Generational Gossip

We are well in June and to the relief of majority parents, most schools have reopened or shall shortly do. The long summer holidays aren’t entirely regretted by mothers; after all it’s a welcome break from the monotony of the machine like mornings. But beyond the late morning joys, everything else is dysfunctional. My kids and their cousins cribbed that they were being constantly nagged for eating food that too home cooked, for showering on time, for watching too much t.v. or i-pad and not being allowed to play cricket in the hot sun. I don’t deny the charges. I un-fondly realize that we were indeed haggling over these issues every morning.

Such haggling usually drifts to mutually cathartic conversations between parents which then stray onto comparisons. Comparisons between generations as redundant as it is to do so, still happen and it is strangely entertaining like gossip. So my case is that we as kids weren’t as undisciplined or as spoilt for choices, or for luxury or tantrum throwing so why must my kids be. Can’t they be more disciplined, responsible and less reactive?

So now when this kind of conversation and comparison was happening on the dining table, my mother couldn’t be quiet for long. She started her story about how as a young daughter, daughter-in-law and mother their lives were so restrained and bonded, how they feared their in-laws, they didn’t go partying late nights, they were always cooking by hand for guests (of course they didn’t have swiggy), using diapers for their infants was a luxury and how much they sacrificed in the process of raising us up. I have heard this story several times before just as my kids have heard mine and secretly we both wish that our respective parents could stop narrating it another time. In fact when I meet my grandmother or grandmother-in-law, they too often narrate lives and culture of their times and funnily what stands out like in any gossip, is that that the narrating generation is always the nobler and more efficient one.

The point is when cultures change, social norms change and lifestyles change, it is inevitable for people not to change. These changes are for better or worse is another thing. When we are a very different set of parents today, how can our kids not be different than what we were? So how and why do we compare our children to our own childhood? Or why does a mother-in law compare her time as a daughter-in-law to her own daughter-in-law. Such generational comparisons are pretty much futile and out of context. What needs to be learnt, taught or corrected in every generation should happen but making comparisons to the past don’t serve that purpose at all. However, the undeniable fact remains that there are real challenges in bringing up children today, from the day to day food squabbles to other graver and intrinsic issues.

Yet, another not so acknowledged fact is that dealing with parents is not any easier either. Some matters of conflict are generational while some are specifically personal. Our parents and our kids both have their strong back stories, while we have our own. We are each coming from a different mind space with our accumulated baggage both conscious and subconscious. And from where we see, the other person’s behaviour seems highly unreasonable and inexplicable at times. A friend’s mom doesn’t seem very keen that her daughter steps out for fun or enjoys the night with her buddies. So most times her illness subconsciously gets worse on those occasions and it seems valid to her for my friend to cancel her plans. It sounds pretty irrational and is frustrating for anyone to endure.  A reverse case I heard of was of a young girl slipping into depression. She was a sweet, intelligent and talkative kid but some skin and metabolic disorder changed her a lot as a young adult. In her condition, a petite and fashionably dressed mother strutting around doesn’t help an iota to her confidence level.  While for the mother it might be disturbing to see a young depressed daughter.

In both the cases, they are all fighting their own demons. As an objective spectator, I feel my friend’s mother and the depressed daughter must be battling through intense insecurity to act unreasonably or feel dejected. Of course these cases are oddly numbered, but we all go through hiccups and hitches while dealing with our elders or younger ones. A parent child relationship at any age still has a lot of interlaced strings of responsibility, expectations, and attachments. As trivial as they are in the larger picture of life, they are highly significant in maintaining the daily harmony in homes.

The problem is that we are all looking at each other through the wrong lens. The lens which doesn’t depict the other’s reality but our own reflections or shadows.We are either trying to project ourselves in our kids or endeavouring to live upto the lingering standards and expectations of an older generation. And I don’t think this is changing anytime soon.

The most important job any generation can do for its next is to pass on the experience of compassion, respect, humility and humanity to feel and follow it on. If so much is accomplished I guess we can live with the nagging and haggling of food and screen time. Maybe that non-destructive chaos and conflict is really the essence of a parent and child bond of every age and generation.

P.S. (But sadly some conflicts are sometimes extremely vindictive and self harmful, and it’s best to seek counsel at the earliest.)