Married daughters! Should you be taking care of parents too?

Married daughters! Should you be taking care of parents too?

Marry them. Send them away. Finish your responsibilities. I’ve actually heard several people telling my parents that. Yes, my parents don't have any sons. And neither my sister nor I are married yet, although Amma and Daddy still talk about saving up for the big weddings. Because a daughter, essentially, is to be given away to another family. She ceases to belong to yours. She’ll change from Maitri Vasudev to Maitri Watzisname, and all her earnings, if any, will go to Watzisname, his parents and his children. Her father would’ve made enough money to take care of himself and his wife in their senior citizenship. It's his own fault, after all. Both the sperms he fertilised his wife’s eggs with didn’t contain a Y chromosome.

If a son doesn’t provide for his parents when he begins to earn, gets married and has children, he’s condemned for not caring for the elderly. When a daughter does the same thing, she’s excused for having her own responsibilities in ‘her own family’. As though her parents aren’t part of her family too. Bombay High Court ruled in the Vasant vs. Govindrao Upasrao Naik case earlier this year that parents can claim money for their maintenance from a married daughter too, provided she has the means for it. Despite that, most families continue to expect aid only from their eldest son, even if he has an older sister. That’s exactly how some husbands constrain their wives, as it seems. Shilpa Suresh, who’s been married 12 years, really wants to support her mother, who lives alone in Mysore. But she's in New Delhi with her husband, two children and mother-in-law.

“I’m not doing anything now, but I have a wish to,” she says, wistfully. “I don’t believe caring for an elderly parent has only to do with money. Which is why I’d like her to live with me. But neither my mother-in-law nor my husband like the idea. My husband keeps telling me that taking care of her is my brother's duty, whenever I broach the subject. Besides, when my mother comes to visit, she won’t sit down for a second - she’s always in the kitchen, cooking. And my MIL doesn’t approve of anyone else taking over her kitchen. So, my way of taking care of Amma is to call her everyday, make a long visit to her once in a couple of months and spend as much time with her as I can.”

Shilpa Suresh
Shilpa Suresh, New Delhi. Mother of two, daughter of two.

Male domination is the exact term that Shilpa uses to describe the fact that her husband thinks it’s okay that he takes care of his mother but thinks it’s unnecessary for her to do the same for hers. Pavithra Parthiban (name changed) from Bangalore, on the other hand, has no qualms about that. She believes that her brother is essentially there to look after her maiden family. But if they need her support, she’s always ready to help them out. When she first began to work, she’d give her earnings to her parents and not bother what they did with it. Since the eight years that she’s been married, however, she hasn’t contributed anything.

“My parents don’t need it, and I think they have too much pride to accept it. You know - society,” she smiles.

Just as she doesn’t help her parents, Pavithra doesn’t expect her daughter to pay for her expenses when she’s older (“and I wouldn’t expect it of my son, either”). Shilpa says the same thing of her two girls. “If a daughter wants to take care of her parents, she’ll eventually find some way or the other to do it, but it should be her prerogative. We need to take care of our parents because that’s humanity; we shouldn’t assume our sons and daughters will do the same for us.”

After generations of Indians who procreated just so that they had someone performing childly duties when they were growing old, these young mothers’ perspective is refreshing. As it turns out, it’s not only young mothers who think this way. Some of our mothers, too, encouraged the same in us. Take, for example, Ananya Revanna’s mom.

“I worried from a young age about mum growing old - what I'd do as a dutiful daughter when she couldn’t look after herself,” confesses Ananya, who’s now a journalist in Chennai. “I felt so guilty at one point because I didn’t want to look after her that I ended up telling her how I felt. To my surprise, she said she didn’t expect me to look after her. If she ever needed monetary help, she said she'd ask me. But she definitely didn’t want me to care for her if she were to fall ill. She told me she was grateful that her mother didn’t expect that from her.”

Ananya Revanna and Radhika Mahalingaiah
Ananya Revanna, with her mother Radhika Mahalingaiah

To Ananya, it’s horrible that we raise children with the expectation that it's a child's duty to look after her parents, although, considering what Shilpa and Pavithra had to say, that’s not such a dominant thought anymore. Just because parents put in the effort to raise a child, she argues, it doesn’t mean the child has to look after them in return. That relationship, parent-child, shouldn’t be subject to payments and returns.

“My mum clearly told me she had me because she wanted a child, not because she wanted someone to look after her in her old age. If I feel like it, I will help my mother, whether I marry or not. But for now, I don’t feel like it. I love her more than anyone in the world and she feels the same for me. We give each other other things, like emotional support.”

She says that no one in her family - her mother, granny and aunt (she doesn’t have a father) - believes in sacrificing your adult life, trying to compensate for your happy childhood with elderly care. Shilpa agrees. Parents, according to her, spend most of their kids’ childhood telling them what to do. It’s only fair that they allow their grown-up children to lead their lives in whatever manner they wish to. When someone uses such impeccable logic, what more can you say?