Chapter 42: In-laws and outlaws


May 3, 2014

And so life continues as usual. Usual being, in the Indian context, amid the hot and spicy curry of relatives, social gatherings and, not to be forgotten, constant social scrutiny.

Right now I’m in a small village almost at the border of Western UP—the ancestral home of the in-laws. My existence post marriage has been a strange crossover between extremes—my urban, English-speaking family and my husband’s completely desi and robust, village-dwelling extended family—plus my own journalist-blogger self who feels happiest in the Metro city of Delhi. An interesting mix, if a tad un-mixable.

But never had the distance felt so glaringly obvious as when my little one appeared on the scene.

The birth of my son has literally landed me in the midst of a crossfire, a tragi-comic tug of war that never ends. This has, in fact, led me to conclude that all relatives—regardless of whether they are yours or your husband’s— should always be referred to as in-laws. For they are the ones always laying down the laws. In-LAWS.

Now, it’s a fairly normal occurrence in life—no matter how unpleasant—that mothers get shot down all the time for their alleged incorrect parenting. You child might be hyperactive, not active enough, too polite (hence a pushover), not polite enough, too fat, too thin, too addicted to books, not interested in books, too talkative, not talkative enough—there’s a whole variety of parenting flaws that relatives will only be too happy to point out to you.

This is irritating enough in the normal course of things, but the impact of being constantly belittled is magnified manifold when you are the only one at the receiving end, with no partner to defend you or even to share the blame. To make matters worse, people from both sides of the fence are having a go at you.

To my family, my boy is a junglee—a wild child absolutely bordering on the uncontrollable. Having been exposed to a baby after almost two decades, they have completely forgotten what children are usually like.

“What an atrocious kid he’s turning into! He just keeps upsetting things and throwing stuff and running around. Can’t you even keep him in check!”

Directly opposite this, to my extended in-laws from the village, he is a pushover, a whining mouse of a boy. They have a house absolutely teeming with kids who create a racket all day long.

“What! Is this what you have turned him into? You have a ‘mard bachha’ {male child} and this is what you’ve made him? He ought to be able to hold his own, he ought to be able to fight and run and kick and punch! Make him a man, not a mouse!” So on and so forth.

The worst part is they’re both correct.

My one and a half year old boy is a regular monarch when he’s in familiar surroundings amid people he’s more familiar with. But as soon as he’s out of his den, he clutches at his mom in terror, bawls at the slightest provocation and cowers in fear when faced with a bully.

But let’s not forget that he’s only a year-and-a-half old, for heaven’s sake—19 months to be precise. It’s perfectly normal for a little boy to be scared of the outside world, to be wary of strangers and to be intimidated by bullying. Except for one little thing: my boy is a little exceedingly possessed by stranger anxiety, and a little too unused to rough-and-tumble play. Which isn’t surprising, considering that he’s growing up in the absence of his father, with no ‘manly’ activities to speak of. What’s worse is that my mom has always had the chicken-soup syndrome: too much protection and too little independence. I’m nearly always over ruled when it comes to letting him play a little rough and go out there and explore. There’s always a set of arms nearby to either haul him up or haul him out. This constant hovering has created an additional disadvantage of him being a bit more uncoordinated than kids his age—walking and running only on his toes. Naturally, he keeps tripping and falling over his feet.

Now this becomes particularly terrible when you’re visiting a joint family (with not one but multiple joints) that boasts not less than 2 dozen members— and guests besides. Every time someone tries to pick him up, he bawls. Add to that the village courtyard with uneven flooring and his uncoordinated, running-on-toes gait—and you have a kid that falls flat on his face every half an hour, with his lip cut and gums bleeding each time.

A sureshot recipe for disaster.

A recipe for day long allegations of over-parenting, which is ironic since back home I am subjected to day long allegations of under-parenting. The constant whining, of both the boy and the relatives combined, is getting far too much on my easily-frayed nerves. In case you didn’t notice, though, there is a major difference between being heckled by your husband’s relatives, and being heckled by your own: with your own people, you can snap back and tell them to back off. No such liberty with the husband’s family—not by a long mile.

Grin and bear it gets a whole new definition—only in my case it’s weep and bear it. Every time someone heckles me for my ‘insufficient parenting’, I go back into my own room and weep it out.

I hate and curse my son for being such a cry baby and a pipsqueak. I hate my mom for being such an overprotective hovercraft. And I hate and curse the father of my son for leaving me alone in this onslaught.

He ought to be here. He ought to be the one fielding these questions, he ought to be the one teaching his son to be ‘a mard.’ He ought to be sharing this responsibility with me instead of sprinting off to another country like an escaped fugitive, an outlaw. How I hate him.

More than anything, though, I hate myself for being incapable of properly bringing up my son. For being incapable of handling my own life and doing something about it. Wretched, contemptible, loathsome woman.

I feel it. I feel it again.

The rage that underlines my very being, the magma that bubbles and bubbles. Chokes me with its fiery flow, but finds no escape.

loneliness

 

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9 thoughts on “Chapter 42: In-laws and outlaws

  1. I love your theory of inlaws and outlaws! It was funny to see the contrast in reactions of both sides of family and heart breaking to read your ordeal but i see it was written in 2014 and hope now the pains have eased and you have found peace and relief!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much ! Yes now everything is good Alhamdulillah. But the time recorded in these posts was the bleakest time of my life. I shudder to remember those days. I was an inexperienced mother and my personal frustrations only made it worse.
      Thanks for reading and liking! It makes me happy to know you can relate 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  2. And here in australia I’m getting judged for even acknowledging my son is a boy who likes “boy things”. If I raise him to get dirty and be tough I’m obviously teaching him that girls are weak and as a result he will be an abusive husband one day or a man who rapes drunk girls arguing implied consent. Nobody sees the bit where he’s sweet and funny and considerate. He loves trucks so of course he’ll be a thug.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Lisa I just read your comment out to my husband ! Such is life, isn’t it? Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. Your kid will grow up just fine I am sure– liking trucks and cars isn’t a bad sign nor is being tough. The values we give our kids are irrespective of their level of toughness. We need to teach them how to use the energy and the things they like in the right way. Teaching boys to respect womeb doesn’t mean they wont like cars. Value-education is applicable for all kids and that’s what makes the difference. Teachig them that strength is supposed to protect others and help them. That’s what I always teach my kid. Now that he is 5, he is a regular truck lover and a rough and tumble boy. But he’s very sensitive to others needs and feelings, because those are the values we taught him. And I am sure those are the values you teach your son, too. Ive

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Zahra you are doing the best you can! Everyone is new at parenting at one point. You just have to ignore and do the best you can. All you need is your husband’s support. Love you!!

    Like

    • Thank you so much ! These posts are narrating the story from 2014, so things are very different now 😀 Hasan was only one year old then, so I was a ‘fresher’ at parenting. Now I have 5 years of experience haha! I’m a lot more calm now, thank God. 🙂

      Like

  4. Zehra…this is the story of almost every indian mom. Especially new moms. Liked the way u presented it. The language and the feel. Similar things happened with me when i was at in laws house differing only in the way that i have a daughter. I was also judged as a mother. Yet i feel great that i m raising a wonderful person. Yeah she is a person just at the age of seven. She has her own opinion, feelings, and a confidence of who she is. She is repectful and loving. She quotes me where i am wrong. But the challenge is she stays this forever. And still vary of this great accomplishment i still want to raise a son ( had two miscarriages after my daughter). I want one more person to b raised by me instilling in him the similar values who should be of a different gender. But who never goes for gender specific roles. Who has his own mind of qiestioning things and understanding. Who wud be respectful and living. Kind and tender. Strong and confident. Who would understand the meaning of his extra bones and muscles. Finally we raise persons with different gender but a common perspective of love and respect. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

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