Updated: Oct 9, 2019
“Like all my family and class, I considered it a sign of weakness to show affection; to have been caught kissing my mother would have been a disgrace, and to have shown affection for my father would have been a disaster.” ~ Agnes Smedley
Look around you. The world is filled with communication, particularly through our wonderful and advanced world of technology. Everywhere you go, individuals are furiously typing on their phones, either to work, loved ones or posting away on social media. Any expression of emotions is also gladly done through WhatsApp or Messenger, with their emojis of hearts and kisses and laughter. It is the modern time indeed, and hence the lack of physical expression and affection is now accepted as common practice.
Although, if you can understand this, then you’ll comprehend that what I’m going to say is also true – this lack of expressive communication has more than often been prevalent within Indian society. If we consider familial gestures; love, kisses and hugs are considered uncommon, and telling your Mum or Dad that you love them is also too open a phrase to be said out loud – sometimes even leading to an awkward moment of silence. And it’s not as though this doesn’t exist in childhood, but why is it that when children reach the teenage years that this affection seems to diminish?
Note: For the purpose of defining terms as to ease understanding, in the below discussion, I refer to ‘parents’ with the idea of the generation from the 1950’s-1970’s, and their children subsequently being Generation X and Y (1980’s-1990’s babies).
I remember when I was a teenager; physical affection was something I abhorred (I have somewhat changed; although my personal bubble is still quite large). During the adolescent years of rebellion one feels as though they need to shut out the world, and so they tolerate close proximity with slouched shoulders and a sulky face. With me at least, this was the case, though not all the time mind you. It’s also considered ‘cool’ to not tell your parents things, and secrets are harboured in the heart, and hence the lack of verbal and physical communication begins, leading to a little love being expressed.
Alternatively though, I do believe that it can begin with the parents too. For those who have the difficulty in expressing their love; physical and verbal sentiment would be the last resort for parents. For example, my Dad was never the expressive type; in both manners – and this has always been the case since childhood. So much to say that when he offered to give me a handshake one moment before leaving to the airport I asked him “Why didn’t you give me a hug instead?” Perplexing as this sounds, his parents must have been the same with him – treating him in his younger days with stiffness and a delicate pat on the shoulder. So how can the pattern not continue?
Coming back to the actual crux of my question; if teenagers do have a large personal space bubble, then equally for Indian parents there is also this fear of being too physically affectionate with their children. The society craves for bringing up the children in this competitive world to work hard, study hard, play little. In the working aspect as well – English, Maths and Science are the subjects to thrive at; don’t waste your time with the rest. And even if you succeed within that? Be prepared to get that awkward pat on the shoulder, or a semi-side hug; the Indian universal sign language for showing your child you’re proud of them.
The reason I bring this topic up of physical awkwardness and lack of expression is because I believe that this actually leads to other issues later in life with communication, in subtle means. If you can’t physically or verbally express your feelings, how do you expect to be able to have an open conversation with children? Or vice-versa?
In India, if a girl wants to tell her parents she’s dating; she doesn’t do it till she’s about to get married. Not when she’s 16, perhaps when she first gets asked out by a guy. Why is that? Parents more than often in their concern opt to tell (or order) their children to not date till they are older, so that they can focus on their education and career – which is a fair enough fact. Yet what parents seem to forget is that teenagers are rebellious; if they put their mind to it they will do it anyways! Understanding this, there is the possibility that the communication rope – if we can call it that – will thin out over time. Imagine this, each time your child tries to open up to you and you turn your back to them, that rope will snap by a certain age. And unfortunately by then it will be too late and you can’t turn around and expect them to be comfortable letting their feelings out, when all you’ve told them at their adolescent age until they’re a young adult is that they you’re unwilling to hear them out. So parents, wouldn’t you rather open your minds and yourselves up to the option so that you and your adolescents can have a receptive and honest conversation?
I imagine that this isn’t an easy feat, and I’m not stating that what I’ve discussed is right or wrong. But I do sincerely believe its time that we strengthen this communication rope, if you can call it that. Naturally, there is a large generation gap between Generation X and Y, and subsequently their parents, so there’s more than one reason for the lack of openness between the children and parents. But, it can be a starting point. Don’t be evasive towards physical affection and verbal communication in your life, parents and children; it’s so important.
Having said all of this, I hope it doesn’t come out as a statement to say that our parents don’t love us. As I had pointed on in my previous blog, this isn’t entirely listed for every single family or individual, these are just my personal thoughts that I would like to share and it does not necessarily only cater to “Indian” families. Finally, I should also note that every single individual has a different way of expressing their love. As a side topic, and perhaps something to muse about over your day/evening – Gary Chapman, author of “The 5 Love Languages” believes that there are five ways to express love, listed below:
Acts of Service
Words of Affirmation
I don’t personally follow by this by the rule, but its an interesting concept. 🙂
If you found this article relatable at all, do let me know in the comments section below! Would love to hear your thoughts and as always, I’m open to debate. 🙂