An epiphany has a way of unfolding in the most chaotic of moments. In one of those rare reflective moments, it dawned on me that we attract the difficult situations and people we need in our lives. These are merely a reflection of all that we refuse to confront in ourselves. Our relationships or conflicts with other people will always reveal something about our own selves that we refuse to own up to, they hold a mirror to the chaos that we mask with our seemingly calm exteriors. All that we deny or brush under the proverbial carpet surfaces during tumultuous encounters.
If you’re the kind of person who is essentially non-confrontational, you will inevitably be thrown into situations with aggressive people who want to corner you and pin you down. People who go please others at their own cost, inevitably attract people who want to exercise control and those who refuse to be pleased with anything you would do. These difficult situations and people keep manifesting in one form of the other, until we draw our lessons. Until we unfetter ourselves from all that holds us from being our authentic selves. . Life has its ways of catapulting us into situations that force us to wrestle and confront our demons rather than shoving them in a quiet corner of our souls. We can choose to resist and close our eyes and carry on the business of life. Or take on these demons head on and emerge wiser and buoyant.
There is only one thing that adulthood teaches us. To curb our spontaneity and natural instincts. The more I observe my little one growing up, the more it dawns how messed up we adults are. Social conditioning ruins us. We say not what we want, but what others want to hear from us. We don’t do what our heart wants, but what is expected from us. We don’t ever grow up, only get better at putting on an act of being able to get through the days and years with a veneer of knowing what we want. Even if we’re crumbling inside adulthood teaches us not to let our defences down. Because people shouldn’t see our vulnerabilities, because being an adult means you can hold your own. We think by not letting other people get a peak of our helplessness, we’re being strong and not giving them ammunition against you. We’re so edgy about giving out information about ourselves, wondering what will be held against us and thinking of ways and means of letting the world know only what we show on the surface. We don’t realise our strengths lie in accepting our weaknesses not masking them.
Parenthood is so meaningful, only because it allows you a chance to undo all the damage we inflict on ourselves and on others. It gives you a fresh perspective and an opportunity to see authenticity and experience pure emotions from close quarters. I observe my son and realise children are more sorted than we are. They cry when they are upset and smile when they are delighted. Their emotions and actions are so pure and authentic. They’ll turn up their little noses at what they don’t like and stay absorbed for hours fascinated by everyday objects we don’t even bother a second glance at. As children we’re all mindful and authentic. We get so caught up with trying to be the plastic, politically correct beings who toe the line and live by the rule book that we forget who we really are. Our true selves get buried in the debris of societal expectations, gender stereotypes and conditioning. We think we evolve as we grow older, but at a certain level we regress. We just learn to tame our impulses and with that our ability to be curious and creative dies a natural death. We lose the ability to express ourselves while being true to our emotions. I sometimes wonder, we mask our true dreams, desires, fears and wants under so many layers that we dissolve who we truly are and settle for a shadowy existence. Every once in a while, try saying what you really want, give in to the impulse to cry your heart out or laugh till you’re teary-eyed. Confront and embrace your quirks and eccentricities. Try awakening the spontaneous, artless and natural child within. Every once in a while give wings to the child within who is hiding beneath layers of dos and don’ts and societal sanctions.
I still remember being this child who would break into tears at the slightest admonishment. I would internalize other people’s opinions and judgements and try my best to be accepted and liked.Being reared as a cosseted and overprotected child made sure I was oversensitive to criticism and rebukes. I used to be someone ever ready to take these to heart. And then life happened. Life has a way of making sure we grow up and evolve. It dawned on me if there was one recipe for disaster in life,it was trying to please and placate everyone. The futility of trying to be someone to everyone. Allowing ourselves to be steamrolled and ride an emotional roller coaster depending on how people blew hot or cold. We’re never the people we once were. Forever changing, evolving and sometimes wondering how could we metamorphose into someone we never thought we could be?
With time I learned being too thin skinned was like handing over the world ammunition to judge you and hurt you. By being too sensitive one was allowing oneself to internalize and reflect other people’s opinions of you. And experiences drove home the fact we are all much more than people’s opinions of us.
As a friend puts it,motherhood helps us become more immune; almost indifferent to what people think of us. We become so used to being scrutinized, judged and harangued for how we choose to raise our kids.
And then we gradually develop a veneer of indifference and devil may care attitude.It can be a rather liberating experience to decide what we choose to accept from other people and what needs filtering out. The realization comes with time that how other people evaluate us is none of our business, it is their problem alone. Perhaps the first step towards emotional empowerment and autonomy.
All of life is a choice between love and fear. We can choose to open our heart to new experiences, people and situations. Take each day as it comes, dig up opportunities to grow and learn and jump into the helm of action instead of spending all our time overthinking and pondering over the imponderables. We can muster courage to make our own choices as well as the gumption to live them down immaterial of the consequences. We can decide to embrace change as a way of life and look at each tricky situation as an opportunity to grow and learn. Not antagonizing over people who think differently than we do. Instead we can entertain their perspective to enrich our own. We can navigate through ups and downs by seizing the moment, by choosing to change what we don’t like and exploring the world for its diverse people, places, flavours, sights and sounds.
Or we can choose to be shrinking violets cower quietly in a corner, allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by people and situations. Walk through life with our eyes half closed and half engaged, dwelling in the zone of inactivity and endless speculation. Hoping if we shut or eyes to them or shove them under the carpet our troubles under the proverbial carpet; they will disappear. Magnifying and feeding of each other’s fears. Resisting and shunning change and shutting ourselves from new people and experiences. We can choose to stunt our personal growth, find solace in sameness and monotony. Lead an incestuous existence where we meet and accept only people who think and talk like us. Shun newer experiences, revel in the sameness. Crib and complain about our existing relationships, jobs and situations yet refuse to change. Because change is catastrophic and what is familiar is a solace even if we don’t quite like it. We learn to get comfortable with the discomfort because only the known is a safe choice.
The mind keeps waltzing between choosing love and faith and getting paralyzed by fear and inaction. We can choose to overcome our mental hurdles or to stall our lives fearing a catastrophe all the time. We’re forever fighting this battle at the back of our mind at each juncture of life. I personally have found myself swinging between the two extremes when faces with all of life’s major changes and choices. As the ancient fable goes, much of our life depends on which of these two we choose to feed and grow.
We’re brought up to believe patriarchy eulogizes men and downgrades women. It considers men superior to women! I’d grown up thinking our society is unfair to women alone. We are expected to be ideal wives and mothers, daughters-in law and doormats that don’t let out a whimper despite the demands made on us. Women aren’t given equal opportunity, nor pay parity. Ironically it is women who are not only the perpetrators of the myth of male superiority even as they are the biggest victims. But are men really meted out any preferential status? Even though they are raised with a sense of entitlement and are labeled as the preferred gender, they too are slotted in fixed moulds early on in life and are expected to toe the line.
Men really are in no better position in our country. They are pulled in diametrically opposite directions when they have to choose between giving up their dreams to meet societal and familial expectations. A patriarchal mind-set enslaves men just as it chains women to zany ideals and exacting standards of how they ought to behave and act. With time and experiences I am willing to believe that the masculine ideal is as exacting of men as it is denigrating of women. If women have to conform to ideals of beauty, men too are forced to fit into the ambiguous macho image. If society expects women to be soft, feminine and mild it encourages its men to fit into stereotypes of being the strong, resilient and silent ones sans emotions. If women are expected to put their career on the back-burner and meet familial responsibilities men are thought of as nothing but primary providers and are balked at if they ever display an instinct to nurture and care. Things are changing but most people still remain wedded to the ideas of traditional gender roles. The only legit emotional expression in a man is often anger and in a woman silent acceptance of her circumstances and calm even in the face of the biggest storms.
These gender stereotypes are thrust into our faces early in life. Gradually they seep through the layers of our skin and embed themselves in our impressionable minds and malleable little souls. We become clones of people in the generations before us. They start early on in life, when we dress our boys in blue and girls daintily in pink. When we give our daughters a Barbie to hold and tell her fairy tales that endorse the fact she needs to be pretty and her life’s sole purpose is to wait for her Prince Charming ( Who is more often than not a prince harming in the Indian context!) Or it stealthily creeps into our psyche when we give our sons cars and guns and overlook their rowdyism and aggression with the done to death and rather blanket ‘boys will be boys ‘expression. Or when an eyebrow is raised when our daughters and sisters are boisterous and all hell breaks loose at home if our sons are sensitive enough to express emotions or shed tears. They get crystallized when we praise our daughters for their beauty and our sons for their achievements.
Stereotypes perhaps came into being for us to slot people easily based on gender or race, because we can’t comprehend and are intimidated by anyone or anything that we can’t label or put in a box. But they are at their very root judgemental and burdensome. They dilute our individuality and compel us to subscribe to a set of pre-conceived notions and societal expectations.They are tied intricately with our complex social fabric’s need to maintain status quo.
Of course we have the odd rebels and the far and few thinking intellectuals who often break barriers and defy societal stereotypes. But such people are far and few. When we’ll stop judging and alpha female or a woman who is a go-getter at work and stop praising men for pitching in at home or participating in parenting is when we’ll truly overcome these traditional societal typecasts.
For people who mock feminism, it’s time to see it in a new light. Feminism isn’t the opposite of patriarchy, rather it is based on a balanced and healthy world view. It puts individual before gender, people before labels and demands equal opportunities immaterial of gender. Women’s liberation not only empowers women it also liberates men from bearing the cross of traditional gender roles. Unlike patriarchy feminism works with the assumption both men and women have equal rights and that they are humans before being ‘Men’ and ‘Women’.
Nothing drills in us a sense of inadequacy as does parenthood. Or rather motherhood. Especially in a country like ours where we’re always bothered about what will people think and we’re forever poking our nose in everyone’s business. As if in India we are programmed to play on people’s sense of insecurity and inadequacy. Relatives and ‘well-wishers’ hound you with comparisons of how XYZ’s kids is smarter, healthier, chubbier, quick to meet milestones! The list never ends. And as a first time parent you descend into a pall of gloom fearing you’re no good at this parenting jig.
But what is worse is when we as parents internalize these comparisons and start looking at what is missing in our children. When we allow these comparisons to get the better of us and we become exacting and demanding of the little beings that need nothing but unqualified love and acceptance from us. When we begin to view our children with society’s lenses, we dilute their sense of individuality and uniqueness. Constant comparison is the death of uniqueness. We begin to treat our kids as projects instead of individuals. We enforce our standards of judgement and success on them rather than allowing their individuality to flower and for them to discover their own path.
There is absolutely no harm in reveling in your child’s achievements but no point turning them into puppets and asking them to conform to societal expectations of success, beauty or achievement.
Children are the happiest and most successful when they are allowed the space to make mistakes and the courage to make their own choices. We as parents forget we don’t own them; they are their own little people. Loving them does not mean we control them or not let them fall. It means a safe space where we don’t judge them or compare them with someone else’s child.
More than a homily or rant, this is a reminder for me as a pre-schooler’s parent to allow him to grow at his own pace and set his own standards. I am hoping somewhere I don’t turn into a parent who expects her child to bear the burden of her unfulfilled dreams and half-baked desires. Sometimes hope is all we need.