These past few days my sister and I have been fussing over our father, a little more than usual. We got him a beard trimmer for Father’s Day. We have been ordering PPE kits, gloves, masks for him every few days online, he is a healthcare professional. He can get most of these things where he lives, but since he is above 60 under the current circumstances we just want to ensure that his visits to the market can be cut down as much as possible.
It feels so good to care for your parents in any way, especially when you cannot be there with them physically. I do realise though that I am one of those lucky married daughters in India who do not face any resistance for prioritising her parents. I am not answerable to anyone in my house if I decide to buy my parents an expensive gift, or pack my bags and leave for a month to live with them after the pandemic is over. Or call them over to be with me. How many married women have this sort of agency in our society? Where they do not have to worry about familial or social approval to put their parents first?
It is automatically assumed that if she is prioritising her parents, then clearly she is neglecting her matrimonial household.
This is the sad reality of our society, I have seen it in my friend circle, my vast pool of extended relatives and acquaintances. Any daughter who pays attention to the needs of her parents beyond a certain “limit” after she is married gets called out openly, or behind her back. It is automatically assumed that if she is prioritising her parents, then clearly she is neglecting her matrimonial household. We have all heard the gossip about that new bahu who buys her mum and dad expensive gifts (no matter that it is with her own hard-earned money), or the neighbour who goes to her maika every few months, or the aunt whose parents come to live with her too “frequently”. It is the tone in which these incidences are discussed that I find problematic.
We may no longer be living in an era where women are told in their face to focus on their matrimonial home once they get married and to clip the nuchal cord that binds them to their maika. But even today a married daughter's relationship with her parents is immensely scrutinized.
She is visiting her parents so frequently, seems like she doesn’t get along with her in-laws. Her parents come to stay with her for months at a stretch, is her husband okay with that? Would we ask a son similar questions? Don’t we go on to praise any son who prioritises his parents in his life? Who cares for them in old age, makes sure they are comfortable, spends time with them almost religiously? Then why is it not okay for a daughter to do that?
This is yet another way how we alienate daughters in this country. By scrutinising their marriages if they continue to share a strong bond with their parents.
The patriarchal mindset, that labels daughters as paraya dhan, creates a wall between parents and daughters once she gets married. She belongs to another family now and it is to them that she must dedicate her concern and care. An adarsh daughter is the one who brings pride to her parents by becoming an adarsh bahu. She’ll care for her ageing in-laws, she’ll spend all her money as per her husband’s approval. She'll care for her parents within a limit that has been approved by those around her. Take a step beyond that and suddenly how you are perceived as a bahu or a wife stands challenged. The emotional bond that you share with your parents, no cares about that.
Even when in-laws and the husband support a daughter’s decision to look after her parents, there is social resistance that she has to deal with. For instance, my husband or my in-laws had no qualms when I stayed with my parents for three months, when my partner was abroad, but shockingly my mother had to answer innumerable queries from "well-wishers", on whether my marriage was okay! This is yet another way how we alienate daughters in this country. By scrutinising their marriages if they continue to share a strong bond with their parents.
It forces a daughter to think twice about something as legit as just wanting to spend a good time with her parents and let them enjoy life with their grandchild. It makes parents hesitate to ask their daughters for help, be it with elderly care or financial support when they struggle. Is it a wonder then, that not having a son is seen to bring doom to parents in old age in our country?
As women have begun to seek equality in their marriages, sooner or later the issue of changing alliances once you are married will need to be addressed. In an equal marriage, no partner should have to keep caring for their parents aside, that too on the basis of their gender. With supportive partners and in-laws who don't challenge their decision, women can continue to nurture their bond with their parents and eventually our society will have to come around and accept it as the new norm.
The views expressed are the author's own.