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If I Knew Then…

I have been in India for a month and one of the best things about this trip has been the number of family members I have been able to meet. Nephews of ours that were mere toddlers when I got married oh so long ago are now strapping young men and a couple of them, I bet, are breaking hearts all over the place in their high schools and colleges. I’ve met cousins that I used to play childish games with and they are now dads and fulfilling the role admirably. I even met some friends from school and college and realized that our friendship now spans decades as opposed to years.

While all this has been wonderful, it’s also a little bittersweet since each of these meetings has brought home to me the fact that I’m aging. I’m not a spry little 20 something, nor am I a learning-to-be-sophisticated 30 something. I’m just a few months away from stepping into my 40’s. As much as I hate to admit it, the culture that pervades society where youth is revered has had an impact on me.

I look worriedly at new lines on my forehead (of course, causing more of them while I squint and frown at the existing ones), I look at the crow’s feet near my eyes, my graying hair that needs more frequent henna treatments, my flabby arms and I worry that I don’t look fresh or beautiful any more. I feel great when people tell me I don’t look like the mom of an almost teen but inwardly I hate myself for giving in to societal pressure to look young.

While I straddle this weird situation – of trying to look young while trying to not care about societal standards, I wondered, when was I really happy? Was I happy as a teenager, as a newly married 20 something or a young mother in my 30’s or am I happy now? The answer surprised me tremendously – I’d figured I must have been happiest when a late night of partying didn’t result in dark circles under my eyes, when I could eat anything and my metabolism wouldn’t punish me with love handles but no, I realize I was a very nervy, insecure youngster.

I put tremendous pressure on myself to be liked by everyone. I cared too much about what my parents thought, what my friends would say….. I even cared about what padoswaali Sharma aunty would say before I did anything or committed to anything. I was so consumed by doing what everyone thought was the “right thing” that I picked a career and even a life partner based on it. The latter decision turned out to be a great one but I can take no credit for it. That the husband is a gem of a man and that we have a successful marriage is not due to me, it’s a complete fluke and I dread to think what would have happened if he had not been the man he is.

How does all this relate to parenting, you ask? Well, if I’d known then what I know now, I’m confident, I’d have been a happier person, a better employee and an overall much better human being. This is something I truly believe in. I grew up in a middle class Indian household where everyone aspired to be either an engineer or a doctor. I mistakenly believed and no one, it surprises me, corrected my notion that engineering is not for women. So I aspired to a career in medicine. I didn’t qualify and for years a dark cloud hung over my head. I felt lesser than everyone, I considered myself unintelligent, even stupid because I didn’t make it to medical school.

Had I become a doctor, I’d have been a lousy one. I have a personality that rubs people like sandpaper so a career that requires compassion was definitely not for me. However, I was hell bent on making my parents proud and doing the “right thing” so I chased a medical degree. Before I got married, I had a vague notion that I’m not marriage material, I should have run with that notion. We have a successful marriage today but it’s taken us more work than others because the ideas of commitment and compromise don’t sit well with me. I’d have been a hip, cool 40 something chick if I hadn’t married and the husband definitely deserved somebody more suited to the idea of life long togetherness than I was.

And that’s how all this relates to parenting. We have to somehow teach our children to shut out the noise, to think, to trust their gut. We have to teach them that their choices, as it pertains to their career or life or life partner, may not be the norm, they may not even be popular or acceptable by societal standards but they should stick with them (of course, we have to ensure that none of their plans cause world annihilation or persecution etc.)

What’s the worst that can happen if our children pursue their dreams as opposed to something tried and tested – they may fail. That, I can tell you, is not the end of the world. It is heartbreaking to see our kids fail, no doubt, but would you rather your child failed and learnt something or that your child did something that they have no passion or liking for, for the rest of their life? If your dream is to breed and raise horses, going to college and getting a degree, any degree is useless. They’d be better served by working in a ranch for a couple of years and learning the job from the ground up.

As parents, part of our job is to be a safety net. We have to let our babies fly and soar but we have to do so knowing that if they fall, when they fall, we’ll be here to catch them, to patch them up and send them soaring again. While we as parents, know this, we don’t quite often convey it to our kids. We need to communicate this loud and clear… our love for them is unconditional. We will love them if they choose to pick trash just as much as we will love them if they chose to be presidents and prime ministers of the nation.

We will love them if they marry the non-Hindu girl they fell in love with, we will also love them if that marriage fails. Why, we will also love them if they choose to “live in sin” or pursue an LGBT lifestyle. As parents, our single dream is that our children stay safe, healthy and happy. So, when you talk to your child, don’t tell them, ask them what makes them happy…is it counting stars or looking at birds, is it cooking or acting?

And as for the padoswaali Sharma aunty, what do you know, she might take a page out of your book too. Miracles do happen, you know.

I am mom to a quickly growing 11 year old. I have lived abroad for over 15 years and I struggle daily with the challenges that parenting and straddling 2 different cultures throws at me. I am an avid reader, a huge fan of the movies (Bollywood, especially) and a somewhat sporadic writer. I blog at MM’s musings.