Why I end up parenting my parents

Added to the stress of parenting, is the particular problem of parenting from afar

By Malavika Varadan

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Published: Fri 21 Jan 2022, 12:03 AM

It’s a Tuesday evening. I look at my car clock. 8 pm. Being an Indian expat in Dubai means, that a part of your mind automatically adds 90 minutes to any hour, and multiplies any number by 20.

9:30 pm. Mom should be getting to bed about now. I call her. She does not answer. I call again. And again. And again.

By the time I finally get through, it’s been 25 very long minutes.

“Where have you been, Ma? Why didn’t you pick up????”, I yell into the phone as soon as I get through. It’s like she simply does not understand that the ‘mobile’ part of a mobile phone means that she can carry it where ever she goes, that it’s dark, that pavements in India are unpaved and dangerous, that she should not be out at this hour, that she should inform me if she changes plans. As I fret and fume, I realise this is exactly what the mother of a teenager sounds like.

I have started parenting my parents, from afar.

Don’t eat that much sugar.

Don’t click on that link, it could be dangerous.

Don’t ignore your health.

Don’t forget your phone.

Don’t walk in the dark.

Don’t go out unaccompanied.

When did this happen? When did I start setting rules that I expect them to follow? Added to the stress of parenting, is the particular problem of parenting from afar.

More than a few rings, a few missed calls — and we (the kids) start to panic. We go into a downward worry spiral of ‘what ifs’, and how many times have we told them.

They on the other hand act like defiant, rebellious teenagers, breaking rules (and not admitting to it when they do).

Now, my sister and I have parallel WhatsApp app chats discussing intricacies of my parents food, sleep, doctor schedules. We rely on our friends to go over and parent-sit. We worry when they don’t call. We guiltily load our trolleys with every possible present we could take home for them because what does our success even mean if we can’t make them feel more comfortable.

We are parenting our parents, and it’s hard work.

Excerpts from an Expat’s Diary.


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