Food and the family
Food is such an integral part of relationships. What we eat, how, when and where we eat – all make a big difference. If the people in a relationship cannot quite get along on these matters, there is likely to be a fair amount of conflict. If I eat meat, and my partner doesn’t like meat at all, we might more often than not, go for the least common denominators, which would be the vegetarian. Even if we do go out to a place with more food options, will there be equal respect and space for everyone’s food choice?
Chances are that there are differences. We make so much meaning out of food. It might be as simple as, “Don’t kiss me, you are reeking of garlic!” to “You are smelling of beer! I hope you are not going to sit belching all night!” to a lot more direct criticism of the food eaten, bringing in everything from environment and ecology, to politics and economy.
It is easily one of the most loaded subjects in a relationship, and perhaps one space where people really look for some levels of compatibility before moving in or living together. When looking for a partner, food preferences are one of the first things one checks on. Is the prospective partner from a similar food heritage? Are they as excited (or not) about variety of cuisines, do they have a favourite few, and do these favourites match? What do they hate, what do they love? Are there allergies? Preferences?
Sometimes, other emotions feel that much more important than food, and despite vast differences, people do get together. Thing is, very few houses run multiple kitchens to accommodate the food habits of the people living in it. Mostly, people run their households to the minimum common program, or the lowest common denominator. If there are food allergies or preferences that limit the possibilities for some person, then the common kitchen in the house will likely be designed for that, with anyone desiring more variety having to step out for a special order or get something special for themselves delivered home.
They seem reasonable choices to make and easy enough to accommodate for some time, maybe even a few years, but over time resentment could be slowly growing on these divisions, like layers of dust settling on furniture. Why can’t there be that one meal a week as per your choices? Can’t the others compromise for a change? Should you really have to settle for this much lesser than what you know you can enjoy?
Food is never really just food. It is culture, tradition, heritage, freedom, variety, fun, pleasure, companionship, adventure and much, much more. Relationships can be built on food, and can break on food.
The old saying “A family that eats together, stays together” does have some merit in it, and when the food one eats is so different from each other, then being able to eat together and stay together requires attention to everything food means for each other – not just compromise.
As written for The New Indian Express
Whose home is home?
What makes a home a home?
The popular saying is home is where the heart is, or that while a house is made of bricks and cement, a home is made of love. The romanticism aside, home is really about belonging - both to the place one calls home and the people with whom one shares this home.
Making a home for yourself and those you love is no easy task, even when the people living together in it are very similar. As people, there are so many ways that we are different - any and every thing from what we eat, when we eat, our daily routines, the demands of our work, our studies, our hobbies and interests etc can set us apart. For any of us who grew up with siblings, we know how even when we are flesh and blood, it is not easy at all. Interests vary, friendships vary and lifestyles vary even with identical twins. When we are so different from people that we are born to and grow up with, can we really expect to be very similar to someone we fall in love with and try and make a home with?
Even with the greatest of loves, moving in together and starting to make a home together is a risky affair. You might expect that for couples from the same cultural background, it might be easy, but it is often not. So many conversations around household chores are fraught with danger, and even the most innocuous stuff like clearing the garbage or doing the laundry, could set off conflicts, and many start innocently enough with the seemingly simple words, “In my home, we used to …”
This is a home you are building with this new person in your life and yet so many conversations start off with these few words that separate you from this partner, put you firmly back in the family you came from and this partner is now the outsider. The partner then quite predictably replies with experiences from their family, and the conversation gets more and more distant - two people talking about the homes they came from rather than the home they are trying to build together. The 'We’ and 'Our Home’ become forgotten in the rush to claim older homes and separates the couple into individuals loyal to their own respective families.
It takes a lot of presence of mind to be able to remember that the new home need not be anything like either of the old ones. The pressure to replicate and comply with the rules and regulations of where we grew up is high, but doing so at the cost of the other person's own vision of their home will end up in either or both feeling alienated and not feeling like they belong.
Making a home is a lot of work and the work starts with the awareness and acknowledgement that this is hard work. Everything is up for grabs, nothing is given as granted and each thing has to be negotiated between the people making this home together.
As published in The New Indian Express
Playground Politics: A Parenting Primer
In the perfect world, kids treat each other with kindness, take turns, stand up to bullies and celebrate uniqueness. They also welcome outsiders to join their cliques until they are all one big happy family. Reality paints a different picture: kids fight, argue, make and break friendships, jealousies abound, tears are shed, personalities clash and parents draw battle lines to protect their children. As children begin their process of socializing, parents find that they are thrown into a brand new phase of adult socializing as well - a rite-of-passage they must endure!
‘…our close identification with our children means we can feel every trivial snub and jibe our kids experience all too keenly…’ Dr. Stephen Briers, ‘Playground politics for adults’
Here are some ‘Playground Issues’ you may be facing as a parent:
So. What can you do as a parent to survive playground politics?
Although there are no perfect answers, here are some guidelines that can help:
1. Think about what your child really needs:
Remember that your child will undergo some growing pain as he learns the ropes. This can be very hard to watch, but allowing him to experiencing these trials under your caring protection will equip him with lifelong skills. If you unable to handle a situation or it is getting out of hand, reach out to community resources/ friends/ a counselor for help.
Parenting, especially in the present context, is a high-pressure job, and because it is so unique, there is really no handbook or manual that one can refer to for insyructions. If you take a look at much of the information on parenting, the focus most often is on the child. However, research indicates that there are many reasons for us to look inward and understand ourselves as people if our goal is to become a better parent.
We often project our critical feelings about ourselves on to our children. The ambivalent attitudes we have toward our children are simply a reflection of the ambivalent attitudes we have toward ourselves .
All people are conflicted in the sense that they have feelings of warm self-regard as well as feelings of self-depreciation. Therefore, it is not surprising that parents would extend these same contradictory attitudes toward their child.
Parents' attitudes toward their children are a by-product of their fundamental conflicts and ambivalence toward themselves. It is not uncommon for parents to disown their self-critical attitudes and negative self-image by projecting them onto their child. As a result, children begin to see themselves through a negative filter, which may stay with them throughout their lives. But if we look into ourselves and understand where our self-critical attitudes and self-attacks come from, we are likely to have more compassion for ourselves and our children.
How often have you caught yourself saying the same things that you mom or dad said to you? Most parents have the experience, most often when reprimanding a child, of suddenly hearing themself say the same critical statement that their parent said to them. The reality is that, parenting style is often reenacted.
If you feel that this is something you would like to change, then you will need to be open to revisiting that time in your life. Acknowledge how it felt when you were the child at the receiving end. With awareness, you will then be able to offer the warmth, affection, love, and the sensitive guidance necessary for your child's well-being.
As a parent, you are a role model – the first and probably the one with the most impact. Psychologists have found that children really do as parents do, not as they say. The processes of identification and imitation overshadow any statements, rules, and prescriptions for good behavior. Children develop behaviors through observing their parents in day-to-day life. The fact that our children are looking to us to see how to be is enough of a reason for us to focus on our own development as a person.
The bottom line here is that perfect kids and perfect parents do not exist. Parenting is a learn-as-you-go thing. We all make mistakes or do some things that we regret, or that are ineffective for our kids. That’s okay. The great thing is that tomorrow is a new day, and we can forgive ourselves, learn from our mistakes and move on.
Ajanta, Mahesh and other InnerSight counsellors and guest contributors are happy to share their thoughts here.