|HER WORLD||Sunday, June 30, 2002, Chandigarh, India|
mothering turns into smothering
women with disabilities
& single, by choice
mothering turns into smothering
FEW of us have escaped the influence of parental smothering. Indeed most of us grew up in households in which there was a steady stream of directions, new directions, revised directions, commands and reminders, all delivered in anxious, irritated or threatening tones. "It is late. Get up this minute. Do not forget to brush your teeth. You are late for school." "Do not come in till you have wiped your feet. Change your clothes now. This very minute." "Start your home work. Turn off the television set. No wonder your grades have fallen. Shape up." "Now get ready for bed. You should have been in bed an hour ago. Be quiet and go to sleep."
Many of us were exposed to
this type of barrage daily. It is a form of parental anxiety about the
child. In their earnestness to do their best for their children, mothers
often end up smothering them.
The truth is, children sometimes need to be left alone, given time to connect to their own thoughts, feelings and interests, but many parents fear this means neglecting the children. Children also need to be alone to explore their environment. In this way, they discover their unique individuality, their powers and capacities — an ability they need in adult life.
If the atmosphere during childhood has been of smothering with a constant stream of directions, then the children may adopt the active/passive resistance path. Since active resistance could result in punishment, children adopt a form of passive resistance. So when a parent calls out, the child says, "Yes, I am coming" but continues to play. To the parent, this stalling seems purposeless. Many a parent has expressed irritation about their children’s dawdling tactics. But the dawdling does have a purpose. It protects their individuality.
Fatigue is another significant sign of passive resistance and this in many cases gets extended to adulthood, even after marriage. I know a woman whose main complaint is chronic exhaustion. She was sent to me by a physician who could not find anything physically wrong with her. From the story of her childhood, it was plain that her inability to do her house work was a reaction to smothering in childhood.
When her husband runs out of shirts, the house has not been dusted, her kitty friends are coming to visit her, she will stay up half the night, toiling at the washing, ironing and cleaning. As a result of this, she gets really exhausted and postpones all other work to a later time.
Ido not want to bring up this painful topic to make parents feel bad. My experience is that most parents do these things out of love and ignorance about the repercussions of their actions. Then all of a sudden they realise that they just might have created a child who is very different from what they had wanted. But it is the children who suffer because something in them remains undeveloped, and they are made to feel rotten.
Children need space to be their own person. They do not need adults constantly telling them they love them, doing things to prove it and having the child tell them back they love them. Love does not need words. In fact, the more we say it, put it into words, the more we create situations where, as adults, it has to be proved to us with words and gifts. If our children do not say goodbye, do not say they love us or give us a hug, who feels insecure? Not the children. They are telling us that they feel strong enough to be their own person.
Nurturing is more important and it should not be confused with smothering. Nurturing helps the child blossom while smothering leads to behavioral problems. When the parent suffocates the child, the parental objective is to control. For the smothering parent, the underlying agenda is criticism and judgement of the child. This type of parent makes all the decisions for the child and essentially takes away the child’s voice.
We really do not need to give children as much attention as we think we do. They need time, everyday, to be alone, to feel and experience life on their own. When children get older, the problem gets extended to doing things for children that they can do themselves, like cleaning their rooms, getting their clothes, and rushing to do their simple chores. What does this mean? We are prolonging their dependence on us, but worse than that, we are not giving them the experience of learning, living and struggling that is so much a part of developing and growing.
The effect of smothering on a marriage can lead to bitter resentment and chaos. More often, it is a persistent and unhappy feeling of futility, of "getting nowhere", of exhaustion because nothing seems to work out as planned. The marriage situation carries within it all kinds of expectations concerning the marital partner and what constitutes the "duties" and "responsibilities" of the man and woman.
A young lawyer , along with his pretty wife, came to me for counselling as all wasn’t well in their marital life. This man had overdominating parents who used to decide everything for him in the name of love and concern. With the result, at the age of 29, he still felt directionless. He went to office, sat down at his desk but could not work. Nothing felt right. He felt so distracted that he was unable to do much work apart from making a few pointless notes. He went home grumpy, annoyed with himself and would get irritated with his senior partner (father) who was waiting to find out what work he had done.
He would sulk till his wife humoured him. He would often slip into a stupor and begin daydreaming.
The question that he put it to me was, "How long will my wife put up with me because she is busy with an equally complex task — managing the house and the children?" In place of the brilliant career he expected to make for himself, he is just managing to get along in his job. The problem was that he was capable and intelligent but resisted applying himself until he was given a severe threat. This was a behavioural pattern he acquired in childhood, when he resisted his parents’ directions in just this passive fashion until a threat or ultimatum was given to him.
This is the way many people who have been objects of smothering go through life. Miserable, at times anxious, fearful and resentful, unable to attain what they are equipped to do, or want to do . They are dissatisfied with themselves and their efforts. Often, their first insight into the fact that something is wrong is that they are passed over when promotions are made.
Smothering parents stifle the child so that the child grows up without knowing who she/he really is. The child is unable to cultivate the tools needed to adequately blossom and realise his/her full potential. So when parents tend to prevent the child from making an effort or a demand, they are actually depriving him/her of the opportunities to learn and to take satisfaction in his own efforts. Such a child will never learn to take the initiative or to make persistent effort.
So, next time when you, as mothers or fathers, fall into this trap in the guise of loving your child, think again and think of the possible consequences.
(The writer is a clinical psychologist)
women with disabilities
DISABILITY, be it physical or mental places both men and women in a disadvantageous position. For women in particular, disability is a veritable curse as it severely hampers their growth and denies them human dignity. A girl or woman with disability therefore needs the attention and understanding of the family as well as the society. In reality, however, a disabled female may be pitied or spurned, neglected or over-protected, but she is rarely accepted or loved. To her parental family, she is burden; in her in-laws’, house she remains vulnerable to harassment and violence; and in the society she falls a prey to exploitation. A male with disability is less prone to problems than a female. Thus, for her life becomes a traumatic experience.
The word " disability" is an all -embracing term. In simple words, it denotes the inability of a person to perform the duties traditionally assigned to the gender. But the cultural connotation disability may vary and may have a stronger impact. For example, in the Indian cultural context, dark complexion, the inability to bear male children, or infertility are viewed so seriously they that become disabilities.
A comprehensive definition of disability is provided by the US Department of Justice as "any physiological disorder, or condition, cosmetic disfigurement or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following body systems: neurological musculoskeletal, special sense organs (including speech organs), respiratory, cardiovascular, reproductives, digestive, genitourinary, lymphatic, skin and endocrine; any mental or psychological disorder such as mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities."
Leaving aside cases of severe disability like mental retardation or serious physical handicap that require care, most of the problems can be overcome or controlled by proper health-care or mobility aids. For example, a polio-affected woman can become mobile with the artificial aids and can perform her daily duties; or the life of a deaf or dumb person can be made bearable with the help of special health-care or rehabilitation programmes. The problem with the Indian woman, however, is linked with the socio-cultural norms. A woman, particularly in the rural areas, suffers due to the uncaring and prohibitory attitude of the patriarchal society. Attending to the health needs of a girl-child is considered a waste of resources and time. Thus, a girl is denied access to rehabilitation facilities. Since the female cannot go out of the house all by herself, and since others are not interested in accompanying her, she is left with no choice but to remain confined to the loneliness of her home. Moreover, most of the health-care workers and orthotic technicians are men, as such, women patients are not allowed to be measured and fittede with limbs with their help. Women with disabilities require more access to information and healthcare services related to their special needs in relation to childcare and pregnancy which they are denied in a close society.
Religious taboos and superstitious beliefs also produce a negative image of the disabled woman. She is seen as a sinner and it is believed that her progeny will carry her sin further and that the entire family tree will bear the curse generation after generation. Under such circumstances, even a mild deformity is perceived seriously and the girl is declared unfit in the marriage market. If a woman develops disability after her marriage, she is tortured with various inhuman practices. We often hear and read stories of women beaten to death to ward off the evil spirit or women driven to insanity due to stigma of barrenness. How some practices traumatise women is often depicted in our literature, T.V. and the cinema.
Now, with the significant change in the attitude of the world community towards the disabled, there is hope that the fate of the women with disabilities will also improve. The United Nations Standard rules on the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities are important human rights tools for all persons with disabilities. For girls and women, the CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women) is another human rights instrument. With the help of these rules, it would be easier for various governments. With the non-government agencies to work for the betterment of the disabled women what is needed is persistent interest of the people working in the field the cooperation of the disabled themselves and massive awareness programme to eradicate social and religious stigmas attached to disability.
In some South Asian countries efforts are being made to provide culturally appropriate services so that there is no resistance from the society. Programmes to train women with disabilities to help each other, to run cooperative mobility aids workshops, to experiment with group living can be instituted. In this field the Association of People with disability (APD) and the Mobility India (MI) are taking up some significant projects. It is now increasingly felt that that trained technicians in orthotics and prothetics at the mobility aids centres should be a woman. The presence of women as community and health-care workers will have profound impact on the social psyche making it easier for women to approach these centres for rehabilitation without any inhibition.
To change the social
perception, it is necessary that women’s organisations include issues
pertaining to women with disabilities and give them adequate
representation. They must generate awareness among the disabled about
their rights and the facilities available to them. It would be a futile
effort were the affected women themselves to remain unconcerned or dumb.
They too must raise their voice and make themselves heard. Public
awareness of gender thinking needs to be changed. But, crucial to the
disabled is the grit to take the first step, to dare. There may not be
many known role models for them to follow but there are always many
brave women around us who have dared to make their life a success by
getting over their handicap. A disabled woman may be
"different", but she need not be a pathetic figure. With
family support, training and employment she can live with human dignity.
& single, by choice
ASHA GHOSH is terribly busy today. There's a wedding in the family, that of her brother's daughter, and she is at the helm of affairs, overseeing the grand event and taking care of the finer details. At least 40 guests have come in from other states and it was not possible to fit them all in her brother's flat. Even as her sister-in-law had unnecessarily agonised over the whole issue, it took Asha less than half an hour to look for alternative arrangements, ensure that they suited her family's needs and then to go about booking the place, organising, food, transport…Ah, finally it's all done!
Asha Ghosh is terribly happy today. The wedding went off without a glitch. The bride, her favourite niece, looked absolutely stunning. The arrangements Asha had made were perfect. Everybody was extremely happy that everything had gone off so smoothly. Asha's family was constantly heaping praise over her for having executed the whole process so efficiently…Ah, how good it felt to be appreciated!
Asha Ghosh is terribly irritated today. Her niece has come for lunch to her mother's place with her new husband and his family. The brouhaha of the marriage is over. Asha is the cynosure of all eyes. "You know Asha," this was Mithu's new mother-in-law, the principal of a prestigious girls' school, "it was really amazing how wonderfully everything went off with your guidance. You really are an amazingly efficient organiser. And you looked so pretty too!" Everybody clucked in agreement. The lady continued, "You know you would make some lucky man a wonderful wife. All those organisational skills going waste! You must think of marriage, my dear. It's not too late. You're only 35. There must be lots of older men out there, divorcees or widowers, who would love to get married to someone like you." Ah, if only it was easy to get away with murder!
Of course, it never struck the meddling woman or the rest of the family that the reason why she did such a fine job of organising a big event was because for her, it was child's play. As head of the HRD department of a giant-sized pharmaceutical company problems like these meant nothing. The only reason this was different from her regular display of efficiency was because this was family and it was her favourite niece who was getting married. So she couldn’t take a chance. Everything was overseen by her personally.
But what irritated her further was the woman's assumption and the rest of the family's easy acquiescence of the fact that there would be some lonely divorced man or widower who would be only too happy to help her out of her spinsterhood! Why on earth should she settle for 'second best'? It would have been a different matter, if she'd met and liked a man who happened to be either divorced or a widower. But to actively search out one, only because people considered her too old to catch the eye of an unmarried bachelor, was enough to make her see red. After all, a 35-year-old unmarried man, with her kind of job and capabilities, would be considered a prime catch!
A single woman. Her trials and tribulations. And her triumphs and honours. Not mutually exclusive. In fact, integrated in a way that it often seems that one is bereft without the other. Every single woman, who is so by choice, generally has a career to pursue. While there have been women who have pursued their careers successfully after marriage, an increasingly large number of women now want to settle their careers first before taking the plunge. Shamita Panicker is a 24- year-old graduate, who is now appearing for her management entrance exams. Focussed and clear-headed about her goals, she epitomises her generation. "My parents wanted me to first learn to be independent before thinking of marriage. After my graduation, I wasn't too sure of what I wanted to do in life. So, I spent a year with a publishing house as a marketing executive. It was an opportunity to meet different kinds of people and interact with them. At the end of the year I knew that I wanted to do my MBA. Currently, I'm trying for a seat in reputed MBA colleges. Once I get in, it's a two-year full-time course. After my MBA, I want to start with a job, work there for five years to get into middle-order management level and only then am I going to think of marriage." And what if she meets an interesting guy in the meantime who wants to get married right away? Shamita looks ready to take on the world. "Too bad. If he loves me, he'll wait."
Yes, priorities are changing slowly. Women do not necessarily want to make a dash for the kitchen and start making aloo parathas and dal for her happy family. But being a single woman is not always easy. Specially as you grow a older. Hundreds of women who have a bad marriage, often advise their unmarried counterparts to stay single."This way you are much happier. You have good friends, you have a career, money and the freedom to enjoy it all. Why worry about being lonely in your old age? Even in a marriage, one can be terribly lonely." But all marriages are not doomed. The sight of that one good marriage makes the single woman yearn for it.
Ambika Patwardhan is a chartered accountant with a well-established firm. She is 34 and unmarried. "It's only now that I'm beginning to feel the need to settle down and have a family of my own. All my siblings and cousins are married and they seem to feel that I've left it a little too late, but I had planned it this way. Now, I have a professional qualification, a flat, a car and money in the bank. I struggled for a good 12 years before I could reach this position. I'm happy professionally. Now, I want a family life. I want a child. I want a husband who will share my happiness and be a friend ."
As in the case of Ambika
and Asha, their families felt that after a certain age, the women were
no longer prime catches. And this is perhaps the point where the single
woman begins to get pitied. One would think that in the Indian context
there are still very few women who do not want both career and a family
life. Most would ideally love a combination of both. — INFS
The safety, honour and welfare of your country come first, always and every time. The honour, welfare and comfort of the men you command come next. Your own ease, comfort and safety come last, always and every time.
(Indian Military Academy credo)
FOR the wives and other family members of Army officers and jawans posted along the Jammu and Kashmir border, it has been a tumultuous year. With their men deployed in the forward areas and the air being abuzz with talk of war, there is a persistent fear and collective anxiety. Marrying an Army man is a choice these women made, for the better or for worse. But in keeping with the distinct fauji spirit, they don’t let their morale hit rock-bottom, ever.
Mrs Rohini sahni’s husband Major Trilochan Sahni is at the Rajasthan border. he is in the infantry, where the postings alternate between a peace and a field tenure. ‘‘His present posting at Chandimandir is a peace tenure but for a major part he has been at the border. The next tenure is bound to be a field one which will again take him away from us, but then this is part of the job. Also, all kinds of facilities are provided to us and friends have been supportive and reassuring, so there is hardly any room for complaint.’’
Nonetheless, she is relieved that now a large number of officers and jawans can avail of leave for ‘‘rest and recoup’’, as they call it.
‘‘The support system in the army is very strong and it helps see us through,’’ she says, realising full well that it will be a while before the men actually come home. ‘‘Even if they are given the orders to pull back, I guess it will be months before they get back due to the winding up and demining operations,’’ she explains.
It has been a rather tough time for Mrs Veena Naik, wife of subedar N.P. Naik, who has become an avid radio news listener. ‘‘I am not educated and my son recently cleared his Class XII exams. This year is crucial for him. he needs guidance at this juncture and his father’s presence would have been of immense help. He had come for leave for a few days but then the Kaluchak massacre happened and he was asked to report back immediately. My son needed some affidavits to be signed by his father and it does become very difficult in times like these,’’ she says. ‘‘But now that the tension has eased, he can come on leave and the anxiety has ebbed since,’’she adds with palpable relief.
Manju, the wife of the station Commander of Kasauli, Brig V.S. tonk, says her husband has been on the Punjab border for some time now and she is mentally ready for every situation. ‘‘There is no fear. We have been holding ladies’ club meetings frequently to facilitate interaction between families and draw strength from one another. Even if we do fret, it is of no use,’’ she says.
Mrs Brahmavati Rai, whose husband Subedar A.K. Rai is stationed at Thoise (beyond Leh), feels that a border posting or transfer to a militancy-infested area is a matter of constant concern and uncertainty for an Army man’s family. echoing her sentiments, her son Amit adds, " It is worse when a war-like situation develops."
‘‘My husband has been keeping in touch telephonically. Out of the 12 years that I have been married to him, we have stayed together for only four. So, I guess, I am used to this routine. He has been in the Dras sector for over two years but because of the recent tension he is at a forward post at present. It’s all in the game. You have to make the best of what you have,’’ opines Divya, wife of Maj D.B.Mehta.
Coping bravely with the
uncertainty that has been triggerred off by the present fluid situation
on the Jammu and Kashmir border, these women epitomise the fauji
spirit for what it is—courage, forbearance and adjustment.