Here's another reason to celebrate today's Mom, career-savvy and caring, ready to read the pulse of her new-age children
In a telling frame in An Education, sixteen-year-old Jenny (Carey Mulligan, nominated for an Oscar) comes home late after an evening with a man twice her age. Finding Mom at the kitchen sink, she smirks, “What are you doing?” Without looking up Mom replies, “Can't get the stains off the casserole.” No word of disapproval, no tears. Worried she is, but won't question daughter's ways – not when she goes off to Paris with the cheat, not when she announces marriage with him. Sucked in by a void where her self-esteem should be, Mom leaves decisions concerning teen daughter to Dad, only to cringe when daughter asks, “Silly schoolgirls are always getting seduced by glamorous older men, but what about you two?” The movie is set in the 1960s.
Today's Mom is no helpless hand-wringer. She isn't easily by-passed. Children now throw bigger, deeper surprises – pursue dreams Mom didn't know existed; bring in suitor/partner from a different race, culture, geography, or of the same gender; move out for a live-in relationship. But Mom doesn't derive her education from children's adventures. She's been a rebel in her time. Her maternal instincts, buttressed by scholastic achievements, workplace experience and travel, she opens the door for the children's opportunities, clear-eyed about the dangers beyond.
Sometimes buffer, sometimes co-authority, the fix-it Mom uses her educational/financial clout to keep children in check. She's read extensively on child-rearing, on parent-children compatibility. She's in constant touch with peers through the internet. To a teen clamouring to go to Paris, she's likely to say, “Sure, let's make it a family trip,” and pay for it. Broadband technology enables her access to the child's life – online and offline. She makes friends with the children and their friends. The child, in turn, is smart enough to spot the buddy at home. Forceful parenting begets grudging respect.
“My son is thirty and lives with his partner and her daughter,” says Kalyani Menon-Sen of Jagori, Delhi. “Our relationship has never been formal, but one of equals, of mutual respect.” She admires him for his professional achievements and “for his determination to close the gap between his politics and his practice.” “I'm trying to emulate his austere and non-consumerist lifestyle,” she rues.
It begins as a scold-and-kiss exercise, Rema Harish, MBA, IIM-A, co-partner, Domor Communication Consulting (Kolkata) is discovering as she deals with her bright 11-year-old. “Today's children are more aware than we were at that age,” she says, admitting rules and discipline are tough to enforce. Quarrels are inevitable and “resolving starts with logical discussions and often ends with emotional showdowns.” The model we grew up with - “I'm-your-parent-this-is-how-I-expect-you-to-behave” just doesn't work anymore. While it's a strain to handle a child who “believes she has a right to argue”, Rema would worry “if she didn't discuss her problems with us.” She tells the child that life is not always fair, gives suggestions on how to deal with it, and hopes for the best.
Actor Genelia's Mom Jeanette is confident of the values she's instilled in her daughter, yet cautions, “close we may be but can't take kids for granted.” She quit her job when the 16-year-old “defaulted” into movies, and accompanies her to all her shoots. “Kids need that support when they're young and naïve,” she points out. “Genelia is a focused child and will make the leap when she's ready. Ours is an honest and healthy relationship.”
Like Genelia, Vaishnavi Venkatesh, 22, Masters student (Applied Psychology) at Delhi University is fortunate to fall into the “friends-we-are” safety net. She announced herself as Vaishnavi-Shyla-Venkatesh in kindergarten and now shares “with Mom everything that happens in my life, unlike a lot of my friends.” What ticks?
“Mom believes I'm capable of making my own decisions, but I'm prodded into the right path if she feels I'm heading in the wrong direction,” she says. When freedom isn't forbidden fruit, children end up asking their opinion, she says wisely. “Our relationship is more open than the one Mom had with her mother.” Could be because she's an only child and Mom takes the role of a sibling. When she's home, they go for walks, catch up on each other's lives. “I still need to call her before my final exams and sob I'll forget everything and fail! She's such a patient de-stresser!”
Mom does it all - works full-time outside, raises children as a single parent, goes rallying for causes - drawing strength from her capabilities, her faith in an open, emotionally strong mom-child relationship and her willingness to accept, yield, to let-go. Quite a role model she is. But what really works in this relationship is that smile and the nod that says, “Yeah, I've been through it all, and so will you. I'm there for you, kiddo.”
The other side
With mother-in-law, it's a different equation. While a man is elevated to royalty in the wife's household and is quick to read MIL's importance in the wife's well-being, the woman often needs to work at being accepted by the acquired family. Here too, despite what tele-novellas say, women today find MIL speaking the language that they do. From there respect and genuine affection aren't too far away.
There's maturity in the relationship – MIL realising she might lose the son to a woman of his choice, the young working woman seeing the advantage in having an additional hand in the support system. But beyond all that is that unifying thought – that they both want the man's happiness. The relationship works when MIL says, “After me, it's her job!”, and the girl thinks, “She looked after him for so long!”