I recently had a friend drop in to visit me at home whilst my father was visiting me from Australia.  My friend came in and I offered him a seat on the couch, my father was working at the dining table.  For a short while he stopped to chat with us, but then went on with his work.

It was early evening, so I offered my friend a drink. He paused, looked at my father apprehensively and requested a glass of water.  I suggested a beer instead, and he looked at me with shock, clearly uncertain about how to respond.  So as I walked towards the kitchen to grab us both a beer, I asked my father if he would also like one. He chose not to, and instead went out for his evening walk leaving us alone to catch up.

After he left, I asked my friend why he had looked so surprised.  He explained that he could never imagine a similar scene being played out in his own home with his parents.  He has a sister and can’t imagine her having men come into the home, let alone being left alone with them like my father had done.  Having a glass of beer in front of his parents is not something he has ever attempted, and he certainly wouldn’t consider offering to pour a drink for his father either.

My friend is a strapping, intelligent man in his mid-thirties.

I have talked about this scene with quite a few of other friends, and all have had a similar response.  None of this would have happened with their parents either. I spoke to my father about it, and he agreed it wouldn’t have been the done thing when he was growing up, but that was in Africa at least 50 years ago.

I understand that there are conservative attitudes to alcohol here, and not drinking in front a parent is considered a sign of respect.  But I do wonder, at what point in time do parents let their children just be adults?

Is it when they get married?  But many continue to live with their parents or in-laws after marriage, and therefore would continue to bound by the same rules.

I respect my parents, but they have fortunately allowed me to be an adult, and respected my choices (even when they haven’t agreed with them).  My mother doesn’t drink, but she doesn’t force her personal choices on me. When my father was visiting he was the one offering me a beer in the evening. I have friendships with men, have lived on my own for the better part of the last 15 years and have no desire to get married.

Whilst I appreciate that my lifestyle is considered extremely liberal compared to many in India, I am grateful that my parents have let me not only be an adult, but have chosen to know who I am as an adult.  So rather than hiding the fact that I enjoy a glass of wine, I share one with them.

I think it is sad to me that some of friends are not able to be themselves in front of their parents.  What I don’t understand is why?

Is it a way for parents to control? Is it fear of watching a child grow up? Is it denial dressed up as respect? Or is it perhaps that the children are too fearful to show their parents who they are?

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10 thoughts on “Remaining a Child in the Eyes of a Parent

  • May 25, 2013 at 2:29 pm
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    This incident reminds me of a friend of mine. He’s an adult, and appreciates a drink now and then. But in front of his family he has to pretend to be someone who has never heard of alcoholic beverages. He was once asked to go buy beer by his father because his family was having some guests over. He felt compelled to feign a complete lack of knowledge about beers and asked for very specific instructions about what kind to buy and how much to buy. He told me this himself and when I asked him why, he said that is just how things are supposed to be.
    I think you’re right when you say that people in India are two different versions of themselves-the in front of parents version, and the away from parents version. To the extent that people accept it as normal. So when a person drinks in front of their parents or has too many friends over, their parents begin to get concerned. Concerned that if this is what the in front of parents version is, the away from parents version must be a promiscuous alcoholic. And yes, in India your social welfare system is your family. So ensuring it’s sobriety becomes important. And once again, there are double standards for men and woman. .

    Reply
    • May 25, 2013 at 2:31 pm
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      I’m lucky enough to not have to live a double life. But I am also lucky enough to have be male in the Indian society. I would like to think otherwise, both my parents are well educated and well traveled but things would have been different if I was a girl.

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      • May 26, 2013 at 4:15 am
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        Thanks for your insights. It is so sad that people can’t be themselves with their family.

        Even worse that sons and daughters are treated differently in many families.

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  • May 23, 2013 at 2:48 pm
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    I couldn’t live the way “traditional” Indians live their lives pretending to be one person in front of their parents and someone different when parents are not there. I think for Indian parents, it is for reasons of control in which they psychologically feel more empowered being able to control their children’s behavior. The children become like slaves to their parents. Men don’t take responsibility for their behavior and all the negatives are dumped on female wives or sisters. Living a lie is not healthy and it is dishonest and this dishonesty carries over into all other parts of their culture.

    This next comment is going to be harsh, but I am going to be blunt. This kind of behavior is ignorant and unhealthy. Denying adult children to be their true selves transfers over into all other parts of Indian society from government corruption, unhealthy marriages, and a behavior pattern of not facing reality thereby denying self empowerment and personal responsibility. This adult-child enslavement increases suicide rates and establishes a system of shame & guilt. This dynamic gives parents all the power. Elder parents intentionally want to keep family structure this way becuase it’s extremely difficult to learn and live and for some even realize new behavior patterns that may be healthier for the culture.

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    • May 24, 2013 at 4:12 am
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      Thanks for your insight. I do understand the points that you are raising and do agree to a large extent. I also see a veil of what people pretend is going on compared to what is actually going on. It makes it difficult to navigate the culture sometimes.

      Reply
  • May 22, 2013 at 4:41 pm
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    Question: “At what point in time do parents let their children just be adults?”
    Remark: Good question
    Answer: Never
    Remark: My Opinion

    Reason: Simple! To be an adult, you have to take risks. And parents fear of the child’s safety more than their own. However some do understand that risks are necessary for success and open up in front of their children. But still there is an upper limit. Beyond that children will always be children for parents 🙂

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    • May 23, 2013 at 3:34 am
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      But this seems to more prevalent here in India then for example in my experience in Australia. All parents fear for their children’s safety, but there is a difference between fearing and never allowing them to grow up.

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      • May 23, 2013 at 7:18 pm
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        I have come to see this risk-averseness in more economic terms. Western parents allow their kids to be more independent because at the end of the day, no one in countries like the US and France is going to sink into utter destitution. Social welfare benefits, etc., means that parents don’t have to worry about their children starving. Unless they really, really want to starve but that’s a choice that filmstars, bulimics and hippies make for themselves. What this means is that the illusion of independence can be maintained because the western state is the ultimate mai-baap of every western rebel, in the last resort.

        In places like India, though, there is no safety net at all except for the family. Parents and children are critically dependent on each other for all practical things – parents are the kids’ public housing and social welfare, kids are the parents’ old age pension. In the absence of a government handing out goodies, people’s dependencies become visible to all. “Respect for elders” is just the language of dependency. Not that I believe anymore that western people are truly “independent” either. Take away government subsidies and “freedom” would go for a toss, and western family dynamics too would change drastically. As indeed some of it has in the recent recession – three generations having to share a house, etc..

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        • May 24, 2013 at 4:14 am
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          You make a very good point regarding the social welfare aspect of the Indian family. Whilst there is a lot of dependency, I do also see a lot of individualism in Indian culture, with people looking out for themselves first above and beyond anyone else.

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        • July 4, 2013 at 7:32 am
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          Awesome point, SRC ! I really didnt look at it this way. People in India have given up on everything nowadays (from govt, state, police etc) and try to look for support within themselves.

          Reply

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