I remember walking with a friend from the US who was talking about how she’d like to adopt a dog instead of having kids of her own. She turned to me and asked what I would do.
I almost chuckled and told her, “In India, you’d have to discuss your family planning with your parents first and they wouldn’t really understand the concept of you voluntarily choosing to not have kids.”
I’ve known this all along and even considered it to be harmless, but this was actually the first time it truly dawned upon me that Indian parents have considerable control over their kids’ lives much after they stop being well, kids.
Within the Indian family structure, children are raised with the understanding that their parents know what’s best for them and hence, will be the authority that decides how their life works. Growing up, the concept of our parents taking decisions for us becomes normalized. In fact, it is almost a psychological safety net that makes us feel more secure because we are aware of the fact that two responsible adults are guiding us through life and its different stages. Honestly, we need that as well.
But where Indian parents go wrong is in thinking that we need this kind of decision-making throughout our lives. One day, they’re convincing you that a certain kind of career is perfect for you even though you know in your heart that you’re not interested in it at all, and the next thing you know, they’re deciding who you will be marrying.
Any kind of questions or reasoning are usually going to be countered with the quintessential argument of ‘but this is the best for you,’ which is their best weapon and, honestly, sometimes borders on emotional control. Some might just have ended up with parents who go with the ‘keh diya na, bas keh diya’, which leaves very little room for any kind of other question at all.
The guidance we had as kids soon becomes psychological control as we start fearing going against our parents’ authority. The keyword here being ‘fearing’.
We fear going against them because two pillars that the Indian family structure stands firm on are fear and guilt. Which Indian kid can even try going against their parents’ will without being guilted for breaking their hearts and turning a blind eye to their sacrifices?
Of course, we accept this because this is what we see happening in our house. In all probability, this was also the trajectory our parents’ lives followed when our grandparents made some of their major life decisions for them. But for how long will we accept this long tradition of always being kids for our parents as healthy?
A study from University College of London concluded that parents who are excessively controlling can cause their kids lifelong psychological damage. The main characteristics of a controlling parent were identified as invading the child’s privacy, not letting them take their own decisions, and encouraging dependence on parents.
Dr Mai Stafford, the lead author of the study, has been quoted saying that, “Psychological control can limit a child’s independence, and leaves them less able to regulate their own behavior.”
In the Indian context, it is easy knowing that this behavior isn’t healthy, but to actually try to change it is difficult.
As we’ve already mentioned, you will most likely feel guilty if you were to take a decision without involving your parents. It is frustrating to know that you might legally be an adult with voting powers, but God forbid you wanted to marry the person you’ve been dating for years. There will be Bollywood-esque drama about how you just cannot take the right decisions about your own life.
The only solution to this situation is sitting and having a talk with your parents no matter how many times it is required. It might be a loud fight for the first few times, but they will understand that their kid is grown up only after you start speaking for yourself. It is also important to break their heart at times, and let go of the fear they’ve unconsciously instilled in you, so that they understand that you can make good decisions for yourself and it will also help them trust you more.
Realise that they do want the best for you, but it is also important for your own personal growth and happiness that you take the reins of your own life.
More than anything, remember that we’re a generation that is stuck within old structures while trying to build new ones. And it is important that the millennial generation that has always craved freedom to live life their way, raise their kids in a way that is different from their parents’ style.