‘My son never eats food unless I serve him myself and sometimes wouldn’t eat unless I feed him,’ says this mother of her….hold your breath…25-year-old son. When I heard her say it, I had a job trying not to puke. Fortunately for me the son wasn’t around.
Then there is the father who wouldn’t send his son to study out of the city since he couldn’t live away from his jigar ka tukda! And the boy — all of 19 — for his part avers, ‘My papa is my hero!’ The man wouldn’t get his daughter married off to someone who was likely to leave the city either.
There are other mama’s and papa’s children of both the sexes, who are firmly kept under control by the respective parents. At the other extreme are parents who let their children have all the slack and sometimes no restraints at all — to live according to the latter’s rules. With the result we have brats who demand and get more than they should, including the freedom to do whatever they want, riding vehicles beyond their age and capability, dressing age-inappropriately, getting into undesirable friendships and habits….
Ultimately, the ones who are well grounded and also emotionally secure are the ones who are given age appropriate freedom and unconditional love. I am tempted to quote S.E.Hinton from The Outsiders here: They (his parents) gave in to him all the time…he wanted someone to tell him ‘No’. To have someone to lay down the law, to set the limits, give him something solid to stand on…If his old man had belted him – just once, he might still be alive.
(Read my review of the book here)
So what kind of love is the best and most enduring? Try this test and you will get the answer:
Take a handful of sand and think it is your loved one. Now hold it tight in your fist, squeezing it as much as you can – trying to hold it all in. What happens? The sand begins to trickle out with the same speed as which it is being squeezed, leaving you with just a few grains. Next, hold it in a flat palm in a windy place and see it all blow away slowly. Finally, cup it in the palm – and see it stay.
That’s the way love should be. Some support, a lot of breathing space and it stays put. Too much suffocating love only makes it escape the clutches while complete freedom sees it fly away! So which kind of love is yours? This test applies especially to children but to other relationships as well.
When I was still in my teens, I had formed a lot of my beliefs and convictions as most teens do, I suppose. But I have tried to live by many of them that I thought were sensible, in my adult years too. One of the life lessons that I learnt was about the sand test. So one day, I told an older woman who had one son on whom she doted, that I would start letting go of my children when they began walking. She laughed and told me, ‘You can talk all you want. Let me see you after you have kids.’
When I had kids, true to my word, I began practicing what I had learnt as a teen. Only she didn’t see or didn’t want to acknowledge the fact. It is easy: Just think that every step a child takes is towards independence, one step at a time. So when the time comes for the child to leave home the wrench is far less than it would be had you held on fiercely, trying to prevent falls and hurts.
No, I want to amend that statement. It is NOT easy. When you see the boy getting down the steps, leaving home for college, you want to run and hug him, but hold back, afraid he would brush it off as sentimental stuff (or maybe turn away, afraid to betray his own fear of the new life?). You hastily swallow the lump rising up in the throat and say something monumentally silly like, ‘Remember to bathe everyday!’ He looks at you as if you have lost it and you are glad you have saved the day!
But once you are through this difficult stage, you don’t keep calling every day or make them swear an oath that they should. That is the difference between those who let go and those who don’t.
My neighbor has three grown up children – the eldest one a daughter, is married while the other two are boys and still unmarried. She keeps insisting that she wants to be ‘free’ and on her own with her husband but becomes restless by mid morning if one of them hasn’t called. She would call me up and start unloading all her fears and paranoia about their welfare, ending with roundly cursing them for being so uncaring!
I know another woman, an independent, working woman who had been talking of leaving for her native place in the south once her sonny boy completed school. ‘I will send him off to hostel and then leave. I want to engage in some spiritual pursuits,’ she used to keep saying. I would hide a smile and nod. Everyone in the colony knew what a control freak she was and how terrified of her the 12-year-old boy was. The school final came and went and she still was around. I had shifted from that place but when I caught up with her sometime later she said, ‘He has got admission in a local college. It doesn’t make sense to leave him in a hostel.’ He completed his PG, M.Phil and then doctorate and she still was around. ‘He is so busy that he needs someone to tell him even to eat!’ I will rest once he gets married and then I will leave.’
The last I heard was that he had been married off to a girl of her choice and that she will stay with them for sometime to ensure that the girl ‘takes care of my son properly’! Besides, ‘He wants us to be with him and I can’t break his heart.’
That’s possessiveness for you. I can well imagine the poor girl trying to snatch time for herself with her husband from this woman while trying to become his mother under his biological mother’s critical gaze.
It is this same streak of possessiveness that makes mothers call up their married daughters (whether living in a joint family or in a nuclear set up) to find out how the day was, what she cooked, what they ate and where they were going for the weekend – the works, interspersed with (un)solicited advice on a variety of things, like my neighbor above, did. Often it leads to interfering in the personal affairs and advice on how to deal with the in-laws and husband to keep them ‘in place.’ So even if the marriage is running on an even keel, such advice can easily derail it.
It is nothing but insecurity on the part of the parent that makes them possessive of their children, lest they lose them. Being in their middle years by the time the children grow up, they are already battling menopause and other health issues, making them even more insecure and scared of loneliness.
But in their selfishness, they don’t realise that their suffocating love can work in two ways and both are harmful.
(a) the subject will try to break free
(b) will remain a stunted individual, incapable of taking independent decisions and sometimes even go into depression.
When these children get married, they carry their insecurities into the new relationship and thus become either control freaks or victims, depending upon how their childhood shaped them; or take their new found freedom to unacceptable levels thus becoming unreliable. Worse, they are so impressed upon by one or both their parents that they look for a mother/father in their spouses putting an incredible strain on the relationship.
All this is to say that the latter life personality of a person depends upon the kind of love he or she has got as a child.
Let me hasten to add that this applies to both boys and girls, before I get a spate of only ‘poor girl married to mama’s boys ‘ comments to this post.
So what kind of love are you giving/going to give your own children?
(Image courtesy: science.howstuffworks.com)