I know 😉

The freedom to wear clothes that we always wore, do the things we always did – like watching movies, going out with friends or having them over, save our own money etc is important for the new bride to feel at home. But mind you, here I stress that the new bride has to speak up for herself – make her feelings known. If she doesn’t she is to blame. Maybe the culture in the In-laws family is a little orthodox – you have to work towards change – if you want it. No point playing the blame game later.

I understand when people are amazed to see our long relationship; because as a person, I’m assertive, unapologetically blunt and confrontational. But I’m also for the same reason genuine in my behavior. So a person like me is likely to get into arguments easily and not back down. Not a very healthy attribute for healthy relationships. But I’ve discovered the secret. When the new bride is confident and not insecure of her mother in law, happy and satisfied with her own life, has her hands full with her career or hobbies, she has much more to do than pick fights with MIL. She’s happy to relinquish responsibilities of running the house, so she can focus on her career. Mornings and evenings do not have to become a tug of war – about proving and stamping ones authority. For both women involved – Define roles and responsibilities, do not pseudo-delegate – do it completely. Accept the transition period and allow for mistakes. If you love handling the kitchen, then let her take responsibility of something else. Shared responsibilities and the feeling of ownership is what cements relationships.

Maybe I was lucky that the initial few months we were on our own – it helped me settle down on my own into marital life – without any dependencies or guidance. Later when my in-laws came, they made some effort to settle into our life as well.

So then to all the daughter in laws – don’t complain about your MIL being controlling – check if you are as well. Give away control to gain love and peace of mind and it’s better – you make time for yourself. Be secure and confident of your relationship and standing at home/in your family. And as the saying goes – to gain something you first have to give it – Be it money, respect or love.