By Payal Shah
Before I began my first serious relationship, I lay down three ground rules—the third of which was that if we were ever to get married, my parents would be welcome in our home the same way his would. If I was expected to live with my in-laws, so was he.
I didn’t realize this wasn’t a normal expectation until I saw the raised eyebrows of my friends.
I grew up in a household with two girls, neither of who were expected to act much differently from boys. We didn’t have a brother, and we were never witness to any unfairness amongst sibling gender.
But as soon as I left home, I was bombarded by stories of brothers and sisters being treated differently in households.
“My brother can go to university in America, but I have to stay closer to home.”
“My father bought a new apartment for my brother once he’s married. I have to live off my future husband.”
It irked me, this imbalance. I like things fair. I like things simple. Why, I would ask myself, don’t parents just split things equally between all their children, whether male or female?
Daughters have proven they take just as good, if not better care of their parents in old age. Monetary or otherwise, children feel an affinity towards their parents regardless of their gender.
So what’s the parents’ problem?
It angered me, and I judged wholeheartedly. But I realized I was only looking at the bigger picture. When I discovered the details, it broke my heart.
“How can I feel I’m a part of my family if my whole life I’ve been told one day you’ll be gone and we won’t have to support you anymore?”
I never understood this, maybe because no one had bared so much to me, probably for fear that it was too sad a truth to share.
But here she was, a South Asian girl in her twenties, living in a metropolitan city, carrying the weight of traditions past.
I would watch her sometimes, fret over how much money she spent on a textbook, worrying if she didn’t find someone to date soon, she’d be a burden on her parents for longer, and wiping away tears at the feeling of having no home.
All this alongside the fact that her parents are wealthy enough to support her, educate her at a reputable university, buy numerous properties, and travel around the world on a regular basis. The barriers here are not financial; they are cultural.
It tore me apart, to think here was a daughter with a childhood imprinted in her mind that came with a stipulation; one day you will leave. You will be part of another family. We will have no monetary obligations to you, and our lives will continue with your brother and his to-be wife, our new daughter.
I never felt even a smidgen of this growing up, maybe because I didn’t have a brother. I knew that if I never wanted to get married and stay with my parents forever, they would happily support me. I knew that if my marriage fell apart, they would take me back with open arms. I knew that they would rather equip me with the skills and confidence to support myself than have me rely on a stranger’s fortune.
Why then, are there still girls out there who are not given this security? For the realities of a hundred years ago, I can accept this unfairness. But for the world in which we live now, it reads to me a crime.
Why do we perpetuate this feeling of not belonging? Why, generation after generation, do we still hold on to the traditions that disable us rather than those that strengthen?
I want to tell her, the selfless daughter who has accepted her fate and simply awaits its unfolding—that there is nothing about her that makes her unworthy of sharing the fortune, monetary or emotional, of her parents. That she should belong, just like her brother, to a family unit that never thought of letting her go. That her marriage is not a one-way ticket to her future. That the weight of burden she has carried through her childhood will one day evaporate.
I don’t, though. Because I’m not certain it will. And for the second time, it breaks my heart.