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Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Dear parents, let your children go to understand themselves better

I studied in a hostel and so did my brother. We both grew very independently. Even though my brother felt very upset that he had to stay away from the family, I enjoyed every bit of it. It taught both of us some very practical and good lessons in life: How to live independently, never depend on anyone for anything. Living away from home helped both of us change from parents’s little kids to their friends. That helped us build our nests when we grew up.

Here's an article on Buzzfeed on the similar lines which says why Indian parents need to let their children go to understand themselves better:

When I was seventeen, I left home for college.

Later, my mother would tell me how sending me away had felt a bit like throwing me in the deep end of a pool before I’d learned to swim.

I’d always had my parents, and this made leaving home easier.

And it sort of was.

Till then, I’d always had them. And somehow, this made leaving home easier.

Sure, there were tears at farewell. But they weren’t mine.

After all, I was 17, and I was finally leaving home to live in Mumbai, my favourite city in the world.

The beginning wasn’t easy.

I was overwhelmed by the sudden awareness of being the only person standing up for myself.

I found myself learning to do things that had, before this, always been done for me.

I was the only person standing up for myself.

I learned to stand in queues for train tickets, figure out how banks worked, travel on my own, share a room with strangers and even (gasp) do my own laundry.

On some days, I felt helpless.

On some days, my ears burned with embarrassment as my aunts laughed at me for buying something without bargaining enough.

I would fall sick, make doctor’s appointments, and still end up calling my mother to desperately ask for remedies.

Of course, any call I made to my parents came with their cursory, “Is everything okay?”.

And I always had the same thing to say – “I got this.”

“I got this” became my mantra.

“I got this” became my mantra for everything that I handled after that. As I stumbled through the rest of my years in hostel, I realised that a lot of growing up started with faking the confidence I didn’t have.

I learned to elbow my way into the locals.

I found myself asking for help when I needed it.

I managed to tear cheques right and sign them without errors.

I learned to make my bed and fold my clothes without being told to do so.

I found myself asking for help when I needed it.

Slowly, I learned to say “I got this”, and really mean it.

And over the next four years of undergrad and masters, I learned to live away from my parents.

At eighteen, I was still my parents’ “chhota baccha”.

They, though, still called me almost every day.

My mother always asked me the same two questions during those conversations, and not much else – “Kya kar rahi hai?” and “Kya khaya?” (What are you doing? What did you eat?)

Always in the same tone, and always with the same amount of maternal concern.

At 18, I was still my parent’s “chhota baccha” (little child).

And then, in 2014, I finally finished my masters in Chennai and moved back to Mumbai. The same year, my mother also moved to the city to get her M.A. and her health back on track.

Both of us would share a 1BHK in Mumbai. I’d be living with a parent again. Full time.

I was excited to show her how good I’d gotten at living alone.

I was excited to show my mother how good I’d gotten at living alone.

She, on the other hand, couldn’t wait to take care of me again.

The first few months of living with a full-time mom were turbulent, to say the least.

I had forgotten what it was like to be accountable, and answerable to someone.

“Where are you going? Who are you going out with? Didn’t you just meet her last week? Are you drinking with these people? You’re spending too much money on your outings,” she’d ask.

I’d grown up while I’d been away, and now their support and concern felt like interference.

And to them, I was a stranger.

To my parents, I was a stranger.

There was so much they didn’t know about me. How, for years, I’d been quietly battling depression and anxiety. How I had begun to visit a therapist.

My anxiety was a dirty secret every friend knew except for the person I lived with.

On my first visit to the therapist, my best friend asked me, “Why don’t you tell your mother about it?” But I couldn’t. Talking to them about this would involve questions, accusations and guilt, none of which I was ready to handle.

“Beta, you should have come to us.”

We were still just family — we needed to become friends.

“What do you have to hide from your parents?”

“Maybe you’re just overthinking this as usual.”

Regardless of everything, we were still just family — we needed to become friends.

And to do that, we’d have to know each other again. We’d have to become something more than just mother and daughter.

Fortunately, my years away from home had already begun that process. Slowly, things began to change.

In my years away from them, my parents had watched me take care of myself. Meanwhile, I’d learned to let go of their apron strings.

When my mother and I began to live together again, our old equation no longer worked.

I couldn’t be the daughter I’d been before, and she couldn’t be the person shouldering all the responsibilities.

I couldn’t be the daughter I’d been before.

But it took time before she was ready let me stand for hours in queues instead of volunteering herself, or allow me deal with the bai on my own.

And it was a while before I was told to pay my own bills, or left alone in the house without her worrying that I’d wreck the place or burn it to the ground.

In the meantime, I began to see myself differently too, chipping in at places I hadn’t (or couldn’t) before, offering to pitch in when the family needed money.

It took years of crying and yelling, confrontations and conversations before they actually listened to me. But finally, they did, and that’s when I began to be treated like an adult by people who’d only ever seen me as a “chhota baccha”.

What parents forget in the process of teaching us to trust them while growing up is that after a point, they’re going to have to trust us.

After a point, “Tumhe kuch nahi pata, humne duniya dekhi hai” (You don’t know anything, we’ve seen the world) doesn’t quite cut it anymore.

Even birds let their young ones fly.

Even birds let their young ones fly after teaching them how to.

Indian parents, on the other hand, treat their kids like kites — holding the manja in their hands as they watch them fly over their universe.

Eventually, I told my father, and then my mother, about going to therapy.

In return, my mother told me about the first few months that she had moved in with me. About her own battle with loneliness, and the days spent looking out of the window and crying, without knowing why.

As we spent time snacking and talking, I slowly felt the reins of her love loosening up on me. And as she started letting go of me, I began to open up to her.

In the hours before starting this essay, I called up both my parents to ask them what had changed since I left home and came back.

Both of them said, more or less, the same thing — “We trust you to take care of yourself.”

“We trust you to take care of yourself.”

What had really changed, though?

Sure, I had grown up. But, my parents had also grown up with me.

In a strange role-reversal of sorts, I now text them to ask where they were when I don’t hear from them. I ask them what their plans for the future are. I worry about them.

On the other hand, they tsk-tsk when I call them to ask them how they are in the middle of the day.

Leaving home changed all of us. They let me go, and I learned to come back home.

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