“Do you think this home is a hotel?” This is a rhetorical question that confounded my brothers and me in our young adult years. Sometimes it came as a statement: “This is a home, not a hotel, okay.” Often it would be followed by a tirade about how decently we behaved in the outside world and what useless laggards we were at home. It was usually our cue to get off the sofa, switch off the TV, put back used utensils in the kitchen sink, pick up our laundry, make our beds, comb our hair and get busy with our books while maintaining a posture worthy of a Himalayan yogi.
Many years later, after experiencing the luxuries of staying at hotels, I want my children to treat our home like a hotel. Which means that I want the home to be as comfortable, welcoming, and mindful a space as any other place where we would pay money to put up our feet, be smiled at and feel pampered. Home as a hotel without staff. A place where the light is mellow, the colours soothing, the bathrooms smell nice and there are many options of what to eat next.
More importantly, home as a place where you return to rest. Where you can act out your anxieties and express pent-up feelings safely. Where you can explore the multiple ideas of who you may be. Where you can make a mess and own it. Where you can rebel and despair. Be depressed, and then recover. Create art, music and other useless things without judgment. Where you are not weighed down by ever-changing expectations that you can never meet.
I realise that the privilege that makes it possible for me to imagine and create a luxurious environment within one’s home has been gifted to us by the same parents whose voice in my head still guides me, and sometimes rebukes me when I slip too far down in my work-from-home chair. “Seedhey baitho, beta, kubrey hona hai kya?” Sit up child, unless you plan to be a hunchback soon.
I also realise that every generation needs to take responsibility to update the internalised voice of the critical parent in themselves. So many of us recycle outdated norms of parenting without paying attention to how much circumstances have changed and how regressive and harmful the norms were in the first place.
So many of the injunctions we repeat mindlessly as harried parents stem from patriarchal structures that do not honour the work of women, disallow us from calling out injustices, give a free pass to bullying elders and dumb down the children — shaming them for being spontaneous, curious and their own unique selves.
“You entered the kitchen and my roti got ruined,” mothers often snap at children when they are in the middle of executing a multi-course meal for an extended family without the support they need from others. “Your father cannot concentrate unless you stay away from him,” children hear repeatedly as they slink back to make themselves small and invisible in their own homes.
Repeated enough times, this becomes a toxic dynamic between the parent and the child. In reality, it is an expression borne out of the frustration of an unsupported parent, unable to ask for help and trapped in an unforgiving, extractive system.
“I have made you, I can break you too,” my friend’s mother used to say to her three sons as she tried to train them to support her to run the family restaurant that was their main source of income. Aunty was a warrior. She needed to be. She couldn’t afford to be seen as weak or soft. Now she lives by herself and when I ask her how she is doing, she often repeats, “After all, a person is finally defeated by their own children.”
Her son is still struggling to find a place where he can be accepted by his mother without having to diminish himself and obliterate his own desires. “I wish she wouldn’t see our need for independence as her personal loss. How else will we thrive unless we challenge the parents’ need to control us?”
Aunty is still remembered as a gracious host by the patrons of her restaurant. Somehow, she doesn’t see the contradiction in how harsh she has been in her intimate relationships to be able to maintain social etiquettes with those she transacted with. We know so many fathers who stay stuck in a similar equation.
“A person’s lost childhood knocks on the window of consciousness and demands healing when the person grows up and has children,” writes psychologist Pearl Drego in her book ‘Happy Family’. Each one of us needs to look back and extend a hand to the child we once were, to be able to connect with the children we are raising with love and honesty.
— The writer is a filmmaker & author. firstname.lastname@example.org
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