By Sabrina Almeida
Feel like you need a bigger house like the Bedis, Chatterjees or Carvalhos? Wish you could arrive in a BMW or Audi like Rita and Sheela?
When it comes to comparisons, the socio-economic competition doesn’t stop with home and car. If you have kids that are not really ‘out there’, then you will have experienced the pain (and sheer embarrassment!) of not having anything to brag about. For your children’s accomplishments are as much a part of your social status as the home and vehicles you own. Especially among the fiercely-competitive South Asian community.
Going for a social get-together or even chatting with friends on the phone can become an extremely stressful experience with all the questions you might have to field off from individuals with all-star kids. After you are brought up-to-date on all their achievements, it will be your turn to speak… about what your kids are doing.
Should you have no stories to tell, then I suggest you stay home and don’t answer the phone either. Undeterred by your lack of response or non-committal answers, the skilled interrogators will subject you to the third degree till you feel ashamed of your children and self in the process. (In the end, non-achievers are the fallout of bad parenting, isn’t it?) And if you have been loose-tongued about your kid’s feats in the past, get ready to eat the biggest serving of humble pie. For they’ve been waiting for an opportunity to rub your face in it.
I’ve had first hand experience. Most recently, I was dreading a social event knowing I would be asked about university acceptances. I was relieved to get some positive news the previous day. But they pressed on with questions about the applications that didn’t get the green light!
Worse still, is the plight of your kids once you get off the phone, Facebook or home from the party. As you will pin all those feelings of quilt and inadequacy on to them. With many parents either unaware or uncaring of how it would impact the child’s self-esteem, relationship with you and society as whole. I have several friends who have yet to shake off the labels their parents stuck on them. The feeling of not measuring up or not being loved for who you are, stays with us for life.
Even more damaging than comparisons with friends’ kids, is having to compete with your own siblings for parental approval, attention and affection. As an only child, I was spared this trauma that many friends endured.
At home, there is no getting away from a brother or sister that brings accolades in academics, sports and extra-curricular activities on a regular basis. Their accomplishments are rubbed in your face and become the yardstick for measuring your capabilities both by immediately family as well as neighbours and friends.
Chances are you will be branded the “black sheep of the family”. After extolling the virtues of your talented sibling/s, there will be whispers about the “poor thing who is not as smart”. Like the village idiot, you become the object of ridicule… even pity. While nothing much will be expected of you, it also means you will receive no encouragement to achieve “your” potential. The fact that you can walk and talk will surprise everyone.
Not surprisingly this can drive a wedge between you and the achievers. The quintessential sibling rivalry will fester into envy, even hatred if you do not manage to turn your life around professionally in later years and comparisons about lifestyle take over. As the next generation arrives, the competition may heat up further with you pushing your kids to achieve and redeem your status.
Ironically most individuals can tolerate friends’ kids being more accomplished but certainly not those of their siblings. The grandparents will stir the pot further as they evaluate your success and compare the kids with their siblings and cousins. Both in appearance as well as accomplishments.
The end of school brings no relief, as your social network moves on to scrutinizing the next milestones—career, marriage and buying a house.
Your kids not dating yet? Doubts will be sown about their sexual preferences. I know a mother who has begun to believe that her son might be gay (something the South Asian community is uncomfortable with) thanks to the insinuations. And what if he is…
The jobs your kids find and whether they continue to live with you or can afford their own place are next on the assessment list. It truly never ends…
So how do we beat this? By not playing the game at all. Stand up for yourself and most of all for your kids. Don’t let them become victims of your insecurities and pride!