The operative word here being, ‘trying’.
We all talk about being better people, but I’m not sure how that works. In fact I find it hard to make that general ‘better person’ cut and what works for me is picking up a facet of my life and working on it. Wife, mother, sister, friend, employee…
I am not much of an employee because work features at the bottom of my list. I deliver on time and as promised and maybe a little more than promised, but that’s about it. On the other hand, I try everyday to be a better wife to the OA. Not by cooking or cleaning or whatever else one might expect from 90% of wives across the world. But by trying to be a more understanding wife. Giving him more space, more time, more energy and more encouragement to be the person he wants to be. I try to be a better mother to the kids by doing as much as I can for them without smothering, guiding without leading and so on. Let me hasten to assure you that I don’t think I’m excelling at either, but that I am always trying, always eager to work on them and often aware of where I am failing.
But the one relationship I realise I haven’t worked on as much as I should, is the relationship with my parents.
Born to them, you grow up taking them for granted. If you’ve always been snappy and short tempered with them, if you’ve always been the indulged, whiny one, if you’ve always got what you asked for, if they’ve always stepped in when you need something, you continue in the same vein. How many of us make an effort to improve our relationship with our parents?
How many of us have begun to indulge them? I think back on my last post on parents and the pressure on them where so many people responded that it is unfair to expect people to give up their lives abroad and move back to a country where their ageing parents are comfortable. Very true. All expectations are unfair. And yet we so often do sacrifice for our kids. I look upon our move to Gurgaon as the worst thing to have happened to me, simply because I have no choice in this matter. I WILL give my children the education I think they deserve, even if it kills me. So why then are we never so generous with those who spent a lifetime doing stuff for us? I don’t say you should give in to unreasonable demands (heck, I say you should never give in to demands, reasonable or unreasonable – now requests, they’re a different matter). But I do believe that as children ourselves, we rarely stop to consider our parents and their desires and wishes and hopes and dreams.
We all carry baggage and so do they. My relationship with the Bean is a very easy one. We are so alike that I just need to look at her to figure out which bit of mischief she is getting up to. With the Brat though, I am usually reaching for a cyanide pill. He is nothing like either of us and parenting him is a challenge. Every choice we make, is an effort. Every time he does something the OA and I have to count to ten so as to not lose our cool. Without doubt, he is the child that challenges us and I can only see this getting worse as he grows. Inspite of being the cutest, friendliest, more adorable toddler, he is an introvert who has his own ideas, is uncommunicative and moody and unbelievably stubborn. Naturally this means we cannot parent him in the same way we do the Bean. That we don’t have the same easy relationship but a more careful, calculated method of parenting. We’re constantly thinking – ‘Will this upset the Brat? Do you think he’ll agree to do this? Have you noticed him do X – do you think he now needs Y?’ It puts a huge strain on us as parents and often we’re drained with the effort because the easiest thing to do would be to just shake him up and the collapse.
And that makes me realise how tough it must have been for my mother to parent me. I am the exact opposite of her. So much my father’s daughter. So hard for her to have two of us hot headed types to handle. So unlike her in temperament and so much of an effort to understand. Even today we’re careful about what we say to each other and not to hurt each others’ feelings. My dad on the other hand, tells it like it is and I feel free to repay him in the same currency. Secure in the knowledge that he will forget by night, as will I. My mother, I know will nurse the hurt and recall it years later.
In the last few years I’ve begun to try but even I have to admit that I am not good at it. Some time during my pregnancy with the Bean my relationship with my parents reached its lowest ebb and I was shouting, banging doors and fighting with them. I was going through certain problems and felt that they weren’t being supportive enough. Four years down I’m trying harder. Even a few days ago my father and I had a showdown but this time I merely called him *koff koff* ‘mean and unsupportive.’ Yes, I can be childish when I want. But we both stalked off, cooled off and came back bathed and calmer. I laid out some snacks and the evening tea and then we looked at each other, grinned and put our arms out for a hug. I sat in his lap (did I mention childish?) and we made up. It might take time but I realise that like all relationships, we need to work on the one with our parents too.
With Ma, I now try to say my words in my head before they spill out of my mouth to leave a scar that won’t go away. Mostly though, I am trying to stop thinking of it as my sovereign right to take them for granted. To stop saying, ‘But I am their daughter and have always been this way; they should have learnt to deal with it by now. But I am their daughter and they owe me this.’ I have to admit it doesn’t come easy.
At this point I must also admit that working on a relationship with your parents after you become a parent yourself is even harder. Everything begins to sound judgmental. If Ma says, ‘You should have done XYZ with the kids,’ I am most likely to turn around and snap, ‘Why? you didn’t do it for us.’ Not only do I end up feeling judged, I take a potshot at their parenting too. It’s not deliberate, but it is the instinctive reaction to being criticised. To hit out at the other and point out where they failed you. And everyone knows, the only people who can tell you where you went wrong in your parenting, are your children. I am so often carried away by my vile tongue that I am ashamed of myself. Yes, maybe they made some mistakes, but they were young and did the best they could. And while it’s okay to blame your parents for certain things in life, it is also time, that at 30, I take responsibility for the person I am and the things I say.
A small example is the way I trash my mother’s taste in clothes mercilessly – What is that crap, Ma? Are you planning on going out in public dressed like that? Because junta will just run for cover when they see that tee shirt.
She holds her tongue and either quietly submits to my better judgment or ignores me. The one thing she doesn’t deny is that I am always right. The one thing I can never forget is that I get my taste from her. Every choice in cotton sarees or crisp chikan kurtas with huge red bindis is one I learned from her and then fine tuned. But what I am yet to learn is to be nice while I go about it. Because the honest truth is that she looks awesome – I just want her to look better. And so I have now begun to shop for her when I see something that would look good on her, regardless of whether I can afford it or not. I’m busy getting her packed for a family wedding in Australia later in the year. I was supposed to have attended but no passport yet and so I am deriving my joy from planning her sarees for the various dinners and parties. Knowing that she likes the clothes I choose for her, I’m doing this the other way around. Holding my tongue and simply buying what I think will suit her.
With dad, I’m just learning to hold my tongue. Period. At other times if we’re arguing over how much television the kids should be allowed, I simply find an article that illustrates my point and leave it on his bed. One evening he came up to me twice and said, ‘You’re right and I was wrong. I apologise.’ I almost collapsed in shock. But if he can do it, so can I.
We’re learning. It’s not easy as adults to re-work our relationship. To put aside our emotional baggage and treat each other with the respect due to another adult. And yet, even here, as I struggle to improve my relationship with them, I realise that I am only able to do it with their help and cooperation.
What are you working on today?