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Indian parents are experts at guilt tripping their kids, especially their daughters, who grow up into girls low on confidence.
“The worst question to ask a woman is not ‘How old are you?’ or ‘How much do you weigh’. It is ‘How do you do it all?'” wrote Sheryl Sandberg in her book, Lean In.
The unfairness underlying this question is especially relevant to today’s Indian society. India has been very late in accepting a woman’s contribution as part of the working-class. And when a woman is successful in her career while at the same time caring for a family, she is looked at with raised eyebrows. People begin to wonder about this superwoman who almost became a ‘bad mother’ by focusing so much on her career, but somehow ended up saving her family miraculously.
A successful man is never asked this question. Is raising a family not a man’s primary duty?
We, Indian women, are taken on guilt trips starting from our childhoods. We are taught to be good girls, learn to be disciplined and asked to not disappoint our parents. Girls as young as 5 are conditioned to help around the house, care for grandparents as they will learn early, the skills which will be required later.
When we start college, we are asked to behave ourselves, asked to not be seen with boys on their motorcycles and ‘embarrass’ our families. Several girls are still not allowed to choose their boyfriends or life partners lest their choices put their families to shame! When several of my friends got married to their long-term boyfriends, their parents openly told their relatives that it was an arranged marriage!
When we get to our 20’s, we are asked to marry at the ‘right’ age, in order to uphold the family’s status in the society. If we have younger sisters, the pressure is higher, as we are made to feel guilty about delaying their weddings too! It is made very clear that another Indian male refusing to marry your ‘aged’ younger sister would be our fault.
We are not only asked to please our parents, but grandparents too. Their age becomes a major factor in our decisions to get married or have kids, lest they die without being a witness to our weddings and to the birth of our children.
At our husbands’ houses, we are even guilted into pleasing our in-laws and husband’s grandparents, aunts, uncles, aunt’s children..the list never ends. We are guilted into doing things for them in the name of ‘making them proud’. We are asked to leave our jobs, put a halt to or cut short our careers and settle for something lesser. We are made to feel guilty about leaving our kids at the day care or hiring a nurse to care for elders.
But times have now changed. For instance, it is no longer necessary to marry our kids in their early 20s, as the life expectancy is not 45 years anymore. We need to let go of the need to be appreciated by other people, neighbors and community members and learn to accept that our daughters have a right to make their own choices.
Is it not selfish on our part to call our children selfish because they want to pursue their dreams?
Is it not insensitive on our part to put their plans on hold so that we get to see their weddings and their children?
Guilt is, after all, fear in disguise. We make them fear, that by doing something against our wishes, they make us unhappy. But why is pleasing us, our daughters’ duty? Are we all not individually responsible for our own happiness? Our society needs to stop using guilt as a tool to have our way and learn to gain our children’s respect through love.
Header image is a still from the movie Secret Superstar
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