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Power struggles in parenting between women and in laws is sad for everyone, beginning with the child who stands to lose out the most on positive parenting.
Mansi was sitting with little Arjun at the study table for the past one hour. Arjun was doing his homework while she repeatedly erased his untidy work, making him rewrite neatly what he wrote carelessly. As she sat there patiently, the child kept fidgeting and playing with anything he could get his tiny hands on – pencils, eraser, even the sharpener that he didn’t need!
Mansi was already tired after a whole day’s work and trying to beat deadlines. She worked from home; and only she knew the discipline and the tiptoeing-around-every-one-else’s-schedule it took her to complete her tasks at home as well as her office work on time. However, oblivious to her suffering, Arjun continued with his antics and Mansi was almost ready to tear her hair out any moment now.
Just then Arjun did a Math sum – correctly, but in an untidy hand – and she began to erase it. It irked him as he was already hungry and waiting for dinner. “The sum is correct Ma! Why are you erasing it?” he screamed. Mansi, who was afraid of exactly this happening, closed her eyes and started to count numbers in her head. She had barely reached the number 3 when her mother-in-law walked in, as expected.
“What happened? Oh, come on, your writing’s not so bad, Arjun. Why, you’ve actually written so much better than yesterday! What Mansi, you are scolding the little boy for? And beta, Ma is telling for your own good, dear. If you write neatly, everyone will appreciate your handwriting only na? They will say ‘Arjun’s writing is so good n neat!”
“I’ll tell you what. Why don’t we do one thing? You write the best you can and I will get you that Lego car set you said you wanted last time we went shopping! Deal? Happy? Come on, now write in the best hand, chalo, good boy!” and with that, she gave a triumphant smile to Mansi and left. This is the way to do things, it seemed to say, see how nicely I handled the situation?
Mansi gritted her teeth and let things be. Arjun wrote in an amazingly good hand after that, but she found no joy in it as she felt it was wrong to let her son do something for a reward, rather than doing something because that’s the way it was to be done. But what could she do? Who would she tell? Her husband worked erratic hours and was gone from home most of the time. And her in-laws were too over-powering for her to introduce any novel ideas of positive parenting in her household.
She sighed and remembered what her friend Aarti had told her just yesterday when they were waiting for school pick up. Aarti lived in a joint family too and her in-laws had strong notions about her as most in-laws do. Her daughter Nysa was perceptive to the power struggle that these notions usually gave rise to; and had learnt to use it to her advantage.
Whenever Aarti called her daughter in their room to study, Nysa would come up with some tantrum or the other, ready to do just about anything to get out of study time. What the child failed to understand though, was that her histrionics made Aarti’s life extremely difficult! Every time Nysa created a scene, Aarti’s in-laws would intervene, asking her not to trouble her child so much for a mere class test. They would remind her that marks were not always important in the long run and that it was unfair of Aarti to make her child cry every time the subject of studies came up! They would constantly judge her and tell her that she was not good enough, that she didn’t know how to teach her own child!
Mansi’s heart went out to her friend. She knew that the struggle they faced was real. Why, even their friend Payal was not spared. Just yesterday Payal had told them of how, every time her son scored good marks in tests, her in-laws gave him crisp ten rupee notes to show appreciation. But instead of making the child feel good about having scored good marks, this was having an adverse effect on him. The boy had taken to excessive spending! He used that money to buy candy or Pokemon cards whenever he felt like. What’s more, every time Payal tried to stop him from this unnecessary spending, her in-laws would refute her, saying they had given the money to their grandchild and that he was free to do with it whatever he wanted.
“How unfair!” Mansi thought. “Every house, in every family, why are people so unfair to us young mothers? Why would people be so adamant on doing things their own way? So much so, that they fail to see that we are trying to make a positive change in the way we want to raise our children! Don’t they realise that if I am trying to do good by my child, I am doing good by their grandchild too?”
Yes, she respected her in-laws and appreciated the fact that they were the ones who were responsible for getting their own children to a good position in life. But times have changed now, she thought; and in today’s world, with the kind of exposure that children have, it is important to change the way parenting was done in their times.
She felt bad, for all the mothers like her, who were educated, well-read girls, with impeccable manners and the right thinking; who had made a conscious choice to stay at home to be with their children and make a positive impact on their lives. It saddened her to see that they were faced with insensitive in-laws who would rather have them reduced to someone who merely cooks and cleans and keeps their son company.
No matter how lovingly her parents must have raised her, now that she is here, she is their bahu and she has to do what they say; no matter that their ideas are archaic or their way of doing things outdated. What is the use of her reading parenting articles and subscribing to parenting blogs? Aren’t her in-laws enough? Living proof that parenting is not something that one has to do anything about, children grow up anyway, all one has to do is to keep the house in order the way it has always been done!
Mansi felt pushed to a corner. There was so much she could do. So much she could teach Arjun about positivity and confidence and self-esteem; and that too, without spoiling him. But she couldn’t get anything past her in-laws who had a vice-like grip on the household and how it was run.
If only….she thought….if only our in-laws treated us like their own daughters and allowed us our way of doing things, life would be so much happy and positive – for all of us! After all, we are all on the same team aren’t we? We all want love and peace and happy children. So when I try something new, I wish they would allow me that freedom without judging and finding me guilty right at the outset. Maybe it would work, maybe it wouldn’t, but they are the best people to understand not everything in life is foolproof, aren’t they? They too were young once; they too made mistakes; so why not allow us to make ours?
The struggle is real, she concluded, for all of us young mothers who have chosen to be at home for our families – for our children – this is a daily struggle that we have to face. Any attempt at making a change in the status quo is unwelcome.
And yet, we march on. We must! In the hope that someday things will change, or at the very least, our children will grow up knowing (hopefully) that we meant to make a difference…
Published here earlier.
Image source: pixabay
Rashmi is a creative writer and a spirited mum. Previously a lawyer, she has always
Ha ! Ha! I’ve heard this story repeated so often and I do feel the pain of all those mothers. But I think we need to also see things from a different perspective. Grandparents are unable to understand the urgency and intensity of the new parent’s anxiety of getting the job done perfectly simply because they have forgotten what it is to feel like new parents. They don’t necessarily hold anything against their children’s style of parenting. They aren’t ‘in the spot’ themselves and so they don’t see what all the fuss is about. Its best if we can be indulgent and let ignore their advice as being misguided but well meaning nevertheless. They also have the wisdom of experience of knowing that getting all twisted and hyper about something is really not necessary. They do strongly believe that things often have a way of working themselves out- because that is what their own experience tells them!! I do understand that it certainly doesn’t help the new parent to have someone pull the cart in a different direction when one is trying so hard to get a job done a certain way. But its a part of the journey of life itself to constantly face challenges . If its not our parents it may be the spouse or the child’s peers etc., but there will always be someone doing this in our children’s lives and so its up to us to figure out how to overcome this challenge. When kids are small we mothers have to be a bit thick skinned and confident of ourselves too. Every parent since time immemorial has had to figure out the path as they went along and we are no different. So we must not take to heart negative judgement that others may pass but also introspect and find solutions. As kids get older we have to have a different strategy and let the kids know in the friendliest yet firmest way, who is really ‘the boss’ in matters of discipline. Its as simple as that! Everyone else slowly falls in line when the kid acknowledges this fact-be it grandparents or friends. At least that’s been my experience so far.
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