But do we have any benchmark for ideal parents in our traditions?

Sharing an email from Kajal.

A thought has been bothering me for a few days. Indian mythology or cultural texts have several icons and references for the ideal son/daughter i.e. the ideal children. But do we have any benchmark for ideal parents in our traditions? Mostly what I remember from atleast the two major epics is parents who abandon children, torture them to please another spouse or society or ask of impossible sacrifices from children for the larger good. Do you remember any ideal/non-controlling parent in our stories? Would you say this has impacted how we see parent child relationship till date in this country? Is there a parent version of Shravan Kumar? Or is it just assumed that by virtue of being parents they are selfless and right?

So do we have any role models? What did these role models do for their children?

Indian mothers are seen (in movies) frantic, worrying about the amount of hot and freshly cooked food the male children have eaten [Like this, Link]

They are also seen fasting for the male child’s long life. In the movies they seem to feel responsible for finding a sanskaari and obedient daughter in law as a spouse for the male child and collecting dowry for their daughters. Traditional mothers are expected to raise the paraya dhan to become obedient daughters in law.

Fathers seem to be responsible for ensuring obedience, school fees (if they approve of sending the children to school), dowry and Honor.

In many movies, loving parents are seen working hard, despite illness sometimes, to feed their children, to get urgent medical treatment for their children, for the children’s (more often male children) school fees and for the girl children’s dowry.

What about the parents in Indian mythology?

Related Posts:

Mommy Guilt: A Western Influence.

“This man is openly threatening his daughter and is instigating others to burn alive their daughters.”

“You can listen to your parents and be unhappy or you can go against them and feel guilty – those are your choices?”

“I am betraying my parents, country and culture by not having an arranged marriage, people are talking, younger sisters not getting married.”

“I am glad that my parents never thought of raising us as ‘future daughters-in-law’.”

Only when raising ideal daughters in law is not their goal, would Indian parents be able enjoy having and bringing up girl children.

An email: Is it fair for parents to say that their happiness depends on who their kids marry?

The Changing Role of Dads

Fortune Mother Exchange : Mother’s cooking for Indian male children.

हमारी बेटी संस्कारवान है और मंत्री बनने के बावजूद पति के पांव की जूती ही है।

Don’t let me down dear daughter!

24 thoughts on “But do we have any benchmark for ideal parents in our traditions?

  1. Damn! Can’t recall a single ‘ideal parent’ figure in any of the mythological stories I know. If Amish’s latest book is anything to go by, Janak (Sita’s father) seems like a nice guy – he brought up his daughters well. Sita was apparently the wisest in his kingdom and therefor his Prime Minister or Chief Advisor or something. But other than that, none that I can think of!

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  2. I agree completely. There is an old Indian saying which is something along the lines of … a son can be a bad son but a mother can never be a bad mother. Many kinds of abusive behaviors of parents towards children are presented under the guise of disciplinary actions in our culture – mythology, literature and films have lots of examples where parents can get away with anything and still be worshiped while children have to live in a certain way only and are still criticized. Such parents do not understand that the impact of their abusive behavior lasts for a long time, sometimes forever. The abuse may lead to another cycle of abuse directed towards the next generation. For those who have been through such unfortunate events, please have a look at the book Toxic Parents (Author: Susan Forward).

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  3. A very valid point. You see…our culture teaches us that we should be ideal kids….do everything our parents want us to do…so that we in turn can do the same thing with our kids! Parents sacrifice and provide us their whole lives, hence they earn the right to make unreasonable expectations.

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  4. Growing up, my mom always used to stress that we should not keep any one person as our role model, but keep all the good and noble characteristics in different people as our “ideals”. And I think that has kind of gotten ingrained in me. I do not seek for role models, because there are none. All people have good and bad qualities, and having a role model (and consciously/subconsciously aping it) is kind of limiting ourselves. Frankly speaking, I have never turned to mythology to find answers, be inspired or for anything for that matter. Some of it is good reads for sure, but one gets life lessons in real life, from people all around us.

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  5. We have the saying ‘Matru Devo Bhava, Pitru Devo Bhava, Acharya Devo Bhava” The concept of treating one’s parents (and other authority figures like teachers) like God is inherently problematic. Parents are just people and people can be good or bad, selfish or generous. People can also be unpredictable, even good people can go through bad phases or be occasionally selfish. Both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata are replete with examples of children exemplifying unwavering obedience to their parents.

    Kaykayi orders Rama into a 14 year old exile and he doesn’t question her selfishness. By following the order, he not only rewards her selfish behavior, denies himself rights, and puts his wife in peril, but also sacrifices the best interests of his kingdom and his citizens. A case of Matru Devo Bhava gone wrong.

    Dronacharya asks Ekalavya for his thumb as a “teacher’s gift”, a clearly selfish and ruthless move on the part of this teacher who wants his favorite student, Arjuna to be the best in archery. (The irony is that Drona never really taught him. Ekalavya was so disciplined, he taught himself the skills in front of a statue of Drona to serve as his inspiration.) Also Arjuna is from the warrior class while Ekalavya is lower in the social order so a bit of classism/racism/political maneuvering also thrown in here, but tolerated because of “Acahrya Devo Bhava”.

    Blind obedience is never a good idea and blind obedience is what our scriptures prescribe. And not just ours, so do all the other scriptures belonging to all the other cultures/religions in the world. Rational thinking and accountability and individual rights are modern concepts. So, no we don’t have parenting role models in our scriptures and we should stop looking to scripture for all the answers. The scriptures should be studied as a piece of literature – beautiful, enigmatic, and a reflection of their times. They are partly wise and partly horrific and far from being consistent. They are certainly not the Bill of Rights.

    The ideal parenting that the LW talks about is a very recent and evolved concept. I still see so many people being opposed to it. Most people still seem to think that being older or being adults guarantees maturity. It doesn’t.

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  6. I think most parents in mythology were ideal parent..they left for Vaanprasth(to the forest) after their children had a family of their own…
    Ideally everybody has to follow 3 ashrams
    Brahmcharya,Grihasth,Vaanprasth
    Everyone seems to have forgotten about the third one…..

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    • The best and happiest families I see are the ones where parents remember the third vanprasth ashram! Not literally, but in how they take a back seat and let their progeny and progeny’s spouse make their own decisions.

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  7. Dhruva’s dad showed favoritism to his other kid and Dhruva went to pray for affection and instead became a star.

    There was also Hiranyakashyapu who tried to kill his son Prahlad tons of times…

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  8. I’ve always considered most of the stories as examples of what not to do. So, in some ways, parents like Kunti, the Blind King, Rama, etc., personify what I would personally like to avoid doing when I become a parent.

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  9. In Indian Culture, ideal parents are those who make sure their kids conform 100% to the Indian culture so that they hold their place in society and won’t be ‘left behind’.

    Ideal kids would be those kids who blindly follow the culture with no question and follow the cycle. That’s a shame indeed.

    I’m definitively not ideal nor am are my parents…and funnily enough whenever something bad happens or things don’t go according to plan, it’s a shame for society.

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  10. Indian mythology is very different from the Greek mythology,. Oediipus and Antigone are hardly the ‘ideal filial children’ . Emotional blackmail seems like the forte of Indian parents.

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      • I still don’t see it. Reposting.

        I think I can recall more examples of bad parenting in Indian mythology which were explicitly censured. For example, Dhritarashrtra’s indulgence of his son’s wanton ways was always criticized by Vidura and Krishna. He is always portrayed as a dad who is overly fond of his eldest son and who seeks to address his own insecurities through his son. These are held up as examples of adharma. Yayati aspired for eternal youth, and demanded his sons to sacrifice their youth for him. Only Puru, his youngest son, was willing to exchange his youth for his father’s old age. The point is not that Puru was a dutiful son. Yayati realizes as the days pass that eternal youth is not as great as it sounds, and that he had demanded a great sacrifice of his son. Like most stories in Indian mythology, this one strives to strike a balance and doesn’t explicitly preach. As for great mothers, Kunti comes across not only as a good, caring mother but also as a strategist who is aware of her sons’ vulnerability. Whether she did right by Karna is more of a gray area. Sita was a great single mother. Satyakam’s mother, Jabala, who did not know her son’s father’s name, taught her son to be truthful about his parentage and call himself Satyakam Jabala. Shiva and Parvati were touted to be ideal parents. They were quite indulgent to their children and let them make mistakes and figure their way out. The sulking Murugan ran away from home. He was also something of a flirt and married a woman of his choice.

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  11. Thought long and hard…. Krishna’s foster parents, yashodha and nandkumar. Not only did they dote on Krishna, tried to discipline him, yet gave him unconditional support when he was a hormonal teenager and painted the town red😄
    They also let him travel battle kamsa, because he wanted to…

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    • Yes they let him go and apart from immense sorrow we see no emotional/cultural/social blackmail. I love the fact that they realised he has responsibilities OTHER than towards them. I would have loved to read more about Radha’s parents.

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  12. I agree that most Parents from Indian Mythology aren’t great. However, I don’t think it is 100% sanctioned either – just that following many retellings, our ancestors chose to focus on things that are most convenient to them.

    For example, Lakshman says to Rama that a father who has lost his mind (both literally and figuratively) does not, according to Sastra, deserve the kind of respect Rama was according to Dasaratha and that they were well within their limits to take the throne by rebellion. I have read this in Valmiki’s Ramayana but, not in many other versions.

    I would think Yashoda and Nandaraj were really nice parents. Trying to discipline their unruly child, yet enjoying his antics, etc. Its a pity that they didn’t get to parent Krishna until his adulthood, which might have given us a glimpse into how ideal (or good) they would have been during the travails of his growing up years.

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  13. Interesting question and discussion. It actually got me thinking!
    We have no ideal example to sight to our elders and “demand” that they behave well. Our culture is totally patriarchal and we have no defense whatsoever.
    Who do you think wrote these stories? People in their old age. Naturally, they will write to their advantage. They surely ensured they have a comfortable old age.
    The entire Indian “culture” propagates respecting the older generation (no matter how they behave) and disciplining the younger generation.
    Also that, Old people were regarded as wise, by the virtue of life “experience”, the quality of experience doesn’t matter, only quantity.
    I feel it is quite selfish to demand your children take care of you because you took care of them. Then, why claim the “status” of selfless and magnanimous parents? It is all very clear and transactional. I brought you up and sacrificed so that you could look after me in my old age. now the poor child did not ask to be born, then given so much of sacrifice and then demanded to be paid back!
    Honestly, this culture is suffocating.
    I read this somewhere and it is so true. Children come through you but they are not yours. Meaning, they come to being through you and they have their own life. Spare them. Give, because you have brought a child to life and if something comes back to you in the form of love, consider yourself blessed! That’s what I think.

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  14. Yashoda and Nandkumar have already neen suggested. I would add Raja Janak, Sita’s father. From what I heard in Ramayana in childhood, a childless King making a child, a Girl, he finds dug out of the ground his own was endearing. At an early age it made a positive impression in my mind regarding adoption. Plus I read Devdutt Patnaik’s ‘Sita’ recently. He has briefly compared Janak’s adoption of Sita, without fussing over her gender, and Dashrath’s elaborate efforts (Yagna) to get a male progeny/heir.
    I may have limited knowledge and merely this act of Janak may not make him ‘ideal’. But I find this as one good example in our ancient stories.
    Padhma has rightly commented that people only continued those parts which deified parents to serve their own purpose.

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