Tag Archives: opinion

Motherhood Above All?

29 Jul

This piece was first published in this month’s issue of India Currents magazine. Weigh in–I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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Amidst all the chatter and marketing gimmicks that make up Mother’s Day celebrations, I came across a quote by Ralph Lauren, which said, “My wife Ricky has accomplished so much in her life, but being a mother has always come first.” In this seemingly simple sentence, a globally-renowned fashion icon and figure of our times placed a giant emphasis on motherhood, simultaneously outranking his spouse’s other accomplishments as a human being. He is hardly alone in this declaration of priorities, with millions of women around the globe asserting it is the most important thing they will ever do.

Fair enough. The sheer physical metamorphosis a woman undergoes when producing a child, followed by a transformed-for-life sleep cycle, relentless emotional and mental demands, and a heart permanently bumping around on a leash is enough to make the toughest soldier wimp out. To anyone who goes through it, I have no argument if they believe it is the most crucial role of their life. If that is what they choose to be defined by, more power to them. I, too, believe it will be among the most critical things I do in my years on earth (but not the only one!)

What fascinates me is how—and more specifically, why—entire cultures feed into this belief and generate narratives to support it to the extent of passively punishing those who don’t conform. I struggle with understanding exactly why we as a society—nay, societies across the planet—endorse this prominence of motherhood to the point where any other achievement—whether it be the Nobel prize or Prime Ministership or the rescuing of trafficked children—is deemed relatively less significant. (Case in point, Hilary Clinton recently stating that Grandmother is the most important title she—U.S. Secretary of State and past presidential candidate—will have.)

First, a home truth: Not all mothers are created equal. Their circumstances are not equal. The extent and manner in which they engage in caregiving and nurturing and the rearing of little human beings is far from equal. Yes, there are certain sentiments mothers are definitely more predisposed to than other categories of the human race. Still, speaking of the experience in absolute terms does nobody any favors (except perhaps the slackers who are happy to scurry under the umbrella—and as a therapist for socially disturbed and abused children, I’ve met more than my fair share of those).

Why does society put such absolute emphasis on motherhood? Because of its significance in shaping the future or because it serves a distinct purpose to do so? Would our social structure be threatened if women one day believed other tasks were more important or satisfying? Does the unabashed promotion of mothers as the more important parent serve a social purpose?

It behooves us to consider who society is made of: men and women. Parents and non-parents. Those who value their work (whatever it may be) and others who get by just because they have to do it. Given the ratio of men to women on the planet, it is only natural that mothers do not form a majority of the world’s population. However, by virtue of the nature of their job, every creature has one—as it has a father. But do we hear of fatherhood being the most important job a man will ever do? He has a company to run, that ladder to shimmy up, and no one thinks badly of him for leaving a colicky baby to finalize a deal. Have we as a society decided fatherhood is not Life Position #1 because it doesn’t serve us to do so? Are those global profit margins we’re sneaking a look at? Industries, incomes, and other concepts that fade into the background when the parent in question is female?

As products of social conditioning who may or may not question this narrative, we need to check if we’re merely being pumped up to serve a social purpose—especially if our hearts are not in it. As much as I believe that parenthood—not just motherhood—is a joyous, rewarding experience for many people, equally, it is not for everyone. Unfortunately, the strength of this all-encompassing motherhood narrative does not account for individual differences and choices. It does not count the woman who feels her role as an international development expert is more important. It scoffs at those who would rather follow a map than a trail of diapers. It disallows space for reflection and questioning, for you must be a really selfish person for thinking you could be complete without a person emerging from your body.

In and of itself, this smothering social story is polarizing and inconsiderate of variations in personalities, ambition, and temperament. It allows no debate on whether a person may actually be a better human being without producing one. It gathers all their life’s work—no matter how significant or exceptional—and hangs it in unfavorable balance to human beings who have utilized their uterus. And in doing so, this overarching myth fails us.

In far too many cultures around the world even today, Jane Austen, Frida Kahlo, Noor Inayat Khan, Emily Bronte, Florence Nightingale, Ellen Degeneres, Anne Frank, Oprah Winfrey, Sonia Sotomayor, and Mother Teresa would have questionable social standing for failing to fulfill their proscribed social role. I will repeat: It is not for us to diss motherhood. If a woman believes that is her only destiny, then she deserves (and definitely requires) all the support she can get. Equally, it is not for us to glorify motherhood to such extremes that we look askance at those who prefer another life mission—whether by choice or circumstance. May we find it in us to applaud their work, vision, and contribution to the planet with the same gusto we reserve for the parents of bonny, chubby-cheeked, dimple-elbowed, fat-toed, three-toothed little folk.

I will be a parent in the future. And already, I know the shift in attitude that will occur by those not closest to me. Finally, I will fit the mold. And once satisfied that I’m propped safely on that pedestal, they will walk off into the distance, looking for other matrons to idolize. And from that vantage point, I will throw darts of doubt in their direction, hoping my aim is not amiss.

 

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Daddy’s Not-So-Little Girl

15 Apr

This opinion piece was originally published in this month’s edition of India Currents magazine. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject!

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One of my strongest memories of childhood is from age 9, where, propping my eyes open with thumbs and forefingers, I willed myself not to doze as I waited behind metal railings for Daddy to emerge from the airport. I had never been on a plane myself. Foreign travel was many years away. But none of that mattered because I was finally going to be reunited with my beloved parent after a two-month gap. When he came into sight, tall and French-bearded, I dashed straight into the exit aisle, head first, running as fast as my chubby legs would carry me, pigtails bringing up the rear. Thankfully skirting the trolley, I hurled myself into his belly, determined not to let go.

I’ve never been one for diplomacy in declaring love. I had a favorite parent and made no bones about it. I have a favorite friend and think nothing of calling her my bestie in the presence of our other close pals. I even have a favorite spouse, but he says that isn’t applicable, since he’s the only one who has ever occupied the position. Circling back to what I meant to share, yes, I was always Daddy’s girl, and remain so to this day.

My discomfort with the tag begins with the insertion of the word “little.” When grown women voluntarily declare juvenility, it is cause for concern. It signals a refusal to mature, a hankering for continued protection, and the rejection of the possibility of a loving adult relationship with your parent. We all grow up. Most of us even manage to add maturity to the checklist. We spend the maximum chunk of our lifetime in adulthood. Who, then, are these women who declare their undeveloped-in-some-aspect status and are they fully aware that it entails connotations of emotional stuntedness?

Some are those who lost their father/father-figure early in life, leaving a gaping hole in their emotional development. I am truly sorry for them and understand at some level the need for comfort and protection. Then there are those who, despite having a living father, go all cute and helpless in his presence and think it is perfectly okay to exhibit this inappropriate behavior. We beat men up for being tied to their mothers’ apron strings. They are called sissies and contempt is showered upon them, because adults are expected to operate within the parameters of healthy, mature boundaries. Why then is it perceived as culturally acceptable to have women in their 20s, 30s and 40s openly declare that they will always be little girls to a parent or parental figure? Does one have to be a “little” girl to spontaneously hug one’s father and laugh over childhood memories? And more crucially, how healthy is it if your parent still sees you as a child when you have one of your own? You’re probably thinking “this is socially acceptable across pretty much all of India” and you’re right: infantilizing one’s adult children is a predominantly Eastern trait, but in the case of Daddy’s “little” girls, this phenomenon seems to cut across cultures with the stereotype readily accepted and fostered in Western society, a classic example being grown-ass Jewish-American Princesses (JAPs).

As women in an era that affords increasing freedoms and gender neutrality, how relevant is this “little girl” position and why do we even want it? Are you less of a daughter if you share a loving, positive equation that includes talking about your work, your dreams, and those cookies you charred in an adult manner? Do you see no need for self-determination when Daddy dearest is around to arrange it all? Even if you did not have a positive paternal role model during your childhood, how does clinging to a false image benefit your growth as a fully functioning adult human being?

In Dr. Peggy Drexler’s book Our Fathers, Ourselves, she points out that daughters feel more at ease around their fathers when they are treated like intelligent beings and not delicate playthings. Perhaps it is easier to continue in the rut of set relationship patterns. But there is pleasure in realizing your father, whom you looked up to as a child, now listens to your thoughts about the upcoming elections. There is the joy of explaining how you tweaked that favorite family recipe. There is fun in trading musical experiences and recommending new reads. There is even an undeniable pleasure in bashing the relatives, now that you can see their follies through adult eyes!

Eric Berne, of Transactional Analysis (TA) fame, states that we operate from three states: Parent, Adult, and Child. Our relationship patterns usually crystallize over time such that we tend to relate to one another in predominantly one state over another. Some, for instance, will react to a spouse as a child or a parent. Plenty of parents, out of sheer habit or perhaps not knowing any different, will respond to their adult children in parent mode, occasionally deploying child mode as a guilt trip. This unhealthy scenario does women a disservice, helping to enforce stereotypes of weak, helpless womanhood. There is no shame in being weak or helpless when you truly are, but a lifetime of interaction on those lines can only harm you.

It is true, ladies. Our fathers are frequently the first male loves of our lives. But then we GROW UP. Like ALL healthy human beings. And the evolution of our loving relationships is the best indicator of much-needed maturity. You’ll always be Daddy’s girl. But you haven’t been little for a really long time. Take ownership of your adulthood. Embrace its unique perspective. You will find that your daughterhood won’t diminish because of it.

S For Swastika

21 Jan

Picture this: We’re having a conversation and I’m listening smilingly. Then you say “Anyways…” and I still smile. Because I willed that stretch of mouth to freeze, while inside, I took three steps back and flung my eyeballs around in a quick move to spy the nearest exit. Inside, I selected a well-sharpened scalpel and neatly carved the ‘s’ off the end of the word. Inside, I set fire to the letter, dropped it into the nearest trash can, put a lid on it, and walked away.

Oh but I’m still here, yes. I’m still smiling at you. Even though my body involuntarily shudders each time an “anyways” is thoughtlessly flung my unsuspecting way.

No, no, please. Don’t take the trouble. I’ll survive. The colorful inner life that results from this conversation is far more entertaining than what you have to say anyway.