The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, October 8, 2000
Life Ties

Domesticated sons are not sissies
By Taru Bahl

A FRIEND had broken her hipbone, thanks to a vigorous exercise regimen that she had embarked upon. I went across to check if she needed help. With two sons, ailing in-laws, undependable domestic help and a husband who was forever travelling, I could visualise the chaos her household would be in the throes of since she, the binding glue of the family, had come unstuck. I was in for a pleasant surprise. Gautam, her 13-year-old, graciously ushered me in. A fourth year student of Indian classical music, he was singing a bhajan by Mirabai. She was propped up in bed, amidst a scattered heap of books and magazines. He quickly arranged them in a neat pile, pulled in a rocking chair to make me comfortable, packed off his harmonium and made a quiet exit, leaving the two ladies to chat and catch up on the latest gossip. I could hear snatches of conversation from the kitchen and dining area, helping me piece together what might have been happening. He was attending to door-bells, taking phone-calls and directing only those which were for his mother, supervising his younger brotherís homework. He even brought in a tray of coffee and cookies for us.

When I told my friend that she was blessed to have such well-behaved boys she said "divine intervention has very little to do with it. I have worked hard at training and inculcating in them an attitude which does not conform to the typical male mindset." She questioned me if there was any rule in the parenting book which specifies that boys are not supposed to help their mothers at home doing things which are typically female? She elaborated that her sons thought nothing of lifting a broom and cleaning rooms the days the maid was playing truant. Whenever there was a late night party and if there was no school the following day, they helped in clearing dishes, tidying loose ends, switching off all light and fan points and locking the gate and doors. The elder one had a strong sense of aesthetics. He loved rearranging furniture and kept trying different permutations in his room. He did most of the shopping for vegetables and fruits, combining the weekly trip to the mandi with his music class. He was better than her at bargaining and made sure that he got a good deal.


The children are actively involved in the major buying decisions, be it new curtains and upholstery or an electrical gadget. How does she maintain a balance? Doesnít their involvement with domestic matters lead to some amount of interference in issues which do not directly concern them? Doesnít it affect their studies which should be their first priority?

She clarified that although their opinion is solicited and followed most of the times, (since it does make sense) there are times when there are divergent views and their suggestion is vetoed. After a healthy debate, the boys relent because they know that the final decision is the parentsí.

Whenever they do go overboard or make an incorrect decision, there is an objective postmortem to help them analyse what went wrong. Where domestic chores interfering with an academic schedule is concerned, she claimed pointedly "you would not have asked me this if I had daughters since they would have been expected to give me a helping hand. Either way, I donít think it matters. Children, be they boys or girls have to be self-sufficient. If we mollycoddle our sons and do everything for them we would be doing a disservice in the long run. Not only is it going to get difficult getting reliable domestic help, even their wives are not going to pitch in uncomplainingly, the way we do. So it is much better to equip them to take care of their own physical needs atleastíí.

She had craved for a daughter, moreso since her husband was an only child and she shared a wonderfully intimate relationship with her mother. When her second son was born, she was so upset she didnít name him for two months. She had heard that boys grew up to be selfish and rarely bonded with parents on an emotional plane. Friends reassured her that her daughters-in-law would prove to be the daughters she never had. She was not convinced. Given her expressive, volatile temperament she wanted a fulfilling relationship with her children. In the way she laughed and cried with them, being their best buddy and confidante, she wanted them to be there for her in the same way.

Early on in her married life, she had decided to opt for working from home and/or accepting assignments which allowed flexi-working hours. Since her husband had a high-stress job that entailed long working hours and hectic travelling, she felt it was only fair that one of them should be around to ensure the smooth functioning of the house. It wasnít easy doing zany copywriting for a travel brochure with the cooker whistling, two telephones and a mobile ringing, visitors trooping in and servants fighting.

Besides, by staying at home and being on call she didnít want her work and need for personal time to be undervalued and taken for granted. Gradually, she managed to create an atmosphere where the boys respected her deadlines, took interest in the things she did and respected her space.

She said: "I stopped bending backwards trying to be the ideal mother and perfect homemaker. It was alright if I didnít have answers to all their questions, if I couldnít draw as well as their best friendsí mothers, if I wasnít a fabulous cook or if I was needlessly fussy about a few things.

In my house, I decided I would follow what I felt was right, of course in consensus with the other half to avoid conflicts. I certainly wouldnít run around pandering to their whims and fancies, ensuring they got what they wanted before they batted an eyelid, ordered servants around and pacified them whenever they did wrong. It is still a constant battle, but by and large they help around the house and respect each memberís need for privacy."

By insisting that they give her a helping-hand, she was in no way curbing them. She knew boys would be boys. They would fight like cats and dogs taking vicious delight in watching WWF before trying out those punches and kicks. Their smelly socks and muddy shoes would be strewn all over the house. They would drink water straight from the bottle and expect her to listen to their long stories. Their vocal fights would be heard across the road. But the bonding they shared with family, cousins, aunts and uncles was something that never ceased to surprise visitors.

Yet, her family was not exactly thrilled to see her trying to Ďdomesticateí her sons. Her father was horrified to find the 13-year-old learning how to bake a cake from his nani. Being a pucca fauji, he didnít find the sight of an apron-wearing, egg-beating and flour-straining grandson palatable. He felt that instead of being in the kitchen amidst pots and pans he should be solving crosswords, building scrap books, reading inspiring biographies. Did she want to turn her sons into the daughters she never had? No, all she wanted was for them to be caring and sensitive sons,husbands,fathers, who would be house-proud, helpful and share the burden enthusiastically and contribute towards making the home a wonderful place to be in.

She wanted them to understand that she was no martyr, who like a workhorse would keep the domestic fires burning from dawn till dusk. They had to help.

She told them categorically, that at the most she could pander to their fatherís nakhras, and certainly not to theirs. She asks, "Why should boys not be taught to express their feelings and affection, without feeling awkward and tongue-tied? Why can their eye not be trained to notice and appreciate beauty? My sons give me an honest feedback on teeny things like a new duppatta or bindi, which I may wear. I tell them when I am suffering from the moody blues. They press my legs, teach me how to cycle, reassure me when I burn their dinner, shout and scream at me when they are angry, but in the end they are the best friends I could ever have".

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