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It is not just education which sets you free, it is your confidence in your capabilities. Trauma is bad, but so is overprotective love which does not let you fail, or make mistakes and learn from them.
When I saw the mail calling for a personal story for Mother’s Day, my mind immediately started spinning its web because I can never pass on an opportunity to write about Mothers – after all the love of my life was my Mother, and I can’t tire of talking about her.
But it was only when I sat down to write did I realize that perhaps I am not qualified to enter this series –
1) Because I am not a mother myself,
2) I did not have any chain of trauma passed on by my mother. And though almost all children must be believing that they had the best Mother – I can bet my life that I did.
But then what sparked my writing this article was a conversation with a friend who has just moved to the US from India. She is single like me, and for some reason has been unable to decide on an accommodation even after a month of staying there – so much of indecisiveness that I discovered when I spoke with her. To the point that she had a lease in hand and yet not able to sign it. I helped her come to a decision on the amount she can afford, and hopefully left on a note where she should be able to decide.
This is not an isolated case; I have met a lot of such women and girls in my life, and made me wonder why even modern, financially independent women women often suffer from incapacitating indecisiveness. And I wondered what makes me different. I am very decisive; I believe even making a wrong decision is better than no decision – at least a wrong decision will teach you what not to do.
Similarly, I don’t understand the fear of mistakes and failure – caution definitely but Fear, definitely not – that throws you into this kind of a situation where the stakes aren’t even that high. There is always life after failure – we can learn from them, dust ourselves, and start walking again.
In an earlier article, I had mentioned how my Nani was the first feminist of our family. Though she was born into a highly educated family, where her father educated all his daughters, she was married young, after her father passed away at 32, leaving behind daughters that needed to be ‘married off’. The family she married into was very traditional and patriarchal, where my grandfather worshipped his mother but I am not sure if he gave equal respect to his wife, though to his credit, he too educated his daughters well.
My mother used to think that her mother loved her sons more than her as they stayed near her while she was at a hostel for her education. She perhaps did not realize her privilege of belonging to a family where she was given best of education, and also that she did not suffer much due to her father’s request transfers in the armed forces.
When she ran away from her medical college hostel and went back home, my Nani put her back on track for education rather than marrying her off. My Nani told my mother in very plain words that she is not getting married till she has a job as my Nani did not want her to suffer her fate.
I don’t think my Nani was ever able to explain to her daughter that she was being strict with her because of the trauma she had faced in her marriage, and in that unequal, unjust world where women had no say. She must have had to fight off those people who must have said that a woman just needs to get married, have kids, and take care of her home. She must have felt that she could not fail her daughter’s future as perhaps her own mother had failed her, when she was not allowed to study further and had married off after her father’s death. She must have endured a lot and fought a lot, the toll of which was her mental condition in her later years.
My Nani tried to break the chain of trauma she had endured by empowering her daughter, but unable to articulate her feelings, she and my mother had a strained relationship for a long time. By the time my mother started understanding my Nani, my Nani had started losing the understanding of the world around her.
I wonder if that is what made my mother decide to be her daughter’s best friend, and always ensure equality between my brother and me. Or that there should never be any communication gap between mother and daughter.
My mother would sit with me every evening, ask me about all that happened at school, tell me everything that happened at her school, tell me stories of her childhood, teach me songs – we cherished and protected our evening mother-daughter times, usually on the terrace.
She became a widow when she was 45; even in late 1980s there were people telling her to wear whites because she was a widow. She took up running the factories that my father had set up and tried to manage a male dominated business. We struggled due to multiple reasons and finally, decided to close them.
But I realized that in her case – there was also another different type of fight. My father had been such a doting husband that he would often do a lot of things related to the outside world like dropping her to school, the banking, financials, etc. So, my mother did not have much of expertise in that. I am not sure if it was by accident or design that I started managing the accounts of our factories, and then, even the tax matters of our family when I was in school itself. Later on, I would go on to do my MBA in Finance and become a Banker.
Similarly, my mother realized that my learning to drive was very important as she did not do that herself, and it sort of created a dependency on others. So, she always used to tell me that if I want to be independent, I should be mobile. Therefore, I learnt driving.
Another thing which was common in for all three generations of us women was that we were all built on heavier side and we all struggled with body image issues. I can talk of myself – I even had 3 surgeries to grapple with my weight.
So, I believe that coming to terms with our imperfections was also a part of our journey and today, I can proudly say that I completely and lovingly embrace every imperfection of mine. I have decided to go with my greys despite people telling me to color my hair. I never became slim but am happy that I am healthy, and all my vitals in annual health check ups are under control.
I think this is also one lesson I learnt from my mother. Their generation was trying to be great at everything, work as well as taking care of home –which made them burn the candle at both ends. This resulted in their not taking care of their health, not getting regular check ups, not taking care of their diet and exercise.
That is what I have decided I will not try to do – I have no intention to be a Superwoman – I am very happy being a normal human being who does need breaks, relaxation, massages, me-time. For example, I am a good cook but loathe cooking. I look at cooking as a life skill rather than a definition of being a woman.
I have been lucky in having a mother who ingrained in me that I can do everything by saying that she had no worries about me as she knew that I was completely capable of taking care of myself. But I have also seen cases where mothers made their 14 year old daughters swear that they will never fall in love, to shut up about family members molesting them, to not try to be like their brothers.
The impact of these scars on impressionable minds is as devastating as the impact on a baby elephant never being able to break the small rope tying him even when grown up. The childhood experience ingrains it in their mind that they cannot break that rope despite growing up to be strong enough to break much bigger chains. Making them unable to depend on themselves to do what needs to be done.
One of the effects is what I saw in my friend, whom I mentioned in the beginning. Incapacitating indecisiveness. Second-guessing themselves. It also might be seen as the need for approval from anybody and everybody. Log kya kahenge.
But that is what I realized, that it is not just education which sets you free, it is your confidence in your capabilities. A domestic worker who may be uneducated but earns for her household and drives a bicycle to work is far more independent than an educated, financially independent woman replying to a decision point with “I will ask my husband.” Freedom and Independence does not start or end with a degree or a job, but in your faith in yourself that you can handle everything life throws at you.
Yes, trauma is bad, but so is overprotective love which does not let you fail, or make mistakes and learn from them. A body to function properly needs both exercise as well as relaxation. So does our mind – both testing its limits and not being overprotected, as well as giving equal opportunity to develop and learn. I often hear that women are “bad drivers, they don’t know how to handle power, they don’t know how to act in unfamiliar situation.” The reason is simple – men are trained since childhood to do these things – sent out for errands alone, made to learn driving, express their opinions. It is the sheer number of years of experience & training which makes them better at these things. Let us train our daughters also by giving them more exposure on how to handle the world and be on their own – to fight their fights and to rise above adversities – then they will not just be good at whatever they do but even better.
Practice makes a person perfect, let them practice life before it hits them – let them fail a little, hurt a little and heal a little.
Parenting is not easy, and while most of us try to parent our children mindfully, so many of us slide into default modes of parenting we have learnt from our parents while growing up. How do children perceive this parenting? Are we mindful of what they feel, what they think? Are we trying to #BreakTheChain of generational trauma?
We called for personal stories by moms where they have made this decision, or the personal stories of their mothers. To mother mindfully. Mothers and Daughters who say – #BreakTheChain.
Prerna Nanda is one of our winners.
Image source: a still from the Marathi film Aamhi Doghi
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