Of the negative emotions that rob us of calmness from time to time, ‘guilt’ would rank quite up there. The feeling of having wronged someone can sap inner strength and confidence rather badly, and it’s only worse if that someone happens to be a parent who is ageing towards ill-health by the day. I’ll tell you why I’m talking about this serious yet pertinent stress this week. It started with a friend’s Facebook post. He mulled over the guilt of pursuing a career in a fast-paced metro over being with his retired parents who live in a smaller town. My first impulse was to feel sympathy because he’s an only child, and therefore, the only one responsible for taking care of them. But one look at how people related with his post and I realised that this stress is all-pervasive.
You could be one among the many children, a son or a daughter, or you could be living with or away from them – at some point in life, the guilt of not doing enough for parents is bound to strike. To a child while growing up, parents represent all that strength stands for. They mostly are the heroes of your childhood journey. The first realisation that age has caught up with the same two people to turn them frail and weak is quite a jolt.
Adding to the declining health mostly is the increased gap between their thought pattern and yours. “I start every day promising to myself that I will spend time talking to my dad. But he’s turned cranky because of his health problems. He’s forever critical of the way I’m living my life. We always end up arguing, and my guilt the next day is even worse,” says a colleague. Hmm. Toh kya karein? Firangs have a fancy name for this condition – caregiver’s stress. But their stress is mostly about whether or not to have their aged parents admitted to a nursing home or a senior citizen’s home. Our value system, on the other hand, allows for a much deeper emotional bond, and most of us place the comfort of parents before our own. Despite this, the stress of not being with them doesn’t go.
Now frankly, being a guilty party myself, I didn’t quite have a grip on this calmness trick. So I decided to ask, well, the aged parents of some friends who keep cribbing about the guilt of not doing enough for their parents.
The answers turned out to be quite simple, as I realised that most parents think quite opposite of how we think they think. Confused? Here are a few nuggets of wisdom I got from people who made us...literally and in every other sense. Quoting them as is…unedited! This was so much fun.
1 “Why should my son feel guilty about my bad health? Getting old is a natural process. He did not cause it.”
2 “Itna guilty feel karne ki jagah aadha ghanta mere saath roz baat karle toh life would be much better, for her and for me.”
3 “Does he really feel bad about not living with me? Tell him I’m happier this way. Uski biwi ko kaun bardaasht karega roz?”
4 “Rather than wasting time thinking about my health, she should take care of her own health. Bad eating habits and work pressure all the time. Her kids will have a much worse time when she grows old!”
5 “I have my own life here. I go to the club every evening.”
6 “He keeps telling us to come and live with him. But we hate Delhi because of the pollution. It’s not his fault, why should he feel bad?”
7 “I tried living with her. Every day we would get into some argument. She thinks my age has made me lose my mind.”
8 “Tell him to find a partner and get settled. We have enough savings to take care of ourselves. We are not dependant.”
9 “She has her own family to take care of. Aaj kal parents interfere na hi karein toh achha. I don’t want my everyday problems to disturb her family life.”
10 “Us se zyada toh uske bachchey pyaar se bolte hain mujh se.”
11 “This town has no career growth for him. Bombay mein he can do much better. He will feel frustrated if he settles here. Haan, he must visit every 2-3 months. Abhi toh woh bhi nahi karta.”
12 “Mujhe toh uski health ki zyada chinta hai. Kabhi khaana time se nahi khaata. If I see him happy and healthy, half of my health problems will be gone.”
13 “Abhi toh haath paon chal rahein hain. Jab bed-ridden ho jaaoongi tab le jaaye.”
14 “Why should I go and stay with him? Mere friends yahan hain.”
15 “I don’t need him to live here and make my freedom miserable. Skype pe hi sar khaa jaata hai.”
16 “He really told you that? Tell him I love him.”
17 “Itni parwah hai usko? Ask him to enjoy life yaar. Abhi uski age hai. Have fun.”
18 “He never told me he feels any guilt about me. In fact, he hasn’t called in the last 7 days.”
19 “Humne toh ab jaana hi hai. We are counting days. If we see them happy, it will make it easier for us to pass these days. Tell him to just stay happy, jahan bhi rahe. We don’t want anything else.”
20 Guilty? Nalayak dramebaaz!
Sonal Kalra is planning to take some time off and do a check on the old-age homes in the city. For herself. Mail her your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/sonalkalraofficial. Follow on Twitter @sonalkalra.