The other day I took over refitting the holders back on the refrigerator door after cleaning from the L&M as he had given up. Not that he couldn’t have done it, just that being forever the-man-in-a-hurry and impatient to boot, the slot kept eluding him. It needed patience, so I said I’d do it and he moved on to something else. Watching me, mother said, ‘You should have been an engineer!’ Don’t laugh, people. And please, if there are any engineers around, and there will be I am sure, please don’t pick up the nearest handy thing with intent to harm me.
To people from the previous generation, anyone who does things like fitting shelves, changing bulbs, repairing the cassettes (if anyone still remembers what they are!), painting boxes or any of the other simple odd jobs around the house, fall in the category worthy of being called engineers, no less. Hence mother’s proclamation.
She then added, ‘But you didn’t become one because you didn’t work hard enough at math!’ Now that stung and I’ll tell you why. While I was still one month into fourth grade, my parents took me and dumped me in fifth grade. I have already written why in some post or other (I think), but I’ll write once again. I had already lost a year moving to a different state with father and having to start afresh from first grade because I didn’t know the language. My parents felt I had to make up for that. I was doing pretty well in school anyway and so the school agreed to their request.
There was one problem though. Once dumped, I stayed dumped. No one thought of filling me in on the lessons of one whole year that I missed by skipping one grade. Not my parents, not the teachers. Math was especially a problem. Connectivity was lost. I didn’t know what I was reading in class, still I was expected to magically carry on working on the fifth grade syllabus and DO WELL TOO.
Until then I had been doing really great, coming first in class and all that, but the change affected me so badly that I could no longer get the coveted ‘first’ position, something that mattered A LOT to my parents. They made life hell for me. Scoldings followed which sent my confidence plummeting. My stock with them already low to start with, hit rock bottom in the days and years that followed.
Frankly, I never quite recovered from that fall. What’s more, till my late forties I believed I was a dunce from all the berating that followed since then. Imagine, it actually took DECADES for me to realize I was not all that stupid, that I did have the ability to study math and perhaps excel in it too, apart from having talents that were uniquely my own. By then my choices had already been made, based on my insecurities and fears that were actively fed by my parents over the years. So yeah, that’s why what she said had stung.
It’s not my fault AT ALL I was bad at math, I told mother a trifle curtly, reminding her of what had happened years back. I didn’t ask to be pushed to a higher grade. And guess what, she smiled and came back at me with, “So what? Look where you have reached now!” THIS. This is the reason why I am writing this post. The fact that she said, ‘So what? Look where you are now!’ Yes, I am where I am now no thanks to anyone else. But wait, WHERE am I exactly? Where they wanted me, not where I wanted to be. That I made good where I was pushed is thanks to only me, and my inner reserve I drew upon.
It is not just her, I find most people from her generation, the one before mine, display this facade of extreme infallibility as parents. Their confidence in having done the best for their children is astounding and funny, if not downright pathetic. Not a shred of doubt do they seem to entertain on the matter unlike the next, my own generation. If you ask me what I’d like to change about my life if I were given a chance to go back and do it, I’d say I want to undo the things that were wrong with my parenting. Nothing else matters. Not one bit. What I find gratifying is that the new generation, that of my children, is turning out to be even better than my own at analyzing/questioning/acknowledging/correcting their methods of parenting.
Quite recently my sons laughingly reminded me of the particularly harsh way I used to correct them on occasions while they were children. I cringed within myself. Contrite, I told them in apology, “I knew no better at the time. I am so ashamed. I was wrong to have said what I said.” How much effort does it take to accept that you could have been wrong? How much better than telling them, “So what? Look where you are in life now!”
I know a lot of people think there’s nothing wrong with that statement. After all parents have only our welfare in their hearts, as Indians are too fond of saying, even if said parents thrash them within an inch of life if only to boost their own ego. I respectfully disagree with you. IF your claim is that it is harshness and adverse circumstances you push your offspring through is what makes them who they are, it is nothing but Grade A Bullsh*t. It is your love and support that makes children who they are. Everything else detracts. And if they have done good in life in spite of your harshness, it is ALL TO THEIR CREDIT. And only to their credit.
A friend of mine is fond of saying, “I wish parenting came with a manual.” True. Unfortunately though, it doesn’t, so we are all liable to falter and stumble at some point or other. Accepting that we are all fallible goes a long way in repairing damages, but for that to happen one has to first admit there have been damages.
©Shail Mohan 2018
Think this week is for taking parents to the cleaners😊
All we need to do is to put up disclaimers
To say i might have erred, please forgive my misdemeanors
A lesson for parents like me and many of your readers.
Thank you for this post! I have faced the same thing with my own parents. Indian family loyalty is hardwired into us all, and it means that mistakes must be ignored and apologies by parents for hurt feelings are as rare as unicorns. Children aren’t perfect and parenting often requires tough decisions, but attacking the very self-esteem of a child is never justified.
D K Powell said:
I think every generation finds its parents’ way of doing things alien and wrong. To some extent there’s always good reason too. Sometimes it is helpful to see where they came from though.
My mother tells me of the shame of my grandfather who was unloved by his mother. My grandmother, when she met him, showed her love by knitting him jumpers which he desperately needed. They were very British and very Victorian so didn’t really show much affection but it was definitely felt between them! My mother then, for all her faults, showed me great affection by comparison to what my grandfather had in his childhood even though by today’s parenting standards, she would probably be seen as stand-offish and disinterested. Different worlds, different times…