Being the only academically bright child among his siblings, Sanjay was forced by his father to take up medicine. His father wanted the pride of being the parent of a highly educated child. His mother too wanted him to be a doctor to care for her during her old age.
The enormous pressure from both parents made Sanjay opt for medicine. When he was nearing 40 years of age and was successfully established in his field, he started experiencing periods of depression and an increasing sense of disillusionment with his life. He took a sabbatical and made a complete turnaround in his career.
He realised that he had been running away for so many years from his true calling—motivational training and writing on social issues. Fortunately, Sanjay could establish himself in his new and independently chosen career.
However, most people are not as fortunate, and when they realise that they are on the wrong path, and that every step they take is taking them further away from their true calling, they cannot make as smooth a transition. Sometimes, they end up losing their old career, their source of income, their relationships and even their sanity in the bargain.
What a heavy price to pay, and for no fault of yours other than the fact that you did not have the maturity and autonomy to firmly say to your parents that the path chosen by them for you was not the one that would take you to your ‘home’.
Parents push their agendas through their children under the oft-repeated rationalisation, “It’s for your good”, which of course, means anything but that. Kamini’s case illustrates this well.
Kamini’s mother was a junior artiste in the film industry. With stars in her eyes, she had entered the industry to become a lead actress. Her aspirations soon turned into a resigned acceptance of her fate. But her acceptance was not acceptance, after all! She nurtured the dream of making her daughter Kamini an actress.
As Kamini turned 9, she did bit roles as a child artiste. As she turned 14, the mother insisted that she wear make-up, high heels and padded bras, and visit producers’ offices. As the rounds of the offices increased without anyone showing interest, the hemlines of Kamini’s dresses rose, and the necklines plunged.
Finally, at the age of 16, Kamini got her first break on the ‘casting couch’. A bit role in a low budget film, at the cost of her virginity! But the mother was not satisfied. She pushed and pushed but it only led to turning Kamini into a high-class prostitute, who began dulling her sensibilities with alcohol and drugs.
One day, Kamini was found in a hotel room, dead due to an overdose of drugs, which were in a lethal combination with alcohol. The ambitions of one woman, led to the death of another—a mother had literally killed her child.
Children or investments?
This is not the only case of parents sacrificing their children at the altar of their own ambitions. So many successful people have shared painful stories about how they have felt only conditional love from their parents and felt that they were only ‘investments’ of their parents and felt obliged to generate ‘dividends’ for their parents.
Sonia entered a beauty pageant, got international modelling contracts, product endorsements, film roles, and worked hard to fulfil her parents’ ambitions of travelling with her as a chaperone to foreign locations, going to celebrity events, and having the ‘good life’. It was the life for which they had invested in her—something that they never forgot to remind her every time she said she was tired of this lifestyle.
They managed her money and invested for themselves leaving her with only a meagre allowance. She would cry herself to sleep so many nights feeling like a bird trapped in a golden cage with her wings clipped.
One day, she found an empathic young man who wanted her for being herself and not for what she would bring with her. All hell broke loose as Sonia wanted to marry and live the quiet life of a homemaker, while the parents wanted their investment to reap dividends infinitely.
Sonia chose to break all ties with her parents forever. The parents lost their child to their ambitions.
The flawed belief that our children are our investments, which we nurture to reap dividends as we age, is so deeply ingrained in our society, that any voice that rises up against it is nipped in the bud, lest it influences others. There are many films that portray the cruelty of the younger generation towards their parents. But films that show the damaging impact of parental ambitions on a child’s psyche and life are few and far between.
The flawed sense of ownership or possession of the child is ancient. Yet, it has been socially accepted by most and challenged by only a chosen few.
The story of Kaikeyee wanting to fulfil her ambitions of being the Queen Mother by making Bharat, her biological son, the ruler of Ayodhya, causes so much stress in the entire family’s life. This story is the foundation of the epic Ramayana.
Parents so often say that what they are advocating is in the interest of their child, but the truth is that the hidden agendas of the parents i.e. their ambitions and unfulfilled desires, their fears and insecurities, are the main driving force behind their motivating words and pushing children to achieve.
Blessing or messing lives?
So many people plagued by anxiety disorders with panic attacks, depression with suicidal ideation, suppressed aggression with rage attacks, and neurotic guilt with obsessive-compulsive disorder have spoken in our counselling room about how their parents’ ambitions, desires, fears and insecurities have messed up their psyche as well as life.
Kumar, a national swimming champion, came to me depressed and obese. He remembered the times when as a child he enjoyed swimming. One day, his father discovered that Kumar had the ability to compete and make it as a national champion. “That very day my joy of swimming ended,” said Kumar.
The early morning fitness regime and being timed while he swam the laps became a nightmare, as his father pushed him to try harder and harder. Every medal he won only added to his never-ending nightmare; it was clear that his father would not rest before Kumar became a national champion.
The day Kumar won the national championship, he came home and told his dad, “You’ve got what you wanted; now I’ll do what I want.” And Kumar never swam again. He refused to even go near a pool, or engage in any fitness regime.
He was angry and depressed and resorted to comfort eating and put on a lot of weight. His self-defeating lifestyle was a way of avenging his father’s ambitions on himself. In counselling, he realised that he had to free himself of the hold his past had on his psyche and his present decisions.
After a painful journey in which he learned to forgive his father and thus free himself, he entered the pool again—this time, to simply enjoy the water and nothing else. He found the joy of swimming once again. However, many others are not as lucky.
A tennis player who was the son of a sportsman was pushed to perform in competitive tennis. When his father passed away, he threw away all his tennis equipment, took to a life of excess, became an alcoholic, and died of a liver disease.
Rajesh, a student of finance, was pushed into a profession he had no interest in. His father had a cushy job waiting for him at the bank in which he worked. He failed his exams several times. Finally, Rajesh got so depressed that he wrote a note to his father apologising for failing him, and committed suicide.
When desires contradict
Ashok, the only son of a wealthy industrialist, wanted to compose music and write plays. However, his father wanted him to not only take on his empire, but add to it by marrying the only daughter of another business tycoon.
Ashok left home to marry his high school sweetheart and started a music group of his own. His father threatened to commit suicide if he did not return home. However, Ashok was a step ahead; he didn’t threaten suicide, he committed it.
What purpose did this parental insistence serve? When children are caught between two contradictory desired goals that are mutually exclusive, they experience intra-personal conflict. If they want parental love, approval and acceptance on one side and want to live by their own convictions following their own inner calling on the other, they might be forced to choose one or the other. This conflict gives rise to an inner crisis, similar to one Ashok faced.
Whose child is he?
If parents were fully aware that their own desires and ambitions had the potential to push the children into such a crisis, we wonder what choices they would make? When parental ambitions cause so much pain in children why do parents not hold back their desires and put their children’s desires ahead? Aren’t we as parents simply trustees of God’s children? Aren’t we supposed to nurture and unconditionally love the children of God without dictating their lives?
God’s purpose for our children may not match the plans we make for them. Whose plan is better then, our plan or God’s?
God’s plan for our children is in the form of certain special abilities and talents in them, which, when actualised, will fulfil the purpose of their life and fulfil them. These natural abilities are such that children are a 7/10 or 8/10 in them. With some polishing, they can excel and be a 10/10.
However, parental ambitions could compel children to excel in skills in which they are 3/10 or 4/10 and even if they tried they would be 6 or 7/10. It would also be more painful as it would not come as easily.
So do we want our children to ‘become themselves’, be fulfilled and lead meaningful lives which are a natural 10/10 or do we want to drive them to fulfil our ambitions and live painful and discontented lives or then sacrifice their lives at the altar of our ambitions? The choice is yours!