Thursday, September 3, 2009

Are we killing our parents?

No culture is perfect. It’s up to us, as individuals, to pick and choose the best elements representative of the east and the west. For instance, I respect most of the values of the east and cherish the feeling of familial-bondage. In the same breath, I also admire how age isn’t a deterrent for any dreams in the west, and I am beginning to appreciate what the west teaches you about dependency.

I am reading a book by Daniel Gilbert called “Stumbling on Happiness.” The author mentions an interesting study in which elderly folks, at a local nursing home, were given a houseplant and divided into two groups. Half the residents were told that they were in control of the plant’s care and feeding (high-control group), and they told the remaining residents that a staff would be responsible for their plant (low-control group).

End result: Six months later, 30% of the residents in the group with lower control died compared with only 15% of their counterparts with high control much sooner than their counterparts in the low-control group. According to the study described by the author: “Human beings come in to this world with a passion for control, they go out of the world the same way, and research suggests that if they lose their ability to control thing at any point between their entrance and exit, they become unhappy, helpless, hopeless, and depressed.”

I don’t get why kids treat their parents and their parents’ generation as old. Sometimes I understand the feelings behind their emotions, but I still don’t get it. People start giving their parents permissions and disallowing them certain acts because they think it’s not safe for them. And why, because they feel they are getting old. Caring is one thing but overdoing it by treating them like invalids, even if unintentionally, is another. Respecting your elders doesn’t mean you have to map their lifestyle for them. It bothers me when my generation decides when they can start telling their parents what’s best for them. Or constantly obsess about how they need attention and their health is failing. And most of us don’t even live with them. Who gave us that right? A friendly reminder: Our parents are older than us and like it or not, they are entitled to their decisions. And the repercussions of those decisions.

A substantial number of my husband’s aunts and uncles live in the west. Knock on wood; they are all agile and so in tune with the world. They understand and participate in what their children are doing. They have an opinion on what Iran’s policies are or whether Obama was the right choice for the presidency. And shouldn’t it be that way? Their children don’t treat them like old or constantly remind them that they are dependent. Society expects them to chip in with their bit and reminds them age is a state of mind. They are sixty plus people working jobs, managing homes, social lives, and family and all with minimum support. I swear, they look ten years younger than their relatives, of the same age or younger, back in India. They know they are important and age has nothing to do with their desires or dreams.

And how do you define old? To me, anything below 75-80, isn’t old. In our Indian culture, when we make people dependent on ourselves, aren’t we insinuating they aren’t self –sufficient? Why keep suggesting they need to relax and calm down? It’s their life and if they want to go parasailing at seventy, who are we to stop them?

I loathe conversations that center around treating parents as six-year olds. I am sorry, I refuse to. My parents will always be my parents. I will always argue with my father and get into cultural debates because I always have. What’s changed today? That he’s older than sixty? So I should watch what I say? Baloney! The day I stop being his child and start to act as his parent, it’ll perish him. Of course, as my parents get older, (so do I), I feel more compassionately towards them. Endearing maybe but not sympathetic because there is nothing to commiserate. Age is nothing to be mourned. Do we not realize that we stifle their existence by smothering them with our fear? Fear of losing them. In the process, we kill them even before they die. I know, even at my age, when I am sick and people nag me to do things, it aggravates me. Neither am I stupid nor am I ignorant. I understand my responsibility towards myself and the people in my life so don’t treat me like I don’t have a brain of my own. What makes you think our parents feel any differently?

More until next time.

Copyright © 09.03.2009

"Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter." ~Mark Twain


Deepika said...

Wow.. very well written! i'll try and behave with my folks :-)... a lot of what you said is sooooo true..

Anonymous said...

feeling guilty already after having read your post

Vizzy said...

Good piece. Liked it…

V said...

What a wonderful writing!! I totally agree with you. being independent gives the most happiness.

My two cents said...

Someone sent a note, as a response to my blog post today, and offered a different angle on the situation. Their point being, what if the parents choose to be dependent on their children and want them to take care of them. They agree that being independent is vital for survival but if the parents feel its their right to be taken care of by the children, how do you deal with a situation of the sort? Suggestions anyone?

Shantanu said...

Thought Provoking! I liked the 1st part about how age "isn’t a deterrent for any dreams in the west."

I however thought you were a tad harsh about judging relationship between what you call "your generation" and respective parents in Indian culture.

"I don’t get why kids treat their parents and their parents’ generation as old. ". If you go down that path you also have to ask? Why did those same parents treat their children as Kids way past thier teens?

Western culture is more individualistic. Individuality is valued whether you are a child, teen, adult or old. Likewise Eastern cultures tend to have deeper family involvement/ interference at all stages of life.

There is no right or wrong. Personally I would quite like my daugthters treating me as a child when I am old:-).

Nice peice keep them coming.

My two cents said...

Response to the question above (A very valid one too!):" Why did those same parents treat their children as kids way past thier teens?"

I think it's because those kids lived with their parents. The parents were responsible for their children. Their house their rules. If our generation and the parents lived together, then I could still see the "interference-factor." You live together as a unit and the younger generation takes over when the older generation retires. But for nuclear families, I am not sure how that's applicable. Meeting parents X number of times a year doesn't entitle our generation to chart out their lives when they deal with their day-to-day nuances by them selves. Is it fair to assume they NEED us vs. WANT us just because we think a certain way?

But again, there is no right or wrong. What works for one person or family doesn't have to work for another.