Let’s open the closed doors
Emotionally the threshold of boys and girls is different and hence the way they express emotions is also different. We form opinions and impressions about people largely from the way they emote. This includes love, compassion, anger, tolerance, patience, and such. As a society we have concluded many behavioral designs as accepted and the others as less accepted. A teenage boy or an adult man crying or expressing his emotions is most often ridiculed by those around with barbs that mock and question his masculinity. Such social conditioning has forced boys and men to tuck away and hide their, so called, weaker emotions and project themselves to be strong and manly. Many men tend to follow a uniform behavioural pattern that society has defined for males over eons.
Have we ever thought of the deep damage this bottling up can cause in a boy or man, because they are denied the space to express themselves fully and genuinely? Anxiety build-ups, subtle to acute depressions, suicidal tendencies, and related emotional distress in people have their contributing factors in the societal pressure and design, to not express oneself genuinely. And these lead to distress in many people of all genders. We have been reading and watching the rate and statistics of suicides in Kerala the last few months. The latest study shows that the majority of the children under the age of 18 who take their lives live in their own homes with biological parents and are mostly from nuclear families.
It is time we examined the factors and causes that led to this destructive thought and practice. If a person takes his or her life in the confines of their home that they grow up loving and feeling belonged to, what pushes them to end their lives in the same space? Children living with parents ending their lives is a pressing matter that needs urgent attention. Through our programs and sessions, it has been observed that the communication inside households between parents and children is shrinking by the day. Also, most of the existing communication patterns are so restricted that there is a lack of transparency, intimacy, or genuineness. The third factor of suicides in nuclear families also point to similar reasons - barriers to choose or express in one’s innermost space and circle.
Generational difference is a huge attribute in the way one grows up and in character formation. The 50s to 80s had much more joint families, where the parents hardly found time to spend with children or perhaps did not feel the need to do so as cousins and siblings of different age groups lived together under the same roof. Expressions of love, emotions or consolation through hugs or kisses between parents and children, or other relatives were very rare, often not encouraged and shunned too. Public displays of affection, as simple as couples holding hands and walking, were also hard to comprehend. But many in the joint family system found love, support and belonging in each other, considering many people of various age groups co-resided. Concerns were shared within their peer group and when one felt lonely or strange, it would be solved among the children’s groups by themselves without even bringing it to the notice of parents. From the 90s, with educated youth moving out of joint families to different cities and even abroad, things changed. With globalization, many homes had at least one person abroad, doing higher studies away from home, or working in urban centers.
The IT revolution further escalated this migration process with ‘on-site’ being the catchword for youngsters to look and feel successful. While these migrations were inevitable and choices were respected, we failed to pace things up to put systems and practices in place that could ease the effects of migration on people in the family. The generation of the seventies suddenly felt caught between alternatives. The sudden lack of the support system that embraced them until then, migration to an alien state or country, and acclimatization to the new systems and practices left a gaping hole in the overall family bond and warmth, physically and mentally. The older generation suddenly could not transition to new ways of support or care. This led them to feeling ignored and neglected. We saw parents being moved to old age homes. We now have retirement homes that are well planned and comfortable to make the transition from homes to community living easier which is a welcome move by all the generations alike as we have come to terms with the terms and future of our living.
Lack of friendships in new places, breakdown of communication, pressure of a new job and culture all forced depression and anxieties in that generation. The gap in mentalities and ideologies between generations widened while the age gap in ‘generational gap’ became just 5 or 6 years. This meant we have two to three generations in the household where siblings fall into separate generational thinking. Now with the pandemic forcing family members to be indoors, there has been a consistent increase in arguments, difference of opinions and subtle and intense fights between members due to these factors that are leading to mental emotional distress, discomfort and disrespect. Next came the millennial generation and the age of instant likes and gratifications. One cannot blame technology for taking over lives as every invention and development has been the need of those times.
While we are almost always hooked virtually, the alternate systems to make us feel warm and belonged need to be spruced up. Hugs, kisses, pats, family get togethers, hometown visits, grandparent time are all vital to making children experience the finer and richer elements of love and family. Encouraging them to embrace diversity and find beauty in it, letting them be comfortable in their skin, color, and choices; holding them when they cannot sail through tough times are ways to rekindle and nurture compassion in children.
As I write this column, I have had two dear people reach out to me with suicidal thoughts. And in one case where the person was on the verge of taking life because of relationship issues. Two cases in a span of 24 hours in my close circle is a scary thing to fathom. Mediums, channels, and emoticons of expressions are aplenty at one’s fingertips, yet many people wake up like any other day and do not feel like making it through. Why do we see increasing cases of depression, anxiety, and suicidal tendencies when support, care and concern are just a call away? Answers should start from homes where children need to be encouraged to talk freely, communicate openly, and share intimately. Ideologies and belief systems of parents and children can be very different and even contradicting which either generations might find difficulty understanding and adjusting to. The more children are forced to follow their parents’ ways and systems, the more retaliatory they could become. Hence it is the onus of parents to make attitudinal shifts to make children feel comfortable and confident with them. Guardians should show affection, love and care physically and emotionally. Physical warmth and display of affection and love are the ways to form beautiful and strong bonds in families. It should become natural to show affection, emotion, and love. Men should also be comfortable in expressing their emotions and fears genuinely and respectfully. As much should people of all genders and age too.