Helicopter Parenting: An Indian Story
“You didn’t call me today. I think you‘re up to something.”
Earlier this month, Drashti Shroff talked about her experience as an Indian living abroad, grappling with the conundrum called Keeping In Touch With Parents. I was overjoyed that someone put into words exactly what I’d been dealing with for quite a few years. I even let her know in the comments how much that story meant to me. But I had also mentioned how my mother is considerably better now and does not make a fuss like she used to. Except something happened recently which triggered this entire rant.
Now let me explain if you are uninitiated and this dilemma makes absolutely no sense to you. Our parents love pushing us so much to the edge such that we learn to support ourselves financially as soon as possible. But they also can’t deal with the abandonment that inevitably drags its way in. They’ve been controlling our lives so much that it’s impossible to let go of that control even when children have grown up and become adults.
Suppose we move out, say for work or education, we often find ourselves burdened by the troubles of adulting, getting life in order, finding a routine and so on. And when all of that happens, it’s difficult to get everything on our To-Do List done. That mandatory daily phone call that our parents expect from us unfortunately falls on that List. It feels horrible as I talk of it as a chore — that is the extent to which emotional manipulation and conditioning has set this to stone.
There have been times I’ve been scolded and yelled at first thing in the morning over phone, because I failed to make that phone call at 7 a.m. letting them know I’m up and not sleeping in. Trust me, that’s not the best way to begin your day. The terror and panic of being judged and coming off as a slacker is too ingrained in me that every call after that became a chore, a nervous endeavour that I want to get done with.
Suppose I forget to make the mandatory call at night letting them know I’m “safe” indoors and not out with friends, the next morning is even more colourful: “You didn’t call me last night, what were you doing?” The guilt is insane if you’ve actually been out without them knowing. But you end up feeling nastier if you’d never been out in the first place and had just forgotten to call.
You’re an object of suspicion either way.
Mum, Dad, you’ve raised your daughter well enough to not go crazy and do “unsafe” things at night. Have some faith in yourself sometimes, please?
I get the need to keep them updated in the initial phase after the big move because it’s an important time in your life, a huge change. But once you settle into the monotonous routine that your days have become, they lose interest in the mundane details of your life. Soon there’s nothing worth two daily calls to talk about. It gets frustrating when they keep demanding it, only to hear you beat your head for things to talk about.
It’s worse if you have things to talk about but can’t because you weren’t supposed to do those things in the first place. My friend low-key gets panic attacks. She can’t even happily lounge in her tank top during hot summers because her mom can demand a random videocall out of the blue.
It becomes obvious at some point that this constant demand for voice and videocalls is not exactly concern. It’s fear, mistrust and abandonment issues shrouded in a glossy satiny cloth called “love”. To me, this is ugly as fuck. My parents turn into a literal helicopter, desperately trying to keep an eye on me and my movements as soon as I’m out of their eyesight.
That being said, I can empathise with the fear and anxiety of watching your little child (an adult, but the word doesn’t exist in an Indian dictionary) leave her home and take on a new world by herself. But when you watch said child get by for 3+ years without any hiccups, shouldn’t you place a little trust in her?
In fact, recently I was under the impression that things had changed a little. The mandatory 2 calls had been reduced to one call at the end of the day when it was more convenient for the both of us to talk. I thought it worked well with my mother’s morning routine as well because she was always in the middle of preparing breakfast whenever I called. Who wants to balance a phone on the shoulder while rolling rotis? My mother apparently does.
The other day a call went thus:
Mom: So… it looks like you always wake up late these days. You never call me in the morning.
Me (panicking for no reason): Uhh no, I actually wake up early most days. I prefer having breakfast atleast an hour before class!
Where I should have pointed out how she’s in an episode of Masterchef whenever I call in the morning. But that reasoning about both of our conveniences flew out the window, I got defensive. Hello trauma.
The realisation dawned on me that nothing has changed. She still expects me to call twice every day. It doesn’t matter if I slept late because of work or a movie or because a friend needed me or anything at all. Maybe things are looking up a bit because I don’t get spammed with missed calls only to get yelled at first thing in the morning. You can see how low the benchmark is for parental affection. I can also hear you, the reader ask me “But Anjali, why complain? You can always just call in the morning and go back to sleep.”
This is not about finding ways to work around their rules. We do that enough. Some of us make the morning call and go back to sleep. Sometimes, it’s about finding a quiet spot in the restaurant if you’re eating out with friends. But what about personal space? Here I am, a 23-year old, and yet I need to report my life twice daily to my mother. It’s not that I don’t love my parents. I’m grateful they stand by my decisions most times and do all that they believe is good for me (read: pay tuition, keep a roof over my head and not marry me off at 23).
But I’d love to talk to them when something interesting is going on. I want to talk about things that matter, about what’s up on their side of the world. About anything that’s been on my mind lately. Not about the weather and my classes because I ran out of things to say.
To answer the question Drashti posed in her story, I thought it was quite normal to be monitored like this all the time until a close friend finally pointed out that this is helicopter parenting. I had been monitored in this manner before I left home and it seemed fair that they continue doing it after I left, too.
I know I’m ending up generalising the Indian experience altogether. I’ve known people who genuinely look forward to calling their parents everyday and actually enjoy doing so. I simultaneously envy and look up to that rapport. But I believe a lot of my peers face a similar frustration regarding parents and calls.
A lot of us live double lives because parents are often not open-minded resulting in stories about hanging out in your room while you’re out watching a movie with friends. Different variations of this probably exist when you’re married off, working abroad and/or simply don’t live with your parents. However, it’s simply not right when the sole purpose of your calls is to maintain a control over your child’s life. It’s damaging — both to your relationship and the child.
If you found this weird and frustrating, check out Drashti’s story that got my writing juices running after a long time:
I’m also currently in a book project woohoo! You can find my recent submission for the Dancing Elephant Press Book Project here: