Stop Parenting Your Partner

partner
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I am often asked, “Does your husband practice yoga every day? Do you ask him to live Ayurvedically? Do you teach him how to practice asanas? Does he also go to bed at 9 pm?”

I always smile at the outburst of curiosity, which are based on ego and i-am-ness. When we tell people (unless they are our clients who want to know or underage kids) to emulate our lifestyle or live a certain way that you prescribe, basically we are sharing a message that their choices are wrong. We are showing them a lack of respect and acceptance.

In the world of creative writing, there is a popular concept: “Show, don’t tell.” And the most popular example of that comes from a quote often attributed to Anton Chekhov: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” Basically, when we show people, rather than tell them, transformation happens. Sure, my husband sees how much of a difference yoga and Ayurveda have made to my life. How being active and working out helped me recover from a life-threatening illness and kept my mental health intact. How making mindful choices around food has healed my body. So, he chooses to live a mindful life within the parameters of what works for him and his football-watching schedule. Hah!

In many Indian families (at least my generation, which is the younger Gen Xers), a girl was expected to relinquish everything she learned in her parents’ home and adapt to her in-law’s way of living. It might be more common in North Indian homes, but I hear some level of this expectation exists across different parts of India. I remember all the aunties whispering about how letting go of what you were raised with was the key to happiness and acceptance as a married woman. There were always the subtle messages and suggestions around “taking care of your partner and what they needed.” In my mind, it sounded tyrannical and controlling. How do you tell an adult to live their best life based on your terms and conditions?

I saw all my aunts, mother-in-law, and friend’s moms pick out clothes for their husbands and lay them on the bed when they were in the shower. It blew my mind. How can you tell an adult how they should dress up? I saw women ration how many sweets their husbands ate or how many drinks they had at parties. I often heard women criticize their partners – how they ate, how they snored, how they were balding, how their pot bellies were out. All while their love handles poured over their saris and they ate three ladoos during the chai and gossip session. My mother would sometimes order food for my dad in restaurants. He didn’t ask for her help, but she felt she “knew” him better. I felt very confused by this dynamic of hypocrisy, ownership, and parenting in marriages.

I remember this one time when I was in college and visiting my parents, my mom and a few other women from the extended family were all chatting. I walked into this conversation about how a girl belongs to another family etc. etc. I quipped, “Does this mean the values you taught me are bad? That’s the only reason I see why I need to erase everything I have known, embrace a new family’s way of living, and treat it as the Holy Grail.” They didn’t have a response for me. That wasn’t the first time.

I have always loved learning. My three master’s degrees and ongoing PhD program are a testimony to that. But I don’t appreciate the idea of anyone being forced to do things that aren’t part of their value system. Whether it’s enrolling in a master’s program or learning how to make aloo gobi, give people the space to make their choices in alignment with their value system.

My mom was my favorite cook and a ridiculously gifted one, too. She had a pasta-maker at home in the 80s. She baked the most amazing pineapple cake and chocolate ganache and warmed us up with carrot halwa and ladoos every winter. But I love my mother-in-law’s kheer more than my mom’s. So, I make kheer my MIL’s way. There is no ego about the source of the recipe. Adapt and adopt what works best for you and your family.

When we were newlyweds, and my mom-in-law was trying to figure out her place in our lives and tried to get “territorial,” it was an epic fail. I might have been young and impatient, but I had no interest in being my husband’s mother. Slowly, I learned the art of communication and understood her psychology along with my mom’s and other women from their generation. Indian women have generations of emotional baggage and archaic conditioning to heal from.

I started to reiterate to my mom-in-law that she is a fabulous cook, and it makes sense if her kids (including my husband) enjoy her food. They grew up eating it, and it’s delicious. I love my mom’s food too. When we visit India and people ask what my husband would like to eat, I always say, “Ask him. I don’t represent him.” I refuse to curate what my partner should eat while visiting someone else’s house.

Over the years, my mother-in-law realized that neither am I here to parent her son nor disregard something valuable just because I learned it from her or his family. I am a sponge and will gratefully pick up tips and tricks from a stranger or a 3-year-old niece if it resonates with me. But you can’t nag me or “tell me” what choices to make because that space and respect are integral to who I am. Now, my mom-in-law asks me for recipes and Ayurvedic diet & lifestyle advice. She often says that she wants to celebrate Holi and Diwali at our place because she likes how we do it.

In our home, her son isn’t told, “This is my home, and we do things my way.” Or “My mom did things a certain way and that’s our tradition.” Sure, we argue, debate, but all with kindness. I respect my husband’s sense of spatial understanding just as much as he appreciates my aesthetics. Instead of competing or parenting one another, we complement each other. We make joint decisions. The lesser the ego, the fewer the complications. I have made it a habit to put myself in my husband’s shoes. Would I want someone dictating how I eat, move, dress, breathe, talk etc. etc.? How can I be a hypocrite and ask my husband to do as I do when I am vehemently opposed to being told? When the tables are turned, and he tries to smother me, I call him out on it.

Showing concern and caring for your partner is normal and expected in a healthy relationship. I will remind my husband about working out. But I won’t dictate his lifestyle choices. I have seen friends where in their relationship, the partner has come to resent them for taking on a controlling role in their relationship. You can see how this might cause serious damage to your marriage or relationship.

We are all humans and might unknowingly “parent” our partner every now and then. I do it too and so does my husband. It’s also not easy to eliminate the hard-wired thinking you grew up with…from your cells. That’s why you should check in with yourself on a regular basis and ask if you are parenting your partner. This Valentine’s Day, learn to love yourself and who you are instead expecting your partner to morph into a version you approve of because you are projecting or compensating. So much of the controlling behavior comes from a dearth of self-love.

“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”

For more of “The Balanced Life” on SEEMA.com, check out Restorative Cooking and Ayurveda