There was this father who wouldn’t send his son to study out of the city since he couldn’t bear to live away from his jigar ka tukda! And the boy — all of 19 — for his part avers, ‘My papa is my hero!’ The said man would only get his daughter married off to someone within the city, and not to someone who was even likely to leave the city!
The bus was late that day and the woman ahead of me was going crazy worrying about her son. ‘He will be waiting for me to come and serve him food,’ she wailed. Wasn’t there any food in the house? ‘Oh yes! But he won’t eat unless I serve him.’ I thought she was talking about a little boy till she continued, ‘I should have taken half day off today! He said he would be home early from college.’ I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry.
There are other mama’s and papa’s children of both the sexes, who are firmly kept under control by the respective parents. It might be possessiveness or a misguided sense of love that it is supposed to be subservient in order to be true. Many of these children grow up into dependent adults even after they marry. And no this is not just about boys, but also about girls. If the boys look for their mothers in their wives, the girls look for their father in their husbands — ready to cosset and spoil them.
At the other extreme are parents who let their children have all the slack , sometimes with no control at all — to live according to their own rules even when they are very young. 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….I could go on and on.
I am tempted to quote S.E.Hinton from The Outsiders here: This was about the poor rich boy who got his way all the time and who went a little too far once and paid with his life.
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 the book review here)
Ultimately, the ones who turn out to be well grounded and also emotionally secure are the ones who are given age appropriate freedom and unconditional love when they are growing up.
Try the sand test to find out what kind of love is the best.
Take a handful of sand and pretend it is your loved one. Now hold it tight in your fist, squeezing it as hard as you can – trying to hold it all in. What happens? The sand begins to trickle out with the speed commensurate with the force of the squeeze, leaving you with just a few grains in a while. Next, hold it in a flat palm in a windy place and see it all blow away slowly. Finally, cup it in the palm, just so – and see it stay.
This test applies especially to parents and children but to other relationships as well. 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 the best and which kind do you give?
It is not possible to suddenly let go of your child when they become adults after mollycoddling them till then or breathing down their necks or even leading them by their hands well into their adolescence and teenage. Parents have to begin the process of letting go when the child starts walking — literally.
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 have been had you held on fiercely, trying to prevent his 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 you hold back, afraid he would brush it off as sentimental stuff, cling to you fearfully or maybe turn away from you, afraid to betray his own fear of the new life. You are not ready for any of the above reactions and so you hastily swallow the lump rising up in your throat and say something monumentally silly like, ‘Remember to bathe everyday, ok?’ He looks at you as if you have lost it, then grins before loping off. And you are glad you have saved the day — for both of you.
Having crossed the most difficult first step, give them space. It is not just the physical space they have got, but they need emotional space too, to grow into strong individuals. You don’t keep calling every day or make them swear an oath that they should call every day. Trust plays a large part in this. You have to trust their judgment, their capability to take decisions. And if they make mistakes, they have to learn from them. You can’t prevent those just as you couldn’t prevent their falls as a child without stifling them or stunting their growth as individuals.
My neighbor has three grown up children Two sons and a daughter. She keeps insisting that she wants to be ‘free’ and live on her own with her husband. But the truth is different. By mid morning she is a nervous wreck if one of them hasn’t called or picked up her repeated calls. 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 about their mother! Her husband is no better, in fact, he is worse and used to wonder how we allowed our sons to even go to hostel!
Oh yes! All these apply to both parents, not just the mother. Fathers sometimes have a worse stranglehold on their children than mothers.
In their selfish possessiveness, 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.
There was this woman, financially independent with a good job, who kept talking of retiring to her native village 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 stifling possessiveness for you. But it is not all about mama’s boys. 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 she ate and where they were going for the weekend – the works, interspersed with (un)solicited advice on a variety of things. 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, and things are going fine, such advice can easily derail it.
Though I have written this post in relation to parenting, the same rule applies to all relationships, including marriage. And let me hasten to add that this applies to both the genders, before I get a spate of ‘poor girl married to mama’s boys ‘ comments.
So what kind of love are you giving/going to give your own children?
Image above courtesy: science.howstuffworks.com,