Not without my daughter
Whether it is wiring money to dad for the latest diabetes detection machine or chatting with mom regularly to keep her loneliness at bay — daughters today are increasingly looking after their parents. And their rising economic independence has only made it easier than in the past.The ancient tale of Shravan Kumar, the dutiful son who carried his ageing parents in two baskets on his shoulders, now needs to be rewritten with a female character scripted in. Today, daughters are playing the role of primary care-givers to their parents.
Shailesh Mishra, founder of Silver Innings, an NGO for senior citizens, says the new generation of economically independent women is proving to be the pillars of support ageing parents can fall back on. “Daughters are different from sons in a way because they have an innate maternal instinct. And if they are earning, they feel the need to care for their old parents,” he says.
Since married daughters aren’t traditionally supposed to share the burden of their parents’ upkeep, this new role play takes most parents by surprise. It’s not as if sons don’t care about their parents these days, but sometimes coping with illness and old age puts a strain on relations, and the married daughter brings in a new perspective.
Take the case of Mumbai stockbroker Sanjay Mehta. His father, who was known among the morning walkers of Hanging Garden as ‘the youngest 80-year-old around’, suddenly suffered a stroke and had to undergo surgery. When his father came back home, his sudden dependency on Mehta made him irritable. He needed constant attention. Often he would soil his pants. Mehta says, “I didn’t know what to do. I felt depressed when I would return home from work.” Then, his married sister decided to move in for a month and take care of her father. “She would read to him, make him laugh and be around him to make him feel good about himself,” says Sanjay. “That’s more than I could have ever imagined doing.”
Such examples abound across the country, in both metros and smaller towns, where, despite the presence of sons and daughters-in-law, the daughter takes care of the parents. Dr Rajal Thaker, 44, of Ahmedabad says she is her parents’ child first and a daughter later. Thaker has her heart in the right place. She says her mother has spent many nights staying awake by her bedside whenever Thaker would fall ill as a child. Today, she proudly claims she spent as many nights taking care of her septuagenarian mother Nilima when she underwent a bypass surgery a few years ago.
In Delhi, 52-year-old Nayantara Siddhanta (name changed) took a sabbatical from work to complete her PhD thesis, but scarcely anticipated that her life would take a 360 degree turn. Her mother was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a degenerative bonemarrow cancer. “My mother was so ill that her life had come to a grinding halt. Between my career and my family, the choice was clear. It had to be my mother first,” says Siddhanta. Although daily hospital rounds, consulting with doctors, and attending to her mother 24/7 seemed exhausting at first, soon it became a mechanical routine to which she succumbed without the slightest protest.
While it is easier for single women, a number of married women are also finding their husbands increasingly supportive as far as taking care of their parents is concerned. Just before her father’s eightieth birthday, Vasumathy Rangarajan, a special educator in Chennai, persuaded her parents to leave their home in Tiruchi and move in with her. “I gave them no other option,” she says. She and a friend recently started a club for octogenarians. “My mother-in-law is also 89. I realised that elderly people are usually dependent on their children for everything and have no place to meet or interact on their own. I wanted to give them such a forum,” she says.
Ishani Dutta, a teacher at Alliance Francaise in Delhi, has a flexible schedule that allows her to shuttle between work and home. With an elderly mother to look after, she finds her teaching job a blessing in disguise. “I spend time with my mother in the evenings after I have finished classes. We simply sit and chat over cups of teas.”
The bond between a mother and a daughter can never become weak, no matter what, feels Dutta. “The difference is that in old age the mother often becomes the daughter and the daughter becomes the mother. That’s the beauty of the relationship,” she says.
A few decades ago, societal norms were such that it was only the daughter-in-law’s duty to look after her mother-in-law; rarely would a daughter visit her mother, let alone make her stay with her. “Society has become more tolerant. I am lucky that my husband doesn’t fret about me devoting time or money to my mother,” she says.
Social scientist and senior fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Shiv Viswanathan, suggests that, even biologically speaking, daughters have a more caring mental make-up. “Women view the family as an important institution. Patriarchy doesn’t work because sons don’t want to take on responsibilities,” he says.
Daughters who move back into their parents’ home after a failed marriage tend to take on more responsibilities. Mishra of Silver Innings talks about a case in which a daughter moved back to her parents’ home with her two children and cared for them through their illnesses despite having brothers. “A lot more needs to be done to sensitise people about the necessity of looking after old and ailing parents. And if daughters step forward and take the initiative, the sons will follow suit,” he says.
By Namita Devidayal with reports from Mansi Choksi in Mumbai, Diya Banerjee in Delhi and Radha Sharma in Ahmedabad
Source: The Times of India- The Crest Edition, dt 6th March 2010
Silver Inning Foundation Salutes the Women,thank god you made her