Exploring Patriarchy – Chapter 8
According to the Indian government, MM’s mother was a housewife by profession. That’s all they had in their forms for the occupation of a full-time home manager. She was a housewife without a husband, as MM’s dad had passed away many years ago.
Now MM’s mother had always been an all-or-nothing person. A woman mislead by the reverence society has for the suffering mother. She’d immersed herself in chores and elder care, not realizing there was another way. Not seeing, and not learning from women who’d done this and still made some space for themselves to BE.
MM’s mother was a perfectionist. She had never been able to see that there were many workable options between all and nothing. And she’d forgotten herself in the process. MM had been the one who helped her mother pick up the pieces when family passed away and she (MM’s mother) felt she had nothing to live for.
MM had seen it happening. The refusal to let anyone help, and the obstacles created to keep those who tried away. Routines so fixed that they couldn’t move even a little to give one space or rest when tired. MM had tried. But she’d been young then, and hadn’t yet developed the skills needed to help her mother see that it didn’t have to be this way.
The Indian idea of respect for elders is sometimes interpreted to mean doing things for them that they can do perfectly well for themselves. And it breeds a dependence for daily tasks that can make people age well before their time. A dependence that elders might even demand as a gesture of respect, even though it will harm them in the long run.
Many women see this interpretation of respect for what it is and have brought health to their elders by bringing change. But the process is never easy and the pushback from the immediate and the extended family, as well as from friends can be HUGE. It takes skills and an understanding MM’s mother didn’t have.
It’s really stressful for a young woman to see her mother digging ditches for herself, and to not have the skills needed to intervene. To see that elder care doesn’t need to create dependence, and to not have the skills to discuss these matters.
MM would develop these skills later and she would speak up. And both MM and her mother would realize that they wanted change. MM’s mother would break away from family traditions and hang on to her own personal independence for dear life.
She’d look after herself even on days she wasn’t well, and it was challenging as small tasks took her more time. And she would feel this was fine because she had no responsibility and all the time in the world to do things slowly.
MM’s mother would want her daughter to have a healthy life when she grew old, and would want to be an example to her. To be a role model and show her the way, because personal independence is not something most Indian families work for, as fixed gender roles and ideas of serving the elderly to demonstrate respect often get in the way.
Growing old doesn’t have to mean losing oneself. MM’s mother would realize this, and rebuild her life differently from her elders. And teach MM about self-reliance and independence in the only way that really works when parents want to teach something to their children. By being an example.
A Space Where We BOTH Have Our Say
I want to do for you as you did for your mother but we both want to do it our way. With love and respect for each other and space where we both have our say. You did without reservation without care for yourself – space to grow. It was the way for some of your generation and I watched you struggle much harder when it was time to let go. It’s hard if we let go of hobbies and forget the feel of space. To live in a home that’s more empty and to have to learn to find our new ‘place’. I don’t want to face that situation and you don’t want that for me. So we’re working on reorganization and learning we stay close and still be independent. Have routines that create space for every member of the family. We’re learning to set boundaries and be a new kind of family. Let go of old traditions and ways that just don’t go with the life of today. We’re on this journey together, you and me - for the time that we get. We’re in this together, it won’t be forever so we better make space, plan ahead. I need to be there for you like you were for your mother but we both want to do it our way. With love and respect for each other and a space, where we BOTH have our say.
To mothers and daughters. To a love that makes us want to try and be better. To always.
I invite you to read all chapters of Exploring Patriarchy and walk with Microwave Madam as she explores the impact of patriarchy on her life and on society. And looks for solutions.