Posted by Pepper on January 24, 2012
This post has been lying in my drafts for sometime. IHM’s recent post made me pull it out.
Until what age should parents make decisions for their children? That is one question that has baffled my mind forever. I was talking to an American friend of mine. She couldn’t stop complaining about her mother, who has the habit of calling her up if she isn’t home by 1 am. Honestly, I didn’t see anything wrong with a mother being concerned if her child wasn’t home by a particular time at night. I asked her what was wrong with what her mom did and she said, “I am an adult for God’s sake! I don’t like being questioned about my whereabouts all the time. I will be where I want to, when I want to. I can make my own decisions and I hate it that she is constantly breathing down my back” I laughed. I told her a girl with her attitude would suffocate to death if she had to live with an Indian parent.
And then I thought about my own parents. I remember I had once gone for a friend’s birthday party. I told my parents I would be home by around 9 pm. I didn’t realise how time passed by, but it was 9 pm and I hadn’t even left. My friends kept urging me to stay for a while more. The birthday cake hadn’t even been brought out yet. So I called home and told my mom I would be late by an hour. She agreed. 10 pm, and I still had not left, neither had I realised the time. This time I got a call from my dad. I told him I hadn’t left yet and I was waiting for the cake cutting ceremony to take place. They were a little upset, and asked me to come home as soon as I can. I don’t really know what happened, but I stayed there waiting for the cake cutting to take place. Each time my parents called, I bargained for some more time. It was midnight before I knew it. That is when they brought out the cake. My parents were furious, and I kept getting calls every 15 minutes. I assured my dad that her driver would drop me back home, but that didn’t seem to help. By the time I got back home, it was 1 am. They were really mad at me. I apologised. We spoke about it and resolved the matter. They told me they didn’t want me coming back so late again. I understood. I was 20 years old then. My late nights were few and few in between, so that was never an issue with us. I respected their decision, because I knew they laid this restriction upon me only because my safety was their concern.
However, from what I have seen, most Indian parents are illogical and continue to assert their authority on their child their entire life. In India, we are made to believe, our parents are akin to God. Their will can never be questioned. So you only continue to be your parents child all your life, when do you get to be an individual who makes his own decisions?
Let me share an incident at this point. When Mint told his parents he wants to come to India for a day to surprise me on my birthday, they told him in clear terms that he cannot come. They will not allow it. He was an almost 26 year old adult, earning his own money, thinking for himself, I wondered how they could just slam their decision on his face like that? But well, they could. They believed he is their son and that gives them all right to make a decision for him. I wished he had argued, fought back and told them he was going to go. Instead, he chose to keep the whole visit a secret from them, because he didn’t want to deal with them. My parents were against the idea of him not telling his parents, but what can they do? It was ultimately his decision. He requested my parents to keep it secret too. And so they did. Two days before we got married, his dad happened to go through Mint’s passport. That is when he saw the date stamps that told him Mint had actually come to India for a day during my birthday, despite their disapproval. Things got messy at that point. Very messy, because it happened just 2 days before our wedding ceremony took place. They were not only mad at Mint, they were also mad at my parents for deceiving them like that. I don’t blame them. But who can I blame here?
Till date, Mint’s parents do not “allow” their sons to drink. Both their sons are adults, financially independent ones at that. If they cannot chose for their own selves now, then when will they? Or are they never permitted to make their own decisions in life, because they will always remain their parents children?
I pierced my nose at 19. My dad hated it. I went and got a second piercing on my ear, he hated it even more. Then I went and got a third one done. He told me how much he disliked it, but also told me l could do what I want. He cannot choose for me, because I am now an adult. I was so grateful to him. I wanted to get those piercings done, and I was glad I could do what I want. My friend, with who I got the piercing done had to hide it from her parents. Each time she would go home, she would take off her nose stud and her earrings.
When at 18 we went to Goa for an industrial visit with our college, a friend of mine was not granted permission. Why? Because apparently Goa is not a nice place to go. No further explanations. No questioning allowed. She had no choice but to abide by their decision. She still regrets not going for that trip. She still feels she missed out on a lot of fun, the kind of fun that can never be revived. I find it hard to accept this, but I will still give it to her parents. Their daughter was in her teens, maybe, just maybe they could still make a decision for her.
When we are kids, our parents make decisions on our behalf because as children, our brains are not capable of distinguishing between right and wrong. At that stage, parents do know best! But once our brains develop fully, we should be left to make our own choices. I strongly believe it is a cultural thing. In India, our idea of respect is intermingled with the word ‘agreement’. By that logic, if I disagree with my parents, I do not respect them. That logic is completely flawed.
Then there is the issue of right and wrong. Parents might genuinely think their adult child is making the wrong choice. That makes them want to protect their children from the impending outcome. They do not want their children to experience, what they believe is ‘bad’. I still believe, your adult children should be left to make their own mistakes. Let them find have their own definitions of right and wrong. You cannot control your adult child’s choice all your life, even if you mean well.
So now when I see my 25 year old adult friends not being allowed to get tattoos done, not being permitted to streak their hair, not being permitted to drink, not being permitted to choose their own partners, not being permitted to go dancing in a club, not being permitted to wear what they want, not being permitted to live the way they want to, I feel really bad. I don’t think they are living a free life. And the sad part is, I don’t think they ever will. Not as long as their parents are alive. And after that, it might be too late. It’s sad. Really sad.