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"Changing Nature of the Family"

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Govern a family, as you would cook a small fish – Chinese Proverb. Ah! But of all the institutions that have come down to us from the past none is in the present day so disorganized and derailed as the family. Family – what’s that? Many will argue that the concept of family is no more valid in the metros today what with the Double Income No Kids becoming a trend for married professionals. Where partners believe that the goal of life is to climb the corporate ladder, rake in the moolah, have little or no responsibility to kith or kin, enjoy leisure in exotic destinations, not be bothered by nitty-gritty’s that are mandatory in child rearing and what have you. Is this an unhealthy trend? The pundits of family values would sit in moral judgment and believe that living for oneself is tantamount to being narcissistic. That we will realize the true ‘worth’ of family after it’s too late. That self-absorption and selfish living is for lower species and not for higher thinking creatures like man.

A diametrically different view to the same would be, you only live once! So why ‘spoil’ that existence running around kids and having a ‘burden’ for the rest of your life? Be free. Be emancipated. Yes, today, having kids is looked upon as bondage and as being yoked and restricted in daily living. So bearing a family is being shunned. And this failure, since the family can provide the fundamental satisfaction that in principle it is capable of yielding, is one of the deep-seated causes of the discontent that is prevalent in our age.

We can play the blame game and state that work pressure is the cause of this shift in mindset. And it is the opening of careers to single women who until recently had no occupation to fill their days and were economically dependent on their father and eventually then on some reluctant brother is the cause of this shift! Or is it also because of the decay of service from joint family structure that couples choose not to have kids? But is it as simple as that?

Today, the unmarried young woman of the professional classes is able, provided she is not below the average in intelligence and attractiveness, to enjoy a thoroughly agreeable life so long as she can keep free from the desire for children. If she marries she sinks to a much lower level of comfort than that to which she had been accustomed, since her husband’s income is very likely no larger than that which she was previously earning. She now has to provide for a family instead of only for a single woman. After having enjoyed independence, she finds it galling to have to look to another for every penny of necessary expenditure. For all these reasons women hesitate to embark upon maternity. Add to that, the appalling problem of the paucity and bad quality of domestic service and now you know why people prefer remaining childless!

The relation between parents and children, particularly in the Indian context has always remained a sticky one. On the one hand you have the idea of democracy and liberalization, on the other hand you have the concept of obedience and respect. The conflict between love of parental power and desire for the child’s good comes forward when you think of why parents are being neglected, subject to violence and being left in old-age homes.

Power over the child is to a certain extent ordered by the nature of things, it is nevertheless desirable that the child should as soon as possible learn to be independent in as many ways as possible. This is unpleasant to the power impulse in a parent. Many parents never become conscious of this conflict and remain tyrants until the children are in a position to rebel. And then once rebelliousness rears its head, often there is no holding back. Whether it is senseless or sensible, rebellion is rarely examined.

When a parent who genuinely desires their child’s welfare more than power over the child, respects the personality of the child it is simply impossible to be possessive or oppressive. And only when parents can deeply feel this attitude of showing consideration for their child, the full joy of parenthood is likely to be obtained. Gentleness – a need most of all where children are concerned leads to an equal relationship. Respect then is commanded rather than demanded. There is no bitter disillusionment when the child acquires freedom or does not turn out the way the parent wanted him to be.

When parents sacrifice for their child (particularly the mother) that goes beyond reason, expectations of compensation exceeding what they have a right to expect takes place. Self-sacrificing is, in a great majority of cases, exceptionally selfish, for as important as parenthood is, it is an element of life, it is not the whole of life. It cannot satisfy if it becomes the entirety. Parenting does not mean cutting off from all other interests and pursuits. And the unsatisfied parent is likely to be an emotionally grasping one. Then emotional blackmail and arm-twisting tactics begin which leads to the child resenting his father/mother and a tit for tat for the hardships caused in his young days begins to be settled with negligence when they grow old.

In the light of the two above points, what as a professional therapist do I see as the solution? Understand that the affection of parents for children and of children for parents is capable of being one of the greatest sources of happiness. The adult, who wishes to have a happy relation with his own children or to provide a happy life for them must reflect deeply upon parenthood, and having reflected, must act wisely.


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