Our therapists, Lalitha Pooja and Rafath, came together to not only talk about their experiences, what they feel are some of the major struggles parents go through and what could be the reasons behind these struggles but also to discuss the dominant discourses around the lives of children, their hopes for children and families.
They start the conversation by introducing themselves and clarifying for the viewers that neither one of them are parents but are actually talking on this topic from the lens of a therapist. They have seen and worked with a diverse range of population but have really worked with parents when they actually started working with children. They are purely talking from the experiences they have had and that they are not generalizing in any way.
What are the struggles faced by parents?
Rafath observes that talking about parents in general, be it young new parents or parents of teenagers, is a diverse topic and with this diversity comes a range of struggles. The most common kind of struggles they have noticed or have come across is the constant comparison that goes around among parents about their children. For instance, if one child is growing faster than the other child of the same age, then the question arises by the parents: Am I doing enough? This kind of constant comparison and questioning brings them to the next struggle they face which is labeling. The label of good parent/bad parent. The fear of being labeled as the bad parent by the world puts a kind of pressure on the parents to do the right thing and sometimes this kind of protection can come across as control and whenever there is control or oppression of some sort there is rebellion. She also observes that these labels are directed by the academic or professional success of the child. Parents start to believe that if their child is not doing well, from the society’s perspective, then they have not been good parents, even if they have done everything for their child.
Another struggle that they noticed parents are faced with is internalizing, that is, if the child is acting out in some way or if their behaviour is different from what the society expects it to be, then the parents internalize this struggle or automatically take the blame on themselves by wondering: “Where did I go wrong or where am I lacking that my child is going through this?” The child might be acting out due to the transition they are going through, for instance, a child transitioning to teenager. This transition might be difficult for the parents and they also might be required to change the way they respond as the child would want their autonomy.
Here, Lalitha Pooja, agrees with Rafath and adds that the new mothers have to first understand what is happening with their bodies, the changes it goes through during and after giving birth, then they have to acknowledge and understand that there is this new person whose responsibility rests completely on them. She also adds that even for parents who have more than one child, it doesn’t get easier. For every child the parents have to go through the whole process all over again. She uses the example of an Android phone, just like there are so many versions and updates for them, similarly there are multiple updates for parenting.
Another conflict or struggle that parents go through is when they become a parent, they are seen as a parent only and not as an individual who has other identities, and they are judged or marked by the patriarchal society based on this particular identity. Yes, they are parents, but they are also wife/husband, a professional or a working person, there are so many other roles that they are fulfilling simultaneously with being a parent.
Discussing these struggles brings both Rafath and Lalitha Pooja to the next issue:
What is it that makes parents to be in a space of good parents/bad parents?
When we look at this issue as a whole, we can see that parents are located within a system which governs their behaviour or actions. We can’t say that an individual is an issue as they are kind of responding to the environment they live in, and by environment we mean the ideas and messages they constantly receive from the world around them. For instance, if you are a mother, then you are expected to be nurturing, gentle and always present, and if you are a father then you are expected to be the protective shield and a provider for the family.
These aforementioned labels are attached to individuals by the patriarchal and capitalist society. Both of these systems are intertwined, they go hand in hand. For instance, if a child is an A grader, then the parents feel like they have succeeded. If the child is not doing well academically, but is not failing either, is regarded as failure by the parents. This becomes a very capitalistic and patriarchal idea, that success determines an individual’s happiness. These ideas have been internalized to such an extent, that an individual’s entire worth becomes dependent on them. Even if the parents are okay with their child’s behaviour or the decisions they make regarding their own life, it is ‘important’ for the system around to be okay and this puts so much pressure, stress and anxiety, not only on the parents but also the child, that they have to conform to the society’s or the system’s expectations.
While in this podcast, Rafath and Lalitha Pooja discuss in detail the struggles faced by the parents and how the system we live in plays a huge part, they also explore the other side, the flip side of the coin. This other side being the child. How is it to be a child?
What are the struggles children go through?
Aside from parents there is a whole world of struggles that children go through and these struggles change as they grow. Some of the struggles that were noticed by our therapists are most common and deep-rooted, and are often invisible.
For instance, again, Comparison. Children go through comparison just like the parents but only in a different form. “Comparing is the thief of joy”, an age old saying which has been instagrammed and retweeted so many times, and children are not only compared by the world or the parents, but also sometimes, they end up comparing themselves. Rafath talks about how teenagers are taught, by the system we live in, to compare their looks so much so that they struggle to accept themselves for who they are or how they look. The constant inputs they receive from the world around them does not help either. It no longer is about what makes an individual or the child comfortable with but rather about the standard or the level set by the system which they feel like they have to reach in order to be accepted.
Another struggle, which Rafath observed is that kids go through the changes or the developmental process or growing happening for them. They grow at a fast pace, physical, emotional and cognitive development going on it becomes difficult for them to grapple with everyday life, to understand what is happening with them. When they enter their teen years, they wish to move out of their parents circle and join a peer circle of their own. This may give rise to a conflict which both the parents and the child has to go through.
There is so much confusion regarding who they are and the world around them. Children, till they reach adulthood, are so full of curiosity and questions. They are simply trying to make sense of the world around them. Trying to understand the concept of right and wrong.
Added to all the confusion, children also have to struggle with the gender roles prescribed to them by the system, the society. When they reach a certain age they become conscious and aware about the gender roles they have to play. For instance, at home, girls are expected to learn all the household chores while the boys are not expected to do any of this. There also is a major push for the boys in the family when it comes to their education. However, the same focus or push is not present for the girls in the family. This lays down the basic foundation and expectations for gender roles, how girls are supposed to be and how boys are supposed to be. All this affects the way children turn out to be as adults, as individuals.
Each of the aforementioned struggles have adverse effects on the mental health of the child. If a child decided to do what they want to do instead of what their parents choose for them, then there is an immediate feeling of guilt which is felt, the feeling of doing something wrong or that they are not fulfilling their roles as a child. For children all the decisions need to be approved by the parents or the elders of the house. There is no space for the child to explore for themselves. This gives rise to conflicts and there might be a lot of anger towards these elders or parents, which they are unable to express.
When kids feel like they are not being heard or what they want or think is not being acknowledged, self doubt and a need for validation creeps in. They might feel like who they are is not enough, that they need to conform to the society’s expectations for them. When, in fact, who they are, what they want and how they feel has value. The curiosity that they hold is not only amazing but refreshing. This generation’s children are more aware and they need to be given space to explore not only their emotions but also their identity, who they are.
Our ideology at Pause for Perspective is that the individuals are not regarded as the problem or an issue, but the multiple layers of the system which they live in, which might be influencing the way an individual functions, is regarded as an issue. Listen to our therapists Lalitha Pooja and Rafath talk more about “Deconstructing Parenting” and “Working with Children” in our podcast ‘A Little More Closer’, which is a series of conversations where our therapists talk about issues or problems faced by people from a systematic lens and not from a very individual lens.
This article is written by our writer Insha Fatima.