Sunday, May 07, 2006

Parenthood - the choice

Force, fear, blackmail, caustic remarks, taunting hints - no, this is not a saas-bahu serial or a best-seller....these are just some of the many things a couple goes through when they decide to exercise their right to 'choose' thei own time for parenthood.
Indian society is a traditionally inclined society, in which people don't marry, they are married. And the reason or expectations from marriage is the same on both sides - a heir or an off-spring to carry the bloodline forward(as if it matters so much if bloodlines are carried forward or not and as if every family has a legacy to pass on) , or to look after the parents when they are old (as if so many kids do that nowadays), or to bridge the gap between the parents (let's face it - if there's a gap, it is likely to widen after a kid is born due to added stress and responsibilites) or....or...well, a hundred reasons to have a child and almsot none against it. Most of my colleagues at office get married to women who are still studying, so that as soon as they complete their studies, they can be mothers or evn before that, and within a year of marriage, they are parents. Spouses get time to know each other during the nine months of pregnancy and at the end of it, start to realize how good or bad a parent they can be. So, a wife knows a husband as a lover for the first one month, the would-be father for the next 9 months and a father afterwards, and maybe never know how they will react to each other when the husband's family and the children are not present.
If there's a difference in this routine, then start the questions, first the immediate family, i.e. the spouses' parents and siblings and then the relatives, friends, neighbours and any and everyone who have an unwritten stake in the affair -wait a minute, in what way do they have a stake? Don't ask me, that is one of life's mysteries I am yet to solve. but, to sum up, anyone or everyone who know the couple directly, or indirectly, have a lot of questions as to 'Why the couple is not starting a family.' Conclusions range from the wife being barren (something msut be wrong with her), the husband being impotent (kya mard hain, abhi tak ek aulad nahin payda kar saka - what a man, can't even make his wife pregnant), the couple being incompatible, the relationship being doomed or being under the evil eye to a current conclusion - that the girl msut be too ambitious about her career.
That brings me to another doubt - why do they 'starting a family' only when couples plan kids or are expecting a kid? Don't a couple constitute a family themselves? Are children absolutely necessary for a family to be called a family? So what happens to a couple who never have kids - are they never a 'family'? According to some that might be normal, according to me, it is gross injustice.
The choice of having kids should ideally depend on the parents, i.e. the spouses. However, in our country, everyone else has a say in the matter...sadly. No one seems to respect this bit of personal decision/choice between the husband and the wife. Everyone seems to want to know the reason behind choosing not to be a parent (no one is bothered to know why anyone chooses to be a parent). Even in a train journey or any moment of brief acquaintance, people will ask you if you have kids, if the answer is 'no', then the next question will be how many years have you been married, and if the period of marital bliss is longer than a year or maximum two years, some people give you strange looks or will then ask the next, and proabbly the rudest question of the three, 'then why no kids yet?' or worse, 'aren't you planning for kids then?' and if this answer is 'no', then the next question, 'why not? Don't you think you should have some?' This might sound far fetched, but it is true. I have heard it from my new neighbour, my maid, my co-passenger in train, my college friends with whom I am hardly in touch (surprisingly all male friends ask this questions, females don't) and my mom's colleagues back home, not to mention the usual relatives and of course, my own parents for the alst two questions.
In short, the choice of having or not having kids is not personal in India, it is a community choice. People are married expecting them to be parents within a year, using contraceptives, especially non-natural ones like condoms or pills are out of question, husbands are scared to be proved eunuchs if they can't impregnate their wives, wives are taught to be dutiful wives since childhood when they get their menstruation or even before and asked to be ready to be impregnated after marriage, and over all, everyone is told that parenthood or most importantly, motherhood is the greatest thing that can happen to a woman...correction, married woman...though they don't say so in the posters in a gynaecologists clinic.
The society then has two types of couples - couples who have kids and couples who choose not to have kids...or this might very well be the vision conjured by my troubled mind. In between there are also couples who can't have a child due to several medical reasons, but these couples should then either invite sympathy, so that the whole society feels for them or put up a brave face and be treated with contempt. Needless to say, sympathy is better than contempt, so though most couple can focus on the happy side of not having a child, they choose to tell people 'we are so sad...' In most cases,the only sadness might just be due to their contemporaries becoming parents and their own parents bugging them by giving these cases as examples. In most cases, it is more like a failure to achieve something than like 'an emptiness without a meaning in their existence', because frankly, children are not the only reason for existence of marriage.
Oops that sounds so cold-blooded, but I never said that these posts will be dripping with compassion. This is turning out to be a long post, so, got to end this here, so that I have more material left for the next few parts. Got to end with what my college junious said a few days back when we asked each other -thinking of kids? She said, 'well, right now, we two(husband and wife) are very happy with each other, and really don't want to become baby-producing machines yet', some statement, which, when conveyed to one of my bosom friends, got me the comment, 'well, I don't mind the mechanism of making babies, it is jsut that I am not ready to get the end-products yet'.
And perhaps she never would be - does that make her inhuman, unwomanly or selfish? If so, then the dictionaries need to be changed, seriously....

11 Comments:

Anonymous Ravi said...

Well, I guess I know where this came from. Balls to the world. Live how u wish to.

Mon May 08, 12:11:00 AM  
Blogger Anshuman Ghosh said...

a la matrix - the choice is yours

Tue May 09, 07:03:00 PM  
Blogger Tanushree said...

@Anushuman: Not really. You're what? 23? Single, of course? Choice is just an illusion. You will eventually have to succumb to the wishes of your parents and the pressures of society, of media bombarding you with parenthood images, of colleagues sending out "Joy of parenting" mails to the mailing list, etc. ,etc.

Of course, just making the decision to have a baby is not enough. The next stage is to go through extreme physical discomfort for the better part of a year, forget about all your sleep and spare time for the next few years, and all your money for the rest of your life.

Tue May 09, 10:06:00 PM  
Blogger Tanushree said...

And yes, I am the "inhuman, unwomanly or selfish" bosom buddy that Aparna mentioned. :) I am sure you have guessed by now.

Tue May 09, 10:07:00 PM  
Blogger Aparna said...

Yeah right, choice is an illusion...at least in India.

And there's no middle way as per society -
a) either you have a kid which translates as you love kids, and is a very compassionate person (don't ask how the two are related)
b) or you don't have a kid, which means
i) you don't want a kid and is very selfish and inhuman or
ii) you can't have a kid and is extremely sad and your world has collapsed.

What if I want a kid but am not ready to cut myself up to get one and am happy with what I have, that is, a happy married life? To most members of the society, that's a weird combination.

Tue May 09, 10:40:00 PM  
Blogger Anshuman Ghosh said...

You're what? 23?
yeah 23..

Single, of course?
what makes u say 'ofcourse' with such confidence!?

You will eventually have to succumb to the wishes of your parents and the pressures of society
nobody, parents or society makes me do anything I dont wish to. (hint-people are very eager i head for IIMs ;-D )

of colleagues sending out "Joy of parenting" mails to the mailing list
i mark them as spam, and dont see a reason why i wont in future

and all your money for the rest of your life.
goodness me!! I dont mind a wee bit before spending for my lil sister, I dont think money is a consideration for a li'l one! **nods his head vehemently and gives a scorned look**

Wed May 10, 09:21:00 AM  
Blogger Tanushree said...

OK Aparna, I am now officially in the league of "people to be pitied".

Sun May 28, 11:08:00 PM  
Blogger Aparna said...

Welcome to the club!!!

Tue May 30, 01:37:00 AM  
Anonymous Neela said...

Aparna, your blog inspired me to write one myself. I was particularly annoyed when a friend's mom calls me up after 13 years and asks "Any Issues?" in the second sentence of our conversation! Cheers!

Tue Jul 18, 10:13:00 AM  
Blogger Aparna said...

Hi Neela, welcome to my blog, and read your post...we agree a lot, don't we? :)

Wed Jul 19, 11:46:00 PM  
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