This is a pretty lengthy write-up (not unusual for me) but I feel compelled to post this. Because it PAINS….
I have spent years shuttling between India and Qatar, but mostly based in India as my son went on completing his schooling as well as undergrad course in our hometown Chennai. I had to double up as both mother and father who was permanently outstation. Just how much to control my teenage son as a mother (i grew up in a dominating women’s household) and how much leverage to allow him like his father might in reality was a big dilemma for me. To my knowledge I think I did justice to my dual role. I drew up some balancing parameters that we had to stick to under any and all circumstances. For instance, I disallowed my son, our only child, from riding a motorbike because young guys tend to speed or race in their bikes. I am averse to rash driving and get totally unnerved by the idea even if I myself have driven a two-wheeler. Instead I promised my son to let him drive our car which I thought was comparatively safe.
As a mother and father rolled into one, I have been for my son’s school admissions and university admissions. Mother and son even stood for USIS interview in hot sun for 6 hours! We have done so many things together right from the time I started homeschooling him at the age of 4 years in Malaysia. He went on to learn up to standard 2 at home, with me as his first and most memorable teacher and our first computer’s monitor as his classroom blackboard right from the year 1998-99. Standard 3 back in regular school in Chennai was like KG admission for my boy – schooling had become a new concept to him at 7 years by which time most Indian kids would be pretty well settled in academic school life. A complete misfit in his first couple of years of primary school back home in India, my son however was already reading the latest Harry Potter that was a universal hot-seller.
We weren’t the regular mother-son. In many ways we were the unconventional parent-ward thanks to our enforced solitary existence in Malaysia for 3+ years. Homeschooling changed both our way of thinking. May be that sets us apart from many others in our bracket.
How much ever you may try, you still cannot become a 100% perfect parent just the way your child can never become the 100% perfect son/daughter. In our case, my son blames us for his low sport quotient which I accept as our fault. I could only take him for swimming and music lessons, there were limits to my capacity to function as a father.
THE DEFINING YEARS
The high school and higher secondary years are the real formative years for teenagers in my opinion. Their peers’ circle expands by this time. Any good or bad association is formed at this phase of life that may have nothing to do with the way they were raised in their pre-teens. This age finally determines how the rest of the lives will be for our children. Essential character formation happens. Confidence building time. Trust is earned. Lessons learned. Friendships and relationships made in the late teens remain a lifelong bond. A very influential age in short. This is the time, parents need to keep a close watch on their wards. I have to give credit to my son’s school and his friends who have had a great role to play in shaping him into what he is today. Parents’ role gets limited with age. Peers step in who will have a big say in your children’s future which will have a lasting impact on their lives. The company our kids keep is very important. This company can make or break our kid. Parents can have a dialogue with their children without antagonizing them and without attempting to control outright. Hormones go for a swing not only for our teens, but invariably for us parents too when biological changes like an impending menopause may push us into losing control/temper. Where parents remained cold and unapproachable, the kids I have known have dared to stray. A mother’s job is 24 hours whether she is a full time homemaker or working woman.
Upto 21 years I guess, this tough period lasts for our kids starting from their 13th. Girl children get periods so they are relatively safe with this release. As for boys, it is very difficult to control. A couple of my friends got concerned when their teenage boys would lock themselves up for hours in their rooms not coming out. Real testy time for us parents as we know by this time boys will be on to every vice you can think of: smoking, boozing, girls, drugs, porn stuff – unless of course you instill in them beforehand the moral fear and discipline. This is where good parenting comes in.
On another side there is the burgeoning academics. If Indian kids are least addicted to drugs, booze etc., compared to other parts of the world, i would say it is because of our heavy school syllabus and homework!!! Back to back assignments and test papers. (The flip side in this case is frightening depression in aspiring kids, which I am not going into here).
Wading through these rough waters is not easy. Balancing the tight rope of parenting is an art. I am no expert and I haven’t mothered a dozen kids either, but here are a few life experiences that I would like to share. This is the combined and collective wisdom of mine and my friends.
CHILDREN & TEENS IN MODERN INDIA
Why it is important to know your ward’s friends and their parents and their full peer circle
Once my son and his friends started driving by 18 years, the boys started going out as a gang. They attended co-education school and later university where boys and girls mixed freely. Girls (note: skimpily clad!) came home all the time to our house and my son as well as other boys frequented the girls’ homes. Birthdays and New year and Diwali celebrations were also gala events for them. I got used to girls driving back my son home in the middle of nights after cinema, because I was against him driving in unearthly hours! So the girls would drop him back home safe! They knew I would be staying awake agitated until he returned home.
I also got to know my son’s friends parents. We have attended birthday parties together. We also routinely met each other in school Open days, Sports days, Annual days, Boy scouts camps etc. I practically had everyone’s phone number and address. I knew where the friends’ parents worked, who their siblings were, what class they attended. In fact some of my friends’ parents became our family friends. That’s the beauty of parenthood. Parents of our children invariably become our good friends, sometimes even best friends.
I have had the distinctive opportunity of cooking for my son’s friends on very many occasions over years thanks to my homemaker status. That is one sure way of bonding for lifetime. Boys who eat together hang out together. Their loyalty is ours.
I also discovered that the girls who were my sons friends were very smart, extremely intelligent, brainy and totally independent. Indeed that did not surprise me. They are this generation. The best thing about them was, they also groomed well, dressed well unlike ours that was a little hesitant in these matters. Boys and girls sitting packed in a single sofa brushing each other, patting each other became normal thing for us. We parents learned to accept the inevitable that education will one day lead to such an equality between men and women in every sphere. Indian women are well accomplished and are on equal footing as their male counterparts today. In a traditionally conservative society however, this sometimes leads to ripples. I am personal witness to watching my son as well as his friends develop enormous respect for the fairer sex who they’re gallant enough to admit, were better than them in every conceivable way! Mostly, the male mindset is like this in India. Our media unfortunately chooses to focus on the negligible bad apples with an agenda and also for TRP .
I am for allowing our kids a free rein after establishing certain limits with mutual consent. Both parents and wards have to respect these boundaries. The best parents do not teach or reprimand their children; they inspire and lead by example. At the same time, when you say ‘NO’, mean ‘NO’ firmly and finally. Any dillydallying and weaknesses can make our kids get their way with us against our intuitive warnings. If you want to refuse permission to your son/daughter for a picnic or outing for valid reasons, do not yield to emotional blackmail. Stay unwavering and do not give in to temper tantrums. Always ask your child to account the pocket money. Yes, you can spy on their phones and laptops. You are the parent remember. A PARENT CAN NEVER BECOME A FRIEND. A PARENT WILL BE PARENT TO SON/DAUGHTER FOR LIFETIME. Do not believe in the bullshit that you can become your son/daughter’s friend. Do not compromise on your kids academic scores. Stay alert for any change in their mood swings and body language.
But I agree generally and basically, all our children are sweet and smart. Sometimes, we parents come to learn a lesson or two from our children.
One day my son took out our car by 6 pm in the evening, to go for group studies in his friend’s place. It was showering lightly and I asked him to return before 11 pm. I had his dinner ready in the table by 8. Then it started pouring cats and dogs as the monsoon unleashed its full fury for next 2 hours without a let-up. I ran to our balcony and noticed that the water level was starting to rise in my street. By this time, there was knee level water and draining had almost come to a stop. Just then the power was switched off by the department as with alarm I watched the water rise to hip level below my window.
I rang my son asking him to stay indoors in his friend’s place whose parents were also abroad. No need to come home in the rains as parking was impossible. Even steering into my street was not possible. The boys said they were hungry and they had had nothing. I said, nothing would happen to them if they went to bed on empty stomach for a night.
I called up my husband abroad and he in turn rang up the boys and advised them the same. I was restless that night – call it a mother’s instinct. Its almost like a premonition.
I used to rise by 3.45 always then. By 5 am my son was back and I was surprised that I did not hear the car parking sound. When I opened the door to the ringing bell, he calmly walked in and sat me in the living. Then he said in a very reassuring tone, ‘Ma, first of all, let me tell you this. I am fine, I am not hurt, I am healthy and have not suffered any injury. Neither did my friend. Both us are 100% okay’ . As my eyebrows creased in concern, he stopped me from asking questions and continued. “I did not obey your words, took out the car with my friend in midnight after the rains stopped because we were hungry and we wanted to eat out. Power was out completely and I rammed the car into a road roller parked haphazardly. There were warning signs in the middle of the road but they were invisible in the pitch dark with power out. It was a major accident and our airbags burst open and saved our lives.’
By this time I was completely shaken and started crying. I started fussing over my baby when he said, ‘we called our other friends rather than calling you in those midnight hours. The car had stalled. We pushed it into a by-lane out of view of traffic where it is quiet. There is no sign of accident in the road now. The road roller driver was already driving it out of spot a few minute before. No damage to the road roller either which belonged to city corporation. Not even a scratch but our car has suffered a heavy damage.’
Our car was only one year old then, but it was least of my concern. I broke down but I immediately thanked God for sparing my son’s life and also that of his friend’s. The friend’s life was also then my son’s responsibility. I had tossed and turned the entire night not sleeping well. Insurance matters could wait. I thought of calling my husband for whom it was 3 am then. Then decided against it. My son had just taught me a lesson: of how not to alarm or panic people. I fixed him a hot chocolate and calmed myself down. I decided to call the insurance people first.’
By the time I called my husband, it was 6 am his local time. I decided to adopt my son’s strategy of breaking the news calm and cool.
My husband told me this in equal calm, ‘first things first. Make sure, our son and his friend have no internal injury.. Ask them to visit a doctor. Secondly DO NOT REPRIMAND or correct our son. He did the expected thing for his age. Do not blame him for insurance loss or for car damage or for reckless driving or irresponsibility. We all learn from mistakes. This is a lesson he will not forget in his life. Do not say a word that might crush his confidence or make him feel guilty. Thirdly follow up with insurance/police. Verify and keep all the relevant documents like driver’s licence, etc ready. Follow up and by God’s grace we can afford the damages not covered by insurance.
However, the shock of the accident stayed with us for days. It took a month for my son to take back to his wheels. With a great difficulty I tried avoiding uttering a single negative word to him or his friend. They were only 18 then. I did not get to see the car but my insurance agent who inspected it personally said the damage was heavy on the front.
Being young, the boys bounced back in no time because we parents took it all in light spirit. I decided however to bring up the matter again to my son a few months after. I drew his attention to the financial loss but stressed, he mattered to us more than the car. And he for his part understood, why parents are always right and why parents have this instinct about their children always.
This incident is not only an eye opener for my son, but also for me as to how to handle things. How to be in control of yourselves always. The manner in which the gang of boys decided to break the news to me still impresses me. How gently I was told about it, the positive things first, the negative things finally. Their entire gang turned out in the middle of the night to the accident site with no parent having any knowledge about the accident. They decided to hand-push the car to safety and under a tree that covered it with branches after they physically force-opened the car doors with machines to rescue my trapped son and his friend. They left no tell tale sign in the road that returned to normalcy soon as they moved the car. Such a self-assured cool attitude really bowled me over. Then the boys method of seeking a practical solution to the situation… without inviting attention… without complicating matters… where did they even learn this maturity. They had even considered the insurance claims, police complaint everything. The insurers re-drafted their claim in the absence of evidence and paid only 60% of damages. The other parties were city corporation who allowed parking of road roller in the street middle (there were signboards that did not help), the electricity board department who switched off power who were impossible to deal with.
So often we underestimate our children. They deserve better treatment. Three of my son’s friends also lost their fathers in their early 50s due to sudden massive heart attacks in the next couple of years. The boys have taken the harshest blows. They handled pressure extremely well and are already adults.
HEART TO HEART
Make no bones about what is expected of your kid. Spell it out in concrete terms what you want in and what you want out.
In his undergrad years, I would tell my son this: ‘if you want to smoke, smoke at home in my presence. I don’t want to know of it through a third party. But remember, it is addictive and in future, you will have to spend a part of your hard earned money on cigarettes even if you are not bothered about your health.’ Being this generation, the boys need not have to be told of the ill-effects of smoking.
Same advice about boozing. I only tell my son that it is not good to even try often the things that can become addictive by nature. First it will be a weekly beer. Then it might become a daily habit. Alcoholics are born this way. Health is secondary. Time and finance and family peace are the first and major casualties.
Dealing openly in these matters can preempt any plans our boys may have about smoking/boozing. It kills their golden goose called ‘thrill!’ They will hate us for this, but will be grateful one day in future!
As for love affairs, I make it straight. ‘Only a Hindu girl’ I tell my son, ‘I just cannot accept a christian girl or muslim girl for my daughter-in-law. Do not have ideas that if you live in America, you can change my mind!!!’ Also I tell him, if he is not ready to marry a girl, it is not good to have a fling with her. Unless and until you can afford to run your own family, these things can wait.’
My friends have similar frank conversations with their daughters. My friends make it clear to their daughters that in our Indian/Hindu culture, a girl is expected to stay chaste until her marriage. We can be progressive by all means without compromising on our native culture and morality/ethics. Most times, this honestly helps. Especially if your kid is to study/reside/work abroad or even in a different town/city within India, reiterate the Indian values a thousand times and every time you converse with him/her. Once your kid, always your kid even if you may be 60 or 70 and he/she is 30 or 40.
Through every crisis in life, it is also very important for us parents to instill courage in our children over anything. We should not turn them into cowards over-protecting them. We can let them reach far, still holding the leash in our hands. Dissuade and discourage gently if you have to, never forcefully. Encourage and prod, wherever you must. Be there when your ward slips/falters. This is one time you must NEVER criticize. Never compare either with siblings or peers. Every kid’s pace of maturity is different.
Taking the crowded town bus and sweating it out with masses under hot tropical Indian sun are essential life conditioning processes our children have to undergo. No point in cushioning them and softening the blows for them. Let our children face their own demons, but let us be there for them for moral support should need there be. In today’s man-eat-mat world, it is important for your son and daughter to be raised STREET SMART because this is basic survival skill.
Many ask me, how it is possible for me to let my only child (he is an adult now) live abroad. It was not my decision, it was his. One day when he was 20 years my son said he wanted to go to the United States for his higher studies. I laid down only one condition: that he had to earn it by merit. If he could secure with his grades a good university admission that we could approve of, then we would be ready to foot his expenses. We never helped him in any other way. He did everything on his own – my role now was limited to swiping my card.
A girl who was with my son in school topped the Carnegie Melon university in US with a gold medal. One boy in Bangalore is a start-up wizard. One was handpicked by Microsoft to work in their Seattle office. One is with MGM working around the world. One is a sailor in a merchant vessel. One sells bikes in Chennai taking over his father’s business. My friend’s daughter was one of the 10 participants to be selected by Google for their Innovators conference. She is a hacking queen. She traveled to and fro America on a fully sponsored trip. Another spent a month in Canadian cold in January braving -30 c temperature where she was on an assignment for the bank she works for.
THE GOOD TOUCH-BAD TOUCH LOGIC
‘How it is always the woman’s fault.’
Is it possible to lock up girls anymore in this 21st century. One Pollachi and already I am rained with advices to stop blogging. That I blog controversial. That I need to think twice before I post something in social media. I am 50 for god’s sake and no man can be having ideas about me at this stage of life. Yet, as some friends insist, ‘women are women!!’
About Pollachi, a friend asserts, the caste rigidity complicates matters there. Families are extremely conservative even if forward when it comes to girls’ education or employment. Family honour means more to the southern districts of Tamil Nad. Daughters can be either pride or shame – only one of the two. This explains the reluctance of the women victims from reporting sex crimes to the law enforcement agencies.
You switch on any tv channel and there are 24 hours sermons as to how ‘girls invite this to themselves.’ So much so that even my husband is asking me to stay safe !!! Mother-in-law asking me not to post pictures in social media as if I am a teenager waiting to be kidnapped! The kind of panic mode that has set in is alarming. Instead of stopping the criminals and rapists from committing further crimes, our society is asking us women to play it safe, avoid late night outings, clubs, bars, dress ‘decent’ and do away with drawing inadvertent attention to ourselves!
Schools in India, teach KG girls of 3 years how to distinguish between ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch.’ My friends’ daughters grew up this way – being taught not to allow the school bus driver to touch them, to watch out for dirty uncles and cousins and neighbours. Do our schools ever teach our boys about how to ‘touch good’ and ‘not touch bad.’
You are asking our sisters and daughters and mothers and nieces and aunts to stay safe and play it safe. How many of us ask our brothers and sons and fathers and nephews and uncles to make it a safe world for women.
One Pollachi cannot be a reason for us to restrain our daughters and lock them behind doors. One ‘Nirbhaya’ (of the Delhi gang rape case) cannot put our daughters always on backfoot. This is so cowardly. Asking your daughter to carry pepperspray to protect herself (which is wise i don’t deny) but doing nothing to rein in the criminal who is out to offend/hurt her. Tweak our laws Govt of India – make ‘rape’ a non-bailable criminal offence which carries death for maximum sentence.
A friend said, it is also important not to victim-shame girls who have been through the worst. We as humans, have to rise above that. What a thought! Refreshing to come across this in Whatsapp: What a wonderful write-up.
CRIMES HAPPEN EVERYWHERE.
Where is not crime in this world. I think of the Austrian girl impregnated by her own father in a dungeon-basement for years who finally escaped to freedom. Child pregnancies are too very common in America. We know the story in Afghanistan/Arab world. South American women are worst abused with drugs and initiated into prostitution. Tribes in Africa mutilate women’s genitals for fertility. Some are classified as crimes, some have societies’ sanction that’s the difference. Many a time, it is trusted family members and closest kin/friends who abuse women. If women do not report, this is most likely the case. Only in India we have caste/community prejudice clouding these issues. Naming and shaming criminals is not allowed to happen which encourages wrong elements. Questions to be asked are never asked. Fingers to be pointed are never pointed.
THE HORRIBLE TAMIL CINEMA LOGIC OF A VICTIM MARRYING HER RAPIST TO SAVE HER HONOUR.
Is marriage the only salvation for a woman?
I am sick of Tamil films that show the rape victims marrying their rapists. This is what our masses are fed or brainwashed with. I can recall at least two films from 1980s – my teens. Today, Kamal Hasan is into politics. To be specific, I recall his picture ‘Sagalakala Vallavan.’ Kamal’s sister in the film gets raped (why the rape scene at all. what a perverse mind would film a rape scene even in celluloid). He gets her married to the villain-rapist who finally he reforms. Visu shot to fame producing/directing family dramas. In one of his films, he shows actress Jayashree marrying/accepting as her husband Pandiyan who forcefully ties the Mangal Sutra in her neck. Is marriage only about Mangal sutra? Visu later went on to become a popular tv personality debating social issues. Vijaykanth is another actor-turned politician from Tamil Nadu. In his film ‘Amman kovil kizhakkale’ he forcefully ties the knot around heroine Radha’s neck and makes him his wife publicly against her wishes. Radha is advised – like Visu film’s Jayashree – to accept the man and live with him and ‘reform’ . Vijay is another upcoming actor-turned politician. You can see him stalk girls until they would fall in love with him in many of his pictures – same with Dhanush (who mercifully has so far kept out of politics). Most Tamil heroes in our pictures do not leave girls in peace shadowing them everywhere. The richest girls are shown to fall for the scummiest slum boys which never happens in real life.
One thing that completely belies me is that, how when so much is happening in your daughter’s life, a parent especially the mother can remain totally ignorant about it, completely blind to what nightmare the child is going through. You can’t pick up anything from her body language? Mood swings? What kind of mother you are.
Social media is a double edged weapon. You can use it to your benefit or to your detriment. And I trust our girls are literate enough to make an intelligent choice. Nothing happens without our consent at some level. Even in Nirbhaya’s case, I was shocked at the naivety of the young couple taking a lift from total strangers. I am not asking parents to keep your daughters at home sun down. But just talk some sense into your daughters. How to stay wise. I refuse to use the word safe. This is just commonsense. Always letting a third party know about our whereabouts is a smart thing to do.
Finally I wouldn’t want to condemn the entire male species to being nasty and dirty (that they are anyway) – because in my life personally, I have come across only the best men. May be that’s a blessing. I have been under the protective wings of my father, uncles and I have a loving family. Men in my family wouldn’t hurt a fly. They respect women a lot. Of course they are today’s men at the same time. I have said this before, i am repeating it now. When I complained that I had to take a midnight taxi to airport for my 4.30 am flight, my husband said, then if I wanted to feel safe, I should be ready to leave home by 8 pm and reach airport before 10. No concession because I am a woman.
Let us women steel ourselves – that is our first line of defence. Never ignore your intuition/natural instinct, this is your best guard, heed to it. And when a crime still does take place, let us REPORT it. It will go a long way in stopping the crime from reoccurring. Let us be each other’s support system. Let us celebrate boldness and bravery and not find an excuse to prop up any cowardice in us. Let us take care of ourselves.
Boys or girls, they are our children. Boys are equally vulnerable. Let us be parents who our children can trust and confide in, than someone who they may fear. Love and affection and respect and trust and confidence our children repose in us will keep them in good stead. Last but not the least, avoid ugly scenes like bickering/arguing in front of your kids. Children feel safe and secure when parents make a happy home.