Saturday, June 10, 2023

Revisiting parenthood: A tale of misplaced glorifications and social hegemony


By Sunayan Bhattacharjee

Parenthood has a lot of falsified clarifications in our society. What are those? How should that be rectified?

The Metanarrative

“Always listen to your parents!”

“A good girl/ boy never argues with her/ his parents!”

“Parents always do things in the best interests of their children!”

These are catchphrases that all of us have repeatedly been told while growing up. Wait! No! Let me correct myself! These are catchphrases that all of us have repeatedly been told not just during our growing-up years but all throughout our lives. In fact, parenthood has been kept beyond the confines of any worldly criticism. It probably would not be an exaggeration if were to say that parenthood is placed on a pedestal and more so in the Indian context.

The popular yet untested social construct that all of us need to be grateful to our parents for giving us birth is so powerful that most of us actually consider this construct to be a universal truth. Any deviation is not just frowned upon but is almost deemed to be a social crime. A daughter or a son criticizing her/ his parents becomes a social pariah.

However, glorifications aside, it is the need of the hour to humanize and normalize parenthood and accept that parents can also go horribly wrong a la any other mortal. The change will only come when we start acknowledging that toxic parenting is not just a contemporary myth but a hard reality.

Questioning the Unquestionable

Now that the decks have been cleared let us revisit some fundamental concepts that we keep on forgetting, unfortunately, though. Unquestioned reverence (also known as ‘Bhakti’ in India) has historically been counterproductive. Fascism and fanaticism have often been the direct by-products of a regressive ‘Bhakti’ culture, and the same goes with parenthood as well. When we conform without questioning, we unintentionally engender mediocrity and do a great disservice to humanity.

People often forget that a couple becomes parents only through sexual intercourse, which invariably involves deep personal pleasure. Hence, the belief that parents do a great favour to their children by giving them birth stands nullified. Secondly, although quintessentially dialectic in nature, it cannot possibly be refuted that a child has no choice in her/ his birth. Therefore, the traditional expectation that a child will be grateful to her/ his parents for an act which did not involve her/ his choice is deeply problematic. I might sound like an anti-natalist, but I am just being a logical realist.

In India, parents force their life choices on their children – be it religion, be it customs and belief systems or be it simple choices like what to eat, what to study and who to socialize with. In other words, children are conditioned to be who their parents want them to be. This directly contravenes the social justice paradigm that rightly emphasizes on individual agency in leading life.

To top it all off, there are social expectations that are mandatorily pinned on children. Children are supposed to serve their parents not because they love their parents but because it is their ‘duty’. Somewhere along the way, empathy and love die a premature death. Fear and not mutual respect is often the overarching emotion in most children’s relationships with their parents. What is worse is that this unequal relationship is socially expected to continue throughout even when the children grow up and have lives of their own.

The Downsides

There are plenty of instances when a person’s life has practically been destroyed subject to the burgeoning expectations from her/ his parents. The sheer number of people with dysfunctional childhood leading to acute depression in later life is increasing at the pace of knots. It is also not rare to see children being physically and mentally abused by their parents.

Let me also talk about some extremities. Across the country, we have seen countless cases when parents have killed their own children for something as abstract as ‘family reputation’. Just in case readers are not aware of what I am talking about, I am indeed talking about the horrific practice of ‘Honour Killings’.

Coming back to a softer issue, parents often want their children to fulfil their unfulfilled ambitions even if the children in question do not have the capacity to do so. This results in broken aspirations leading to mental agony for both the parents and children. On many occasions, parents fail to give their children the minimum private space that any human being wants and deserves. In fact, we shall not be too far from reality if we were to say that many couples have broken their marriages subject to unreasonable demands from their parents.

The Way Forward

Now, why am I only pointing out the problems? The reason is very simple. Only when we start acknowledging the glitches do solutions tumble out. The default assumption that parents cannot be wrong stems from a Victorian sense of morality, which has no place in the modern world.

Parents all over need to look within themselves and revisit the way they treat their children. The most important realization for parents is accepting the irreversible truth that they do not own their children. Each individual is unique and is not meant to live up to the expectation of anyone else, not even her/ his parents. Secondly, parents need to learn to say sorry to their children when they are wrong. Just as children are wrong on many counts, so are parents! Both parties need to accept that they are human beings, and it is perfectly fine to make mistakes. To err is human, and to acknowledge the error is masterful!

To end the discourse, society needs to seriously introspect about its construction of parenthood and the dominant narrative surrounding the concept. The sooner, the better it is!

Also Read: As a single mother, I battle the pandemic and learn from it too

(Sunayan Bhattacharjee is a professor of journalism and mass communication. Worked with Adamas University.)

(Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.)


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