In the past almost 3 years of my marriage, I’ve had the honour of building relationships with a whole new family. Mothers, aunties, grandmothers, grand-aunties, uncles, fathers, cousins, nieces and nephews. The relationships I cherish most are the ones I’ve built with my mother-in-law and the elderly grandmothers in the family. There’s always a special story, a glint of tear sparked by a deep emotion triggered by a distant memory of a loved one, or of an impactful memory. There’s something very powerful and strong about all mothers of the world. Perhaps because I came from a family of many strong mothers – it has shaped me to look up to them and to know that the strength we see, is but the tip of the pillar of strength they’ve developed.
Today, I met Nenek Piah as everyone in my in-laws family fondly calls her. She comes over once every couple of months or so. A petite and frail lady with weathered, tanned skin – telling of her extended exposure to the sun from her many cycling rides. I glimpse at her face and wonder what the story is behind every crease on her face and the kind of experiences she must have lived through. She stutters as she speaks and only those closest to her can clearly make out what she’s saying. She rides a purple Piyo-piyo bicycle she claims has been her trusty companion, seeing her through motherhood, and bringing her all around Singapore. She’s small but fit. She claims to be 94 years of age, – “in 6 years, I’ll be 100!”, she retorts. Nenek Piah, I’m told is but a shadow of her younger sprightly self. She used to make the best noodle soups and the best cakes, everyone tells me. Now, her memory has started to fail her, and she has a tendency to repeat the same stories ever so frequently. She claims that many closest to her have accused her of begging, but she never begs, “Why should I? It’s a sin! Plus the police will catch me if I did!”
She also shares how her children and grandchildren look down upon her, for she has no money to contribute to the household. “They (referring to her grandchildren) hide the food from me! That’s fine – I’ll get by. If I have money, I’ll get myself a cup of coffee – kopi-o (Black coffee) is 80 cents, and kopi susu (coffee with milk) is $1.20!” If I don’t, that’s fine, I’ll sit quietly.” Also, I can’t work these days. Did you know employers can get fined if they hire someone as old as me?” She continues to answer my questions – how she used to make $100 a month when she could iron clothes at one of the laundry shops in Eunos. She detests her children, whom she claims don’t care for her, and who have accused her of ill-treating their children. “Why would I ill-treat them?” she asks indignantly. She has tears in her eyes even though this is probably the 30th time I’ve heard her narrate the same story. I don’t know to what extent her stories are truthful, but it makes me think a lot.
It makes me ponder on how mothers are sensitive people, how they have expectations of their children, and how many of them in their late elderly years are probably hurt by the acts of their children and how it’s sad, even as an outsider to witness that. This isn’t the first time I’ve witnessed this. My own elderly grandmother has grown more sensitive too, and often finds herself hurt by the acts and words of her children and grandchildren, even if they may have been driven by good intentions. I suppose, in a society, that has successfully shaped us to believe that self-worth is linked to the ability to independently care for yourself, to create wealth and to care and provide for yourself and others – it is easy to feel insecure and have that manifest into sensitive thoughts of someone’s lack of care for you.
Yet, whose responsibility is it? Is it the child’s responsibility to understand that as your parents age, they are likely to be more sensitive and to therefore respond with greater care, love and patience? Or should parents be the ones to expect less – and to learn how to control and manage their expectations – and not think they’re entitled to care by their children just because they took care of these children when they were younger? It’s a sensitive topic for which there clearly is no straight answer, and for which there’s always a subjective view, complicated further by each family’s unique dynamics and circumstances.
And yet, I feel like in the ideal world – where theory rules, children ought to be more giving. They ought to empathise with their parents who oftentimes have to come to terms with losing many aspects they took for granted – health, independence, agility and strength. Simple things like going to the washroom, preparing food, and running errands may no longer come at ease. This understandably results in mounting frustration and questioning of their self-worth, giving way to a shorter temper and a more sensitive nature.
In the ideal world too, a parent will nurture their children, give them the best of themselves – with love, kindness and patience, and yet not expect any returns from their children when they’re aged. As a young parent myself, I say this with hesitation – because clearly, the ideal world is not how reality is. Our real lives is fraught with expectations, ego, hopes and dreams. As parents, we do think we deserve the attention of our children when we’re elderly. We do expect the same patience we showed our children when they were young and completely dependent on us. I mean, isn’t that the least they can do for us? And yet, expectations only begets disappointment at times. Clearly, there is no moral judgment in the views to be held by parents and children alike – it is tough to cast judgment when each has had their own unique upbringing and experiences to have shaped what they think is right.
A recent sharing by Imam Omar Suleiman encapsulates this well though –
Sincerity (ikhlas), which is the opposite of showing off (Riya) is that you are indifferent to the praise of others. This causes you to be always drivern to good whether or not anyone else is watching.
Truthfulness (Sidq), which is the opposite of conceit (‘Ujb) is that you are indifferent to the praise of your own self. This causes you to always be driven to better because you can never be too good.
In this context, sincerity and truthfulness is relevant. Imagine if children were sincere and truthful, they’d then persevere to keep doing good in the context of their parents, and yet remain truthful / humble in that what’s good can always be improved upon.
Likewise with parents – they’ll strive to care for their kids, because that is what’s right, and when it’s done with sincerity – it comes with no strings attached. And without any expectations (driven by conceit – “clearly I was a good parent/ did so much, and therefore ought to be ‘rewarded’/ taken care of”), one is more content, and anything that comes, becomes a bonus, and a gift that usually inspires gratitude.
What do you think? Is this truly possible?
How can we master our egos, ditch the expectations, and truly be truthful and sincere in life, and in every role that we play? Would love to hear your thoughts.