The world is changing around and so should you
Seventeen years ago, my husband and I moved back from Manhattan to Bengaluru — for two reasons. We wanted to bring up our daughters in an Indian milieu so that they would have a place that they could call “home.” The second reason was our parents.
When it comes to age, it takes a little humility but there are still many ways you can stay relevant and indeed, cool. There are some mental constructs that we assume to be true. Older people are wiser. People get set in their ways as they get older. Both are untrue.
Seventeen years ago, my husband and I moved back from Manhattan to Bengaluru — for two reasons. We wanted to bring up our daughters in an Indian milieu so that they would have a place that they could call “home.” We wanted them to grow up in a place where they didn’t have to spell out their name and where other kids looked like them.
The second reason was our parents. They were getting older and we wanted to be around to care for them. What we didn’t bargain for was that we would be taking care of a number of elderly relatives whose children were abroad. All this has given me a ringside view of the aging process. My parents and in-laws have lived in my building and I have seen — in an intimate and daily fashion — how they have aged. I have also watched others age in ways that are good, and not-so-good.
From what I have seen, folks who age well have a few qualities. They have interests, even passions that go beyond their children and grandchildren. My erstwhile Chennai neighbour, TS Nagarajan now lives in New Jersey and has published over 100 Tamil podcasts of stories. Similarly, Dr Pratibha Karanth leads a busy life as a speech language pathologist, parent, wife and grandparent, but she makes time to travel – to over 70 countries and counting– with a group of friends.
So how to “game” ageing? Some do volunteer work, some play golf or bridge, some take up photography. The point is that aging well involves pursuing something that is important to you — not just because it brings you joy but also because it helps you stay alive, relevant, interesting and interested.
With that preamble, here are some things that I have figured out and am trying to implement.
Ask questions. Don’t preach. This is hard for adults because we are programmed to dole out advice from our high perch. But today’s teenagers know more about most things than we do. So go ahead. Ask them about crypto, online dating, video games, sports, or social media. They will surprise and amuse you with their views.
Your opinion doesn’t matter. The smart way to influence your children, nieces and nephews is to offer advice when asked. To keep your mouth shut when the kids are open, tentative and vulnerable is difficult. But please, don’t blurt out unwanted opinions about career, college, subjects, movies or social media. Formulate your thoughts and wait for the right moment to strike.
Your mental constructs have an expiry date. What you think of as the norm is most likely irrelevant today. Remember how you rolled your eyes when your parents talked about relationships, dating, going out and how to use money. Today’s youth have even less patience in terms of listening to advice. This does not mean that they don’t listen. They do – just not (always) to you. Smart kids of today absorb techniques, values and tips from multiple sources, including Instagram and Tik Tok. Everything that you used to hold to be true isn’t– whether it is prenups, sex, relationships, and gender. The world is changing and the way to keep up is to listen to the kids.
Open your mind to their interests. The time to thrust your music and movies down their throats is over. Now, do the reverse. Ask for their Spotify playlists. Make them choose what the family watches on “movie night.”
“Be careful” is a useless phrase. It transmits your anxiety and does nothing to help them be prepared to act in the moment. Don’t tell your kids things that you wish you had done or want to do. The other day, I got an email from my daughter’s school saying that they were offering trapeze lessons. I immediately forwarded the email to her with a message saying, “So cool. Why don’t you take these classes?” Before hitting send, I paused. Trapeze lessons were my fantasy. Why inflict it on her? How many of your fantasies are you inflicting on your children? And does this keep them from living out their fantasies, or worse, even coming up with dreams and fantasies for themselves?
The bottom line is of course what every great religion preaches. Each soul has its own journey, and no matter what you do, you cannot protect your loved ones, be they child, parent, sibling or spouse from the pain that they are destined to undergo. Before you seek to pass on your views and neuroses to others, best to ask yourself: Will I take my own advice? Can I live out what I am preaching?
If the answer is no, then you should just shut up.
Shoba Narayan is Bengaluru-based award-winning author. She is also a freelance contributor who writes about art, food, fashion and travel for a number of publications.