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Staying hands-on in their kids’ and grand-kids’ lives without being interfering can be a wonderful thing for the elders in the family, letting them live full, joyous lives.
Gone are the days when a daughter’s parents used to get free after marrying her off and a son’s continued to be busy even after his marriage. Today, in most cases, both are equally free or busy depending on how you see it. My parents (with 2 daughters) and parents-in-law (with 2 sons) are free in the sense that both their children have separate units after marriage but are busy with grandchildren who keep them engaged. While in their cases, their kids left only after marriage, in some cases it can even occur earlier for the need to relocate to pursue higher studies, or finding a job in a different city.
Life after retirement is very different and it is critical to keep yourself engaged physically and mentally. My in-laws, who are Tamilians, chose to relocate from Delhi to Chennai to be proximate to immediate and extended family and spend quality time with them. Their family hub is in Chennai and every week or so there is someone or the other visiting. They are totally enjoying being in the centre of it all, after having lived a large part of their working life in the North.
On the other hand, my Punjabi parents, who were already in the centre of things staying with my grandmother in Delhi, continue to have everyone visiting. Their house is still the base for all my relatives visiting Delhi and they enjoy hosting and entertaining everyone. They take their short breaks when possible and love to travel around.
What is common to both of them is the companionship they enjoy. Both the mothers were always homemakers, being present for the children and leading active lives. Their respective husbands, after retiring, joined them in this. It’s amazing to see how they lead their independent lives and are co-dependent after years of marriage, yet are okay living apart for few days/weeks while their spouse travels. They have wonderfully synchronised lives that showcase compatibility and companionship.
It’s interesting to see how they have divided their duties and everyday functioning is smooth and seamless. The wives continue to take charge of household chores and kitchen. Husbands do most of the outside work and shopping. While one can easily take over other’s role when need arises, on a daily basis the roles are clearly ear-marked.
My father in law, Appa as we call him fondly, helps out in the kitchen, a trait rarely seen in men hailing from that generation. He takes interest in keeping things clean and discussing and deciding vigorously menus for each meal of the day. After his retirement, he tries to give space to his spouse yet enjoys the comfort of having her in the next room. Their love and respect for each other is exemplary. Being a social person, within a short span, he has managed to make friends in Chennai. Being a huge Hindi music lover, he sometimes craves to speak in Hindi and give references to his favourite songs.
My Papa loves having guests over, and maybe that’s why Mom is so used to cooking up a fancy gourmet spread at short notice. You can go to her house at any time and enjoy a hearty meal. As a family, we loved traveling and trying out new cuisines and my parents have continued with this passion even after they have become senior citizens. My parents have always been there for extended family and continue to do so. Seldom do they realize that they themselves are aging.
I recall my grandmother saying in Punjabi that “Interest is dearer than the principal”, implying that grandchildren are more loved than one’s own children. For that’s the time of pure joy as compared to responsibilities you have to shoulder while raising your own children. Both sets of parents are thoroughly enjoying their bundles of joy and take turns in keeping the grand children with them when needed. They are hands-on, and as I sometimes jest, they take better care of our children than us. They enjoy being with their grandchildren playing games, reading story books, practicing writing and hanging out on the swings in the park. It is wonderful to see them transform into children themselves.
In spite of cultural, regional differences seen across both sets of parents, the common thread of being there for each other, now that children have left the nest, is clearly visible. They set perfect examples before us of decades of togetherness and inspire us to follow suit. While their nests may be empty, their hearts are full with zest for life and love for people around them.
And in Appa’s words, “Time has no holiday, Dreams have no expiry date and Life has no pause buttons”. So enjoy the ride along with your loving companion and celebrate each day! A full heart will always keep you going.
A version of this was previously published here.
Image source: shutterstock
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