Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Infallible

Each one of us has some unique talents that help us be in control of certain aspects of our lives. Some have more of these talents than the average and therefore live a higher than average quality of life. It is helpful for those who are blessed with more to share their wisdom with the rest of us that we may improve where we lack. But sometimes how this wisdom is shared does more harm than good.

D is a desi mom like myself. She came here as a grad student at a time when very few Indian women did so. A few years later, she went home to get married and brought her husband to America on a dependent visa.They both teach at an university and have a really bright daughter who is now in grad school. I got to know D through my family a few years ago. They thought she could be the big sister abroad that I don't have and I had no problem with that arrangement.

I would call her every once in a while to seek her opinion on matters related to J - pediatrician, day-care, kindergarten, PTA, parenting questions among other things. D would be invariably polite and share her own experiences on the issue at hand but not intrude elsewhere.

As I started learning the ropes of mothering while desi and in America, I found that I could usually solve my own problems. I must have at some point transitioned from mundane questions on child-rearing to more challenging ones. In the process, it must have become evident to D that I had reasonable mothering skills and there was little that she could say that would dramatically ease or improve things for me.

It was at this point in our relationship that D started to trivialize the challenges I have to contend with being a single parent in small town America without a network of family and close friends to support me day to day. Her attitude was that single moms are dime a dozen in America and not a good excuse for parenting lapses - I and not my marital status was the root cause of all the problems I faced.

She would encourage me to follow her example of volunteering for at least two days a week to build my social network. I was also told to be much more involved in the PTA - she attended every meeting and signed up for everything that she could possibly help with.

I needed to get J involved in sports - something she claimed she could do magically if J so much as visited her for a couple of days. This about a kid who has never shown interest in any physical activity except dance and swimming. I listened patiently trying to imagine the impossible - J outfitted for karate or a game of soccer. Of course miracles can happen without any a single athletic gene from either parent.

Advise now came fast and furious and on subjects that I had not sought any on. J's emotional and physical health, cooking, housekeeping, appropriate behavior in social situations to name a few in a long list. D had this compulsive need to emphasize that she was head and shoulders above me as a person, a mother and a member of society and I was failing to make the grade in all areas.

I have no doubt that D is a very talented woman and has quite a few if not most aspects of her life in control. While her wisdom is greatly appreciated, it would be much easier to digest and assimilate if it were tempered with a generous dose of empathy and an acceptance of her own fallibility - as perfect as she is D is still human. The more strident D becomes in establishing her credentials as a parent, woman, desi in America and more, the less use I seem to have for them.

2 comments:

Priyamvada_K said...

HC,
You said in the beginning D was polite and responded to the need of the situation. She was kind, and did not intrude. Now she is a different person.

This may have less to do with you and more to do with D. May be something is making D insecure - or else why would she feel the need to act superior? It could be financial insecurity. Or perhaps she doesn't feel as needed - at home or elsewhere - and she wants to prove that she is this person who is superior, super-efficient etc. Something has made her bitter and feel less useful now that the daughter is an adult.

Perhaps she has had some losses in her life, and she is not as empathetic anymore. Grief can make a person act in ways they normally don't; after losing my father I have not been able to summon much feeling for a lot of things - a sense of indifference or impatience about many things. I catch myself usually when I feel like this and try not to hurt people.

Or perhaps D feels she has made it with her daughter and has earned her right to pontificate.

Whatever it is - it has nothing to do with you. If it is insecurity or loss you could try asking about her and being kind and patient (you might have done this already - you seem like a kind, empathetic person). Beyond extending that olive branch, there is nothing much one can do.

Priya.

Anonymous said...

HC,
I wholeheartedly agree with Priyamvada, whose response, by the way, was immensely insightful, mature and wise.
I really think that D's bitchiness (for that is what it appears to be) is driven by her insecurities.
Something about you is probably making her fel threatened and insecure.
I often feel that people who appear to be very 'together' are actually extremely insecure and have self-esteem issues. Their detemination to excel at everything is often a compensatory mechanism for feelings of inadequacy and insecurity.
Such people are often perplexed and threatened when they meet people who appear to be very comfortable and happy in their own skin. Since I have been reading your blog for so long, you come across as just that kind of person! :)

Preeti