Older and wiser? Think again…

Some weeks ago I had to go to the bank for some work. While I was waiting in line, I noticed this elderly woman who looked like she was in her late eighties, early nineties. She had a shopping bag and a walking stick as she hobbled and stood in line. She had a bad hunchback and was wrapped in warm clothing. What struck me was how she stood in line like the rest of us. Did her bank work like the rest of us. And went on to another shop in the shopping centre.

I could not help but admire her.

Here was a woman who was doing things on her own. An elderly woman. She was independent
And it made me see the stark difference between what happens in countries like India and here. In India, “tradition” says the elderly go on and live with their children. And it is this I hate. Don’t get me wrong…I love my parents and I want to look after them when they are older. But somehow in India, we dis-empower the elderly. And some of them take advantage of that. We give in to their ridiculous whims and fancies because “tradition” and “culture” say we should. We fall prey to their manipulative strategies because God forbid we stand up to them. We unquestioningly agree to their tantrums because again, we are doomed to hell if we do.


Why should we be made to feel guilty if we don’t look after the elderly?

Why can’t we let them live on their own if they are capable?


Because some age-old tradition says so?

Because it’s “in our culture”?

Now, I’m not saying all elderly folk are ‘bad’. But there are quite a few ‘monsters’ out there (one of whom has been living with my family since I was 15 and has made life a living hell…I have been fortunate to escape her clutches but my poor family has not)

By letting elderly folk live with us and do their bidding it’s almost like we are teaching them to become helpless. Think about it — when a person lives by themselves, they have no choice but to cook, clean, do their shopping etc. But if this person is living with someone who will do all of the above, then they are going to stop doing it and expect that and more. It creates helplessness in some and a form of entitlement in others. Moreover, when a person is not doing much work, they are more likely to ruminate. They are more likely to start thinking about all the negative things. And they are more likely to get depressed and make others around them miserable. Hence the importance of activity. Now again, I am not saying that people who are bedridden must have to do things themselves. Rather, the able-bodied elderly folk can look after themselves rather than have their sons, daughter-in-laws and grandchildren become their slaves and wallow in self-pity.

I would like to let everyone out there know that this is a personal issue and a personal gripe of mine. And it has been for the past decade. I think we should all be given the right to not have some elderly folk live with us without being emotionally blackmailed as a consequence. We should be able to choose whether we want the person living with us.

And unfortunately, things like ‘tradition’ and ‘culture’ take away the choice because some people are too scared of the repercussions from society. Of the emotional manipulation from that parent.

Until next time,


P.S. Mum…I know you read my blog now and it kinda makes it harder to blog on stuff like this. This is not in reference to you or dad but rather, you-know-who. So don’t think S and I won’t care for you guys… we would choose to do so.

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  • Reply
    September 8, 2009 at 10:32 am

    Psych Babbler, I hope your Mum is not offended or upset by reading this blog. I bet, in fact, she will be proud that you are strong enough to speak out on cultural issues like this one.

    As another opinionated woman, I also think it makes for interesting writing.


  • Reply
    September 8, 2009 at 12:28 pm

    I kind of agree and dont agree with you..what i want to say that it is a cultural issue….in india as a child and even till mid twenties you expect that your parents should support you in every thing of your life isnt that somethng which is diffrent from the culture you are residing presently….so why is it wrong on their part when they expect that one day they can look for all support in you…i dont know how you feel but i feel i would be lucky if somehow i get a chance to pamper and care my parents how they have done for me :)….i dont want to get into a debate coz i am not gud at it….i respect your thoughts just wanted to keep my Point of view, i hope you wont mind :)….happy blogging 🙂

  • Reply
    September 8, 2009 at 12:38 pm

    🙂 god bless you. i have been following your blog for some time now PB and i can see an inherent hatred for India and its customs and traditions and Australia being the only heaven on earth.

    while you can have a view of your own which i do respect, trust me India is not that bad :).
    god bless you

  • Reply
    September 8, 2009 at 3:14 pm

    Happens in every country Psych! Australia, USA, Japan, Russia.

    Once again you mess up on the culture/tradition thing. An absolute mess up. You try to make this a personal example–relevant to a few–but end up speaking on behalf of the country. All your examples are basically the problems India faced post-invasion, when parents couldn’t be abandoned and women had to be kept in a purdah. Tradition/culture is not about Mughal or British India.

    I am sure somebody will correct you on this but let me give you a small/minor example;

    VANAPRASTA is the third stage of Elder Advisor usually between 48 and 72 years of age. A stage comes when business, family, secular life like the beauties and hopes of youth have exhausted themselves and need to be left behind. The person retires usually from worldly attachments to lead a life of contemplation and meditation alone or with his wife.
    This is prescribed. Of course, not enforced.

    I could tell you practical examples too. I could tell you about parents who extend their homes or take other steps to ensure that the sex life of their children is not disturbed. All this stems from Indian culture and happens in present India. The problems we have stem from not following the culture.

    The problems of parents massing the life of their children is not due to tradition/culture. Definitely not. It is a problem that needs to be addressed. I can agree on that. But stuff like We give in to their ridiculous whims and fancies because “tradition” and “culture” say we should. is far off, way way off.

  • Reply
    September 8, 2009 at 5:34 pm

    And as always the coin has other side too. I have seen the kids bullying their parents and force them to work as a maid in their house-hold while giving little food and absolutely no health care to them. Again “tradition” requires these elderly to live with their kids when they would have been better off on their own, that is, if they had they had saved for themselves instead of spending all (and at times willingly giving away) on those stupid “sons”.

    In either scenario (yours or mine), I agree with you that it is a stupid tradition. If an old person is able-bodied, they should be given choice of living by themselves or with their son/daughter. And if they choose to live with someone, they should be given responsibilities so that they contribute towards the family instead of becoming a nuisance to them.

  • Reply
    September 8, 2009 at 6:07 pm

    I appreciate your candor and sharing your opinion. I think we all have choices to make in life and unfortunately we cannot please everyone no matter how hard we try. we gotta live our own life and try to live to the best of our abilitites no matter what others think we should or should not do.

  • Reply
    September 9, 2009 at 11:56 am

    I think a lot of issues take a back burner because people are afraid to stand up against society’s questioning. Regarding the elderly, I think it’s possible for them to remain self sufficient while still being under the same roof as their kids. I’ve seen it before my eyes. Elderly that stay independent (relatively), but live with their kids & grandkids and enjoy the feeling of being around family, playing the role of granddad/mom on a daily basis, etc. Though I can see certain personality types abusing the privilege of being taken care of.

  • Reply
    September 9, 2009 at 2:37 pm

    Nice post ! I agree – Indian traditional thinking binds you to stuff like this, and folks who don’t agree are considered bad/evil/selfish. I wrote about this some years back here :

  • Reply
    September 9, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    Interesting! and well controversial. Don’t know if I agree with it fully but a nice insight.

  • Reply
    September 11, 2009 at 3:58 am

    Hey Psych,

    Interesting post as usual and I agree and disagree. I agree as Indians we tend to mollycoddle older people, just the way we do with children – therefore not encouraging independence. At the same time, I think many seniors in a Western culture often become very lonely because they are expected to take care of themselves. I have been in a situation similar to yours regarding grandparents so I know exactly how you feel.I don’t like either extreme though and I think some sort of balance is necessary. I do believe “taking care” of an elderly person should not be confused with stripping them of their independence.

  • Reply
    Psych Babbler
    September 12, 2009 at 11:56 pm

    @ Sid: I’m guessing my mum didn’t get offended….no word yet! But yeah, I reckon this is a controversial topic 😛

    @ Skywalker: I have no problem with anyone disagreeing with me! So feel free to do so. 🙂 I still think though that the point of this was to be able to have a choice in the matter rather than have it forced upon you. I have seen people being forced to have their parents live with them when they would rather not..because otherwise, society judges them!

    @ Ani: Yes, you are right in that I have an issue with customs in India. But trust me when I say, it’s not something new. I’ve been this way since I was about 14 or so…questioning everything about the customs and traditions in India which we seem to follow blindly. I don’t think of Australia as heaven on earth…I would classify most of the western world in that category.

    @ Richa: I agree with you…for some reason I seem to have mainly heard about the example I’ve given. But there’s definitely the other side too! I guess I just wish people…both the elderly and their kids…could have a say in the matter without being prescribed to do so.

    @ MPH: Ah…cannot please everyone…you are so right!!!! 🙂

    @ Archana: I guess it’s more possible these days but I still feel there are a lot of the elderly that are dependent. Or in the position of Richa’s example which I hadn’t considered

    @ Amodini: Welcome to my blog and thanks for the comment! I really liked your post and thought it to be more balanced than mine!! 🙂

    @ Nimit: Weclome to my blog and thanks for the comment! Do agree that it’s a controversial topic and you are free to not agree with the views! 🙂

    @ Legally Alien: I agree that some of the elderly in the western world probably do feel lonely but I guess I wasn’t trying to say that their family shouldn’t keep in touch with them at all. I just reckon if they are capable, they could live by themselves with their kids/grandkids visiting them and helping out where required.

  • Reply
    Psych Babbler
    September 13, 2009 at 12:17 am

    @ Kartikey: I’m sure this custom does happen in other cultures…but I don’t know enough of those cultures to comment on them. I don’t know whether society reacts the same way as the Indian society does. Hence the example using India. Also, I am not speaking on behalf of the whole country…but if people in India could actually choose to not wanting to have their parents live with them without society thinking they were evil, it would suit the few people that don’t want to do this. Currently, the norm is that your parents live with you. If there was no such norm…and if it was a matter of choice instead, it would be a lot easier. It’s kinda like the abortion issue— pro-choice is better than pro-life because then, you do not have a choice if you don’t want to keep a baby due to rape/incest etc. CHOICE without repercussions from society is what I am trying to talk about. And I don’t give a shit about vanaprastha or any of that…

  • Reply
    September 13, 2009 at 9:14 am

    How can you not “give a shit” about Vanaprastha and yet talk about Indian culture and parents? You choose to criticize a culture without giving credence to the culture! If an Indian yelled at you for this, would you call them communal/backward or “look…I told you!”

    “Currently, the norm is that your parents live with you.”
    “If there was no such norm…and if it was a matter of choice instead, it would be a lot easier.”

    Children are free to move out. The society–not all of it–may not approve but should they cause any hurdles, then the law doesn’t casticize you. I am pro-choice and so is Indian culture. Your usage of words (shit) shows your ignorance about the country you claim to understand. Or is it some kind of a sign of liberalism and free will. Or a cover-up.

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