Parents make mistakes. All the time. Some mistakes can be rectified but some can haunt you forever. You see, there is a difference between mistakes made inadvertently and doing something wrong when you already know it is wrong. It is this type of mistake I made. What I am going to share with you is not personal and yet very personal. Paradox! I can actually hear you saying that, readers, but it really isn’t. It relates to me and my family but, at the same time, it also happens to be the problem of millions of fellow Pakistanis who are blessed with children. In fact, it is the problem of the whole world because it’s children who perpetuate life and make this world a beautiful place to live – a place that is worth protecting for our future generations.
Unlike kids of present time (forgive me, this must sound like generation gap speaking) I had a great childhood. People were nice to kids. Kids playing outside were monitored by all their neighbours. Children were afraid to stray because in old neighbourhoods everyone knew everyone else, and any transgressions were bound to be reported to parents via concerned chachas and khalas.
I grew up with everything that cannot be taken for granted by children born in the last couple of decades. We never had water, gas or electricity shortages. We had a small but beautiful garden and had no problems maintaining it. Water, you see, was not hijacked by the tanker mafia.
I remember how tasty the mangoes and oranges used to be. They were not very big as they were organic, mostly, but their taste was decidedly superior to what is available nowadays.
I also remember that chicken was something made very rarely. At dinner parties, chicken biryani or qorma was the most important dish, and my mother used to warn my siblings and me not to touch chicken legs – they were only for our guests. We used to wait for the guests to depart to ‘attack’ the leftovers and what fun it used to be! We used to be happy with inexpensive stuff like bun kabab or Jetsport. Cone ice cream was the ultimate treat bestowed on us when we got good results. We used to play with cousins and friends, and watch bunder ka tamasha and saanp aur newla ki jung. Simple delights I mentioned here were enough to make us happy. We used to watch PTV dramas, and watch movies in cinema halls that are becoming obsolete. Not many people had VCRs, and when a neighbour bought it, he used to invite all the families in the neighbourhood to view movies once a week. It used to be fun with all the aunties and my mother making delicious food to be enjoyed after the movie. We did not have a lot of stuff kids nowadays enjoy, so every little treat was valued. Life was good.
Then I got married and had children of my own. My husband was a good provider and we were able to educate our children well. However, we often had to say no to some of our children’s unreasonable demands. I remember explaining to them why we couldn’t buy something like my father had done, and my children didn’t give me hard time over it. Then my children got married and I became a grandmom. My son is doing well, but has two children and it’s a struggle to bring them up the way he and my daughter-in-law want to.
Nowadays, the buying power has increased and people are in a position to provide anything their children want. My grandkids are 10 and 12 years of age and don’t like the plain, old bun kabab. They want fancy burgers, which is all right because people have their own preferences in food.
What is not all right is their attitude towards food. They usually eat half their burger and leave the rest because it is not as good as they wanted it to be. You are probably wondering why parents allow their kids to treat food with such contempt, right? I can hear you saying this woman should have trained her kids better, so as parents they could have done a better job. Believe me, I tried, but failed. As kids, we were told to finish the food on our plate, but my son tells me that it’s not right to force children because it can harm their mental health. Really?
I wondered what has changed. A soul-searching spree made me realise exactly what it is that is wrong, but I cannot do anything to right the wrong. Like all parents, my son wants the best for his children and, to him, that means the best school, but that also means a lot of money. My grandkids study with rich children and my son does not want them to feel inferiority complex because of their middle-class background. My son suddenly started bringing in a lot of money. I asked him, of course where it was coming from, and I got a vague answer like ‘overtime’ and ‘bonus’. I was skeptical but didn’t probe. I am a widow, you see, and dependent on my son.
Deep down, I realized that it was black money, but didn’t care because I knew my grandchildren would not be embarrassed in front of their school chums. This is what I meant when I said that what I share here is personal yet not personal only because I see many parents like me in my family and community, and our children, despite our best efforts, have become selfish, mean and indifferent – they are not contented because they eat food bought by tainted money. They were never denied anything, so now if they are told to wait for a week for something they ask, they throw tantrums.
I remember growing up, my parents did not have a lot of money. My siblings and I also used to make demands: I wanted a skipping rope and I had to wait for it for a while, but I still remember my joy when my father brought it for me! We were taught to value things. I remember wanting a small radio to listen to the commentary of the cricket match between Pakistan and New Zealand.
It was for Rs350, and my father explained to me that his salary was not very high and he could not afford the radio at that moment because he also would have to buy something for my two brothers if he bought a radio for me. I did not throw a tantrum. Instead of raving and ranting like my grandkids, I felt very bad because I had not considered my father’s financial situation before making an unreasonable demand.
Fast forward to the present time - my son told me his son wants a cell phone and not a cheap one: he wants a cell which is for Rs70000. My grandson is in eighth standard and since all his class mates have expensive cells, he also wants one. I had this radio incident flashback, and decided to reason with my grandson. I told him his father had just paid his school fees for the quarter and he should wait. The result: my grandson went berserk. He shouted himself hoarse, tore his books and broke a vase. Also, he did not go to school till we gave in and bought that cell. Also, my daughter-in-law created a fuss, and told my son not to let his old mother interfere in her life.
Why am I writing this, you may ask? I want you all, the youth of this country, to be very vigilant about your parents’ source of income and their expenditures. If you feel your parents spend way more than their earnings, know that your food is tainted, too. Again, you may ask why I have not put a stop to this, and I can only hang my head in shame. I can’t afford to make my son and daughter-in-law angry.