Posted by Nayana Chowdhury
“You are a slut! Given a chance you will sleep with every man in the whole neighbourhood!”
“When will you die? Can you tell me when will you die? I can then be at peace for some time?”
“You are so ugly..it is so difficult for me to take you anywhere!”
“You will keep losing your jobs! You don’t know how to talk to your own, no wonder you would not know how to talk to the world!”
“You will never become anything in life! I at times wonder if you are our own!”
These are just some of the things that children from so called “normal” families have heard and often vividly remember as adults. It does not help that when these adults step into the outside world, some of these remarks get repeated by the others. And then their families might repeat these with a “I told you so…” put in, for better effect. If you think of these sentences in isolation, without knowing who said these to whom, you would have asked the receiver of these sentences to run away from the utterer as far as she could, but the moment you hear these are from their parent(s), you might start making excuses in favour of the abuser. Or let me say, we all start playing by the script we have been taught, the moment we hear that it was after all…. the “parent” or even an “older sibling” at times.
I have observed that we talk about toxic relationships in terms of intimate partners much more than with regards to parents or close relatives who hold us hostage in the name of “knowing the best for us” or “having the best for us in their heart”. The world goes around worshipping parents, celebrating the proverbial father or the sacrificial mother and shuts you up by saying, ” …but they must have had no malice in their heart…” and you sit there wondering who, then, will give space to the lifelong suffering of the people who are torn apart everyday by their parents’ words, actions, and simple lack of willingness to love their own children.
You sit thinking why did they even birth you if they had no plan to love you! Oh, you of course know what caused that, but you also like to think like that some times. Coming to think of love, a lot of them will actually try to shove a big truck-load of abuse upon us, all in the name of parental love.
If we were to start recollecting every time something was normalised in the name of parental love, here are some things that come to mind:
1. Making you choose a stream in academia that is contrary to what you’d actually want to study.
3. Marrying you completely against your wishes to a stranger.
4. Deciding on your behalf whether you should continue or discontinue your studies.
5. Making sure you find it impossible to end your abusive marriage.
6. Making you choose a career, completely ignoring whether you wanted to do it in the first place.
7. Making the whole world your enemy! Constantly feeding it into you that you must get approval of your parents for everything. No one else loving you matters! It is only parental approval that can make you feel like you have some worth, otherwise your whole life is in vain.
And these are just some of them….
These families are called “normal”, because they abide by all social norms. The parents are not divorced (it is another matter that they may be wishing death for each other either in a loud voice or in whispers), the mother cooks and takes care of the household, the father earns regular wages and is not an alcoholic or a vagabond. See, all normal!
With that, no one finds the need to question the incessant bickering pouring out of the doors of the household. They will even laugh when the husband “jokes” about how they make sure no bird gets to rest in that whole community due to their loud-pitched clashes every day. Everyone laughs and no one questions what happens to the small bird-like heart of the young child in that family. The loud-pitched shouting matches are “normalised” by using jokes as a child sit big-eyed, thinking is this really the normal?
And then she learns that only raising her voice, throwing things and crying loudly will get her attention. And that attention can actually be a few slaps or a few choicest lines that she has always yearned for. She learns that being called “bad”, “disobedient”, “headstrong”, “the one with a little loose screw” are all normal things. She learns that showing emotions will only make her more vulnerable to these phrases. The whole world around the child works towards normalising this.
And then, there is always a child in every family that “gets it”. You remember the proverbial child who called out the naked king for his lack of clothing, don’t you? Sadly, if you are the child who sees and speaks the truth of the dysfunctionality of your ‘picture perfect’ family, then you will be, in return, isolated, called names, made the target of an in-house smear campaign by all the relatives.
You will probably resonate with this video, if you are that child who called out your elders for the abuse they subjected you to.
And then, the child grows into an adult. How can he not like going back to his parents’ place, his home, he is often asked? The whole world is nostalgic about their place of birth, why is he not? What is wrong with him, others ask him and he too, wonders. His parents, other siblings join the chorus, “What is wrong with you?”
The whole world tells you (and normalises) that you are supposed to like your bickering parents, your berating parents, your verbally ( and even physically) abusive parents, and that you need to dutifully post about them on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Your friends will tell you, “Oh, they don’t know better but they have the best for you in their hearts!”
And then you remember the movie Body Snatchers, in which they say, “Where you gonna go…where you gonna run…where you gonna hide, because there is no one like you left!” And you, indeed, feel there is no one like you. But the truth is that, there is. Aplenty. You have to look for them. Make them comfortable enough to talk. That is when they will listen to you too, having now acknowledged that they too have faced and continue to face the same.
It is important to make space for the voices of adult children of emotionally immature parents. It is important that the universe expands a bit faster tonight, because the ones around us do not always agree to let their hearts expand as fast.
Nayana is a passionate development sector worker, who writes on issues close to her heart. She works and lives in Delhi. She can be found on Twitter.
Featured Image Source: bethaniaarts.com