No, Respecting Your Parents Does Not Mean Blind Obedience

Growing up, I was a “respectful” child. I did what my parents asked of me – I got good grades, I did well at school, I rarely ever questioned their judgement. We had a relationship that was largely conflict-free.

As I grew older, things changed. Now, as I am in my late-twenties, I have noticed that our conversations are increasingly filled with arguments and disagreements. I view this as a good sign – it means our conversations aren’t unidirectional anymore, with them telling me what decisions I should make. If we’re arguing and disagreeing, it’s a sign that we are communicating instead of them telling me what to do and me blindly following their instructions.

My parents don’t see it the same way. They still believe they know what is best for me. I began wondering whether my family was the only family going through this experience, where somehow, despite proving my competence time and again, my parents still believe their decisions for me are the right choice, not my own.

A little time and observation during the pandemic have made me realise that I am hardly alone in facing this. Friends and acquaintances in their twenties and thirties routinely speak of how their parents make decisions for them about major life choices, including their careers and marriages. This, despite the fact that most of us are financially independent and perfectly capable of making our own decisions.

When I explain to family and friends how ridiculous this is – that despite being adults, we aren’t treated like adults, I am told of the sacrifices our parents have made for us and how they only have ‘our best interests at heart’.

Over time, I have realised that there are a couple of important distinctions I need to make:

1. My parents may love me and believe that they know what is best for me, but that does not mean that they know what is best for me.

2. My disagreeing with them does not mean I am disregarding the efforts they’ve made for me.

3. They have my best intentions at heart and don’t want me to suffer.

That still does not make their choices for me correct.

The last one is a tough pill to swallow because I like ignoring the fact that my parents are ageing and are only human. This means they are prone to making mistakes too. Something that helped me understand this was the simple fact that both my parents are more than three decades older than I am, so my experiences and theirs are very different.

It is highly unlikely that their judgement about decisions regarding my life is more accurate than mine, just by virtue of how much older they are and how different things were when they were young.

Also read: Parenting in India: Emotional Manipulation, Guilt Over the Marriage Question Mark

If you wanted to simplify most Indian parents’ understanding of obedience and disobedience, this would probably explain it:

1. Obedience = respect for parents + fulfilling obligation towards parents + recognition and gratitude for parents’ sacrifices = good behaviour

2. Disagreement/disobedience = disrespect for parents + disregard for parents’ sacrifices and efforts + child wants to embarrass parents and ruin family name = terrible behaviour

3. Disobedience = Disrespect

Somehow, there doesn’t seem to be a middle ground. So many families seem to be operating with this kind of black-and-white thinking that does not allow for much-needed conversations.

I have realised that I can respect my parents and disagree with them. I can be grateful for all their efforts and still hold vastly different opinions.

A lot of parents offer their adult children the illusion of choice when it comes to major life decisions. An example that comes to mind is regarding marriage. Parents decide for themselves that their children have to get married. They offer their children the ‘choice’ of deciding at what age they want to get married and to whom. I’ve always wondered how this is a choice. Shouldn’t the first and most important choice I make be about whether or not I want to get married? Why is it a foregone conclusion that I will eventually get married?

How is it a choice if it has already been decided for me?

As I write this, the idea that persists in my mind is that of a benevolent dictator, where the illusion of choice exists but it is exactly that – an illusion.

I have learnt to pick my fights and reserve my disagreement for important issues. My mother wanted me to become a doctor and tried convincing (read: pleading followed by unsuccessful attempts at bribery) me about why it was a good choice. I had absolutely no interest in becoming a doctor. If I went along with her career aspiration for me and became a doctor, I am very sure that I would have always resented her for it. She might still believe that I made a mistake by not becoming a doctor but it was my choice (or mistake) to make, not hers.

I am immensely grateful to my parents and respect them, but it would be a disservice to myself to put their choices and decisions for me above my own.

I owe it to myself to make the decisions I want. My disagreements with them do not mean that I am ungrateful or that I don’t respect and appreciate them, they are the result of understanding that I recognise that my parents are flawed humans like me, who have their hearts in the right place and believe they are right.

I realise that my parents won’t understand now but hopefully, in due time, they will be grateful to me for putting my foot down and making the decisions I feel are right because that’ll mean that I won’t resent them and hold them responsible for any choices I make. I am making these choices of my own accord.

Asma Mohamed is an aspiring feminist writer who hopes to contribute to the achievement of some semblance of gender equality through her writing. You can find her on Instagram @aliya.m1995.

Featured image: Pariplab Chakraborty