Nowhere has it been written that a daughter cannot provide support to her parents once she is married
I struggle to come to terms with some aspects of culture—the culture where while some trailblazer women are fighting for their right to light the funeral pyre of their deceased parents, others are still using excuses to avoid helping their frail and financially dependent parents and the culture where daughters are claiming equal rights in parental property, but do not share the responsibility of parental care.
This is the very culture where they say daughters inherently love their parents more than sons. They say a daughter’s love, gratitude and appreciation for her maternal home doubles once she marries and goes through changes demanded by new home and relationship.
Yet, it somehow seems so unloving when some daughters, in that same culture, intentionally hold off help toward their parents in the name of culture. I want to question those unloving daughters why is their love so meagre when it comes to helping their own parents. How can such daughters say they love their parents but at the same time refrain from supporting them? How can her heart tolerate knowing and watching her own parents suffer especially when she is financially sound, owns a home, has rental income and also a job? Why lame excuse of “tradition”?
Sons over daughters
The reasoning passed on through generations suggests strong misogynistic and patriarchal practices. Historically, parents “give away” their daughter as though she were a liability and therefore in desperate attempt to get rid of the “burden” they rush through this process hence forbidding them to indulge in any act like eating food, seeking shelter, receiving money among others that would prolong or reverse their “burden”.
Nowhere has it been written that a daughter cannot provide support to her parents once she is married.
For a few decades, daughters have equally enjoyed similar privileges of further education just like their brothers. I have seen and known a lot of women who don’t have any second thoughts about helping their parents. To them, like myself, supporting their parents comes naturally. To them love precedes everything else. My salute to those women who are game changers and who rose against the tradition.
Some women may shrug off responsibilities in the name of tradition while some do try, but are discouraged from within the family, and their parents are made to feel humiliated. I am aware there are various factors that prevent daughters from helping their parents. One of those factors, as one of my dear friends highlighted, is the societal labelling and ridicule parents and son-in-laws face when the latter extend their help towards their in-laws. Parents are made to feel embarrassed to go stay at their married daughter’s home. The idea of ghar jwain is made so offensive for men who want to support and love their in-laws.
In the context of Nepal, there is huge crisis of care economy in middle class and lower middle class families. Sons and their families are mostly abroad but parents still hesitate to live with their daughters because of the societal stereotype.
Nepal has become a country of migrants. Children of lower class families are either in India or Gulf countries while children of middle and upper middle and high class are broadening their futures in the first world countries. The crisis of physical care is not that acute in upper or middle class as they have financial means, but middle and lower class parents need financial, emotional and physical care.
I, my sisters, my mother and aunties have defied this crisis. This is how we, as a society, can shift and challenge the tradition which denies daughters of the love they feel for parents.
My question today is not for those who are already trailblazers. My question is to those who don’t seem to share the notion of love and support as one and the same thing. My question is to those who unnecessarily put burden on and send their brothers on a guilt trip about not supporting their parents just because they happen to be male born in a tradition that tells them it’s solely their responsibility to look after parents.
Here in Western culture and many other cultures, regardless of your gender, everything revolves around bonding a family shares. Whether to look after or not to look after parents is based on whether they had close or resentful relationship while growing up. Kids take responsibilities for their parents if they are close without holding back any financial, emotional, moral or any kind of support toward their parents regardless of their gender.
If they don’t share a close bond, no matter what dire situation parents are facing, children don’t bother. It’s as simple as that. Helping parents should be a shared responsibility of all children, whether they are sons or daughters. Responsibilities become a burden when enforced. Looking after parents should be less guided by notion of responsibility and should be more about attachment and love that children feel towards parents.
However, in Nepal, the idea that love and attachment needs to be nurtured and that closeness leads to caring seems to be missing. Daughters are left off the hook from parental responsibilities because when it comes to fulfilling responsibilities, that same love and bonding magically disappears. It appears as though love and responsibilities are two different entities unrelated with each other. Then why are daughters still held in high esteem when it comes to loving parents?
A son is forced to put up with this cultural nuance and to provide without exception. He simply cannot get away from this. This is another excuse most daughters present to their parents highlighting their inability to help bringing forth the excuse of their husbands having to contribute their income towards their own parents and therefore leaving them with nothing to help maternal parents.
Maybe that’s true for some women from rural sector who are uneducated and unemployed, but I’m raising this issue against educated, employed, self-sufficient women who have equal say in their household and can gain husbands’ permission in order to help their suffering parents. What holds them from helping their parents? Excuse of culture and tradition is far less convincing for such educated and privileged daughters. Are daughters really that heartless? When parents have invested in their education and privileges, shouldn’t caring for those very parents be an equal responsibility for daughters too? Why are daughters still opting for a lopsided tradition to suit their needs?
The author teaches at Australian Catholic University, Sydney