Parents should be allowed room to make mistakes as well
It doesn’t matter what age we are, when it comes to parents we see them through the same lens throughout our life. We set high standards and always expect them to live up to it. Oscar Wilde, perhaps, used the perfect words to describe this beautiful but complicated relationship, “Children begin by loving their parents, as they grow older, they judge them. Sometimes they forgive them”.
In Pakistan, families are usually tight-knit and parents live with their children even long after the latter have their own. As a result, the pressure on both parties to live up to each other’s expectations is two-fold. Parents are usually thought to be larger-than-life entities, always expected to have everything under control and are allowed little room for mistakes. These unrealistic expectations, albeit natural, can often lead to unnecessary complications. Some of the most popular misconceptions that children have regarding their parents are:
Divorce is always bad
Divorce rates in Pakistan are on the rise with an average of 150 cases being filed daily, according to the Pakistan Gender News, 2014. Despite the high numbers, there is still a significant amount of taboo attached to it which creates complications whenever the news of a divorce is disclosed. In case there are children involved, the issue usually takes even more complex turns.
Part of the problem arises from the fact that once a couple has children, they are expected to stay married, even though they may be unhappy together. Children understandably also feel emotionally and mentally disturbed if their parents decide to part ways. Even though initially reacting with anger, depression or grief is natural, some children usually refuse to forgive one or both of their parents even long after the divorce. They may also end up blaming their parents for their own troubled relationships, mental health or lack of happiness in extreme cases. “Not only is my family incomplete, I saw the hardship and struggle my mom had to go through to raise me,” says Ahmed Sheikh, a 24-year-old graduate of Swansea University in United Kingdom, who believes that divorce is never a good option. Even though his parents got divorced when he was nine, his views on the issue have hardly changed.
Not all children, however, react negatively. The older ones, generally being more independent and better equipped emotionally to handle the situation may also support their parents through the process. Sana Shaikh, a student of University of Karachi, was 11 when her parents decided to split up. While it was a difficult situation to adjust to, she made peace with it over time. Despite living with her mother, she is very close to her father and doesn’t castigate him for the marriage not working out. “I think if two people are unhappy together, they shouldn’t stay married just for the sake of the children or because that is what our society expects them to do,” says Shaikh, adding that nobody wins in a situation where couples stay together in spite of being unhappy. It is actually harder on the kids if the parents stay together and continue to live in a stressful, unhappy environment.
According to Dr Murad Moosa Khan, a professor at the Department of Psychiatry at the Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH), young adults usually have the maturity to deal with and/or accept such situations since they are independent and have, over the years, attained a set of skills to deal with such situations. Dr Ayesha Mian, chair associate professor at the Department of Psychiatry at AKUH, further elaborates that a lot depends on how amicable the process of the divorce is. She states that no matter how young or old the children are, if the divorce is relatively harmonious, then it can be accepted easily by the children at any age. The problems arise when divorces are long with a lot of court hearings and fights over children’s custody. “The entire ordeal can take a toll on the children’s [or adults] sensibilities. However, even in an ugly divorce, young adults usually have the emotional capacity to tolerate the process,” explains Mian.
Being affectionate is not for parents
Public Display of Affection (PDA) is usually looked down upon in Pakistan, even in the case of married couples. Therefore, seeing parents openly express affection through words and gestures can often make children uncomfortable, especially since it is not something that they are used to. “If my parents suddenly became openly affectionate towards each other, it would make me uncomfortable,” says 22-year-old Ans Khurram. He believes that such gestures don’t necessarily reflect two people being in love.
Nonetheless, Mian explains that while this phenomenon was far more prevalent in the previous generation, children have become a lot more accepting of their parents emotional expressiveness. “It was the joint family systems earlier [that] created more of a cultural hindrance for parents to be publicly affectionate towards each other,” says Mian. In fact, children who are raised by emotionally expressive parents tend to do the same in their own relationships as well.
Too much of an age gap with siblings is embarrassing
Most young people are terrified by the thought of their parents having a baby at a time which is usually believed to be unacceptable, primarily because they consider it embarrassing. When 26-year-old Neha Javed was asked what her reaction would be if her parents decided to have a child now, her response was an outright no. “In our society, being in your twenties means getting married and starting a family of your own,” she says. For her, the thought of her parents having a baby while looking for prospective life partners for their existing children is depressing. “It is their age to play with their grandchildren instead of having their own,” adds Javed. This reaction is common amongst most young people — while some take it in stride, most oppose the idea strongly.
“Children, no matter what age, culture, or country, always have a hard time accepting one fact — that their parents have an intimate relationship. When they first find out how children come into being, their immediate response is denial,” explains Mian. While its easier to shrug these things off as a child, being an adult you can hardly look away. Having a sibling after a long gap means admitting publicly (in an implicit manner) that their parents are still intimate. Those who accept siblings much younger than them do it mostly because they’ve been raised in an open, communicative environment,” adds Mian. How parents approach the situation also affects the outcome.
Be loving, be real
While it is natural to expect the highest level of love, dedication and maturity from our parents, it is important to recognise that they are humans too. They might have bad days, make bad decisions and it is important to allow them the room to do both.
Usually, most tricky situations like the ones listed above can be solved if the children try to look at the situation differently and stop trying to fit their parents into cookie-cutter molds. Similarly, if parents create an environment at home that encourages open communication, most of these misconceptions can be addressed in the initial stages and prevented from becoming full-blown problems. And most importantly, both parties should realise that like all relationships, this one requires work and compromise too.
Published in The Express Tribune, Ms T, August 31st, 2014.
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