Why Indians Need to Stop Seeking Their Parents’ Approval

Modern Family

Why Indians Need to Stop Seeking Their Parents’ Approval

Illustration: Akshita Monga

D

ear Mummy,

When I was a little girl, my biggest fear was losing you. I’d wake up scared in the middle of the night, only to find your reassuring presence by my side. Relief is such a strange emotion to learn for the first time. But it’s what I’d experienced on seeing your calming face the minute after I had a nightmare. It’s also how I came to realise that I could never love anybody as much as I loved you.

Over the years, I discovered more forms of love. The love and care I could feel for my siblings, the love that underlines every friendship, the admiration-tinged love I felt for my teachers, the love that I showered on myself, and your least favourite one, the love I could feel for a partner. As a little girl, I depended on you; I held on to your dupatta and cried in your arms. But as an adult, I could give a strange man the power to make me happy or unhappy, to build me or ruin me, to love me or use me. And you, my mother, could do nothing about it.

That’s why, I understood. I understood when you hit me after you found out that I had been “distracting myself” by talking to my friend about cute guys. Even though, I was only 10 then and getting a beating for talking to my friends didn’t make any sense to me. At 12, I understood when you didn’t like the neighbourhood boy who left a juvenile love letter in our plant. I’d never talked to him and you knew that. You also knew that he’d send me messages through his friends saying that he wanted to be my friend. I told you, I liked him for it. But you thought it was “not normal”. You let me feel ashamed, embarrassed, and guilty about my first silly crush. And yet I understood.

When I told you about how I didn’t feel anything for my college best friend who was in love with me, you proceeded to make lofty accusations. You said, he was fooling me into dating him. You said he was “no match” for me even though I knew in my heart that he was a decent man.

But I still understood you, your love, your fears. I did it, because I loved being your “rani beti” – your prodigal child, the model daughter you could flaunt to the world for being an obedient, sanskari girl. But to do that, I also had to live a life that wasn’t to your knowledge. I met men from different walks of life, became friends with them, and even dated one of them. I knew I needed these experiences, and that it was unnecessary for you to know about them. I decided to wait for that moment when I could afford to share a personal life-altering choice with you and you would finally approve of it.

Mother, sometimes I wonder if there’s a part of my love for you that you subconsciously believe is a debt I owe you.

I thought this time, you would understand.

That’s why it broke my 27-year-old heart when I decided to confide in you that I was in love with a man. You chose to embarass me for hiding things from you and for falling in love with someone who you thought was not good enough for me. Without so much as even meeting him. To me, it didn’t feel like you were just disapproving my choice but that all this while you disapproved me making a choice without your permission. So this time around, I did not understand.

Mother, sometimes I wonder if there’s a part of my love for you that you subconsciously believe is a debt I owe you. I admit that I’d be nowhere without your sacrifices, and everything you did to make me the person I am. But does it also mean that you get the power to dominate every single life decision I try making and put an end to the choices that you deem are incorrect for me? Does being an asset you’ve invested in for years mean that you get to own a share of my life now?

I’ve talked to countless friends and found that I am not alone. So many women (and men) are in a tussle with their parents about their choice in friends, careers, or love. One thing that I’ve found is common between all of us is that even though we’re dead sure about our choices, we’re still struggling to get our parents’ approvals on them. Because as Indian parents, your generation has dedicated their whole life to their kids. Because as Indian millennials, our parents’ validation for our choices has come to matter to us more than our own choices.

Mother, I also wish you’d understand that the influence you have on my life and my choices, is a tremendous power to have. Because your opinion on my boyfriend does affect me, even if it might be irrational. You do have the influence to turn me against him, even if not immediately. And you do have the influence — even if unintended — to make me doubt him and in turn, doubt my own judgment.

But mother, seeking your approval for this long, has tired me. It has forced me to value your words over mine. To live the life you want me to lead, instead of my living it on my terms. I’ve vested this power in your hands, because I love, respect, and thank you. All I ask in return is that you lift from my shoulders the burden of proving my love to you by betraying my choices – the burden of being your rani beti.

Love is a beautiful thing, mother and I learnt it from you. Do you remember how I loved hugging you during our naps when I was little? If your hug was too tight, I’d mockingly gasp for breath and joke that I was suffocating. You would smile and let go and I would then hug you back as much as I needed to. Today, I have the same request, mother. I need you to let go, because I need to breathe. Once you do that, I’ll hug you again, as much as I need to.

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