There is so much sweetness in the world that can be enjoyed through good lifelong relationships, that I feel like sharing my thoughts on this very important topic. A relationship is like a seed or a sapling, which when nurtured will give beautiful flowers or very sweet juicy fruits. Who can deny the fact that one gets immense joy and pleasure from a fully bloomed plant? But every coin has two sides. Relationships can be a source of pain too if not looked after or neglected.
This article focuses on three aspects –
a) Why I think maintaining various kinds of relationships is important
b) Debunks some of the popular excuses given by people for not being able to maintain relationships as deeply as before and
c) Outlines how I think we can maintain relationships even in this fast-paced busy world. All this is sprinkled with my personal anecdotes and examples, which I hope to make for an interesting read.
1) Importance and benefits of maintaining good relationships
In our lifetimes we experience various kinds of relationships. I have picked a few key ones related to our immediate families (siblings, relatives, in-laws, and some acquired relationships) to discuss here which I feel are most important. I purposely have kept out friendship here as I dealt with it in great detail in my previous article on old age.
a) Relationship between siblings
Indeed, this is one of the sweetest relationships. When we are young, we play together, share clothes, toys, food items. Siblings grow up as the best of friends sharing each other joys, secrets, and fears and complementing each other’s strengths. Your sibling is indeed the closest person to you when all else breaks down. And hence it deserves to be nurtured at any cost. In India, the relationship between a brother and sister is further made special because of our customs and traditions (we all know the sentimental value behind Rakshabandhan and customs around it) But often after growing up a lot of things change between siblings. There are many reasons for this.
• Parents’ treatment is not the same for boys and girls, for example, they give boys more importance while we give girls domestic work. With this a common emotion, it may cause jealousy.
• We compare Children in looks, performance in studies. Parents especially mothers in the olden days were not educated so unintentionally many emotional and psychological feelings (like complexes) develop and creep into children.
• Wealth distribution can cause poor relations. In India, if one is following the HUF rules, ancestral wealth goes to the sons. In Muslim law, the girl child gets 25%. But this inheritance issue can cause friction among brothers and sisters and their extended families. Positive principles which make people take pride in self-created wealth and shun inherited wealth are required. Good education and value system can prevent the adverse effect of this on our relations and it is the duty of parents and grandparents to instill that.
b) Relations with extended family/relatives
We all know the benefits of extended families as we fondly call them “joint” families in India! But we also know that progress, urbanization, and globalization have rendered such community living very difficult, if not impossible. This means, that the bond and quality of the relationship between relatives become EVEN more important when they don’t live together.
Only if the bonds are really strong, they can defy distance and still make us feel as if we are together and there for each other. Hence in a world of nuclear families, stronger relationships with your relatives are even more important. Otherwise, there will be nobody to turn to when one is going through tough times – which we all do sometimes or the other. Remember, all the money in the world cannot help you to buy the love and caring of close relatives.
Who does not remember and miss the endless summers spent with our favorite cousins doing stupid things? In fact, even when there was a difference among elders, children enjoyed the love of older members of the family and it caused no tension between cousins. That is the power and beauty of having close relationships with your relatives(cousins, uncles, aunts).
Each one of us is or will soon become either a samdhi, samdhan, damaad or bahu. Like a marriage, these relationships are made in heaven and unlike relationships with siblings, you are not born with them. Hence these relationships do not come naturally, are difficult, and hence need more effort to nurture, maintain and grow. In the olden days hence there was an air of strict formality surrounding these, to avoid any mistakes and errors. We considered them very delicate.
The bahu was seen as the fulcrum of this and had the responsibility of keeping all of them in fine balance. Hence girls were given special training to be respectful to elders and tolerant to create harmonious long-term relationships. The fragility and delicateness of the relationships continue today but I am afraid we don’t train our daughters enough anymore to bear that enormous responsibility.
In fact, we should start training our sons too. And often extended family relationships break down. A strong ecosystem with your in-laws can create a very benign family environment, especially for the young children.
d) Acquired relationships
Equally, there are often relationships we form get elevated to near family level if not more. In the west, there is the concept of godparents. In India, we also have a custom of rakhi brother or sister. These relationships happen but can bring so much joy to our lives. I am going to refer to an even more rare one I came across to drive the point home. During my early marriage days in Bombay (1965-77) we had very many close friendships with my husband’s office colleagues who were all married couples of almost the same age group.
Many young couple colleagues. One couple had a one-year-old daughter whom they lost. The father could not bear the loss. After a few years, he met a girl while traveling. Her mannerisms resembled her daughters. He started believing that she was the rebirth of his own daughter. This unique and unusual father-daughter relationship developed and after some time it became so deep that he actually transferred his property to her.
The same gentleman made four colleague’s wives his sisters. Till today the relationship is maintained. In our country, this is not uncommon. And this relation is maintained. Should we not maintain this beautiful tradition and culture…?
There are few other important benefits of having close-knit ties with relatives – especially for our children – and I want to highlight them here.
i) Socializing helps personality development – Another important benefit is parents are busy at work and grandparents may not be very fit, so children do not get the chance to socialize as they are stuck at home. However, I strongly believe if close-knit relationships are maintained within relatives and the extended family, children who may be introverts or shy by nature, will learn great socializing skills by mixing around with their own family. This will teach them valuable communication skills and self-confidence. These, we know are so important in every field and profession. Being around close relatives and watching each other, they will also learn to respect and talk respectfully to elder members of the family. Company of cousins will prevent them from getting bored and resorting to habits of playing mobile games and waste their time in wrong or meaningless wasteful activities.
ii) Cultural values get transferred to younger generations: I remember having read a book by our late president Dr. Radhakrishnan. It is the duty of parents and grandparents and teachers to pass our traditions to our children. But often this does not happen even when parents and grandparents are highly educated and qualified. One of the reasons is the increasing nuclearization of families where grandparents are not around, and parents are busy at work. Sadly, many of our customs are fast disappearing. Illustratively, in the past, when children met elderly relatives, they touched their feet. Now even a simple namaskar is missing and replaced with a Hi! or Bye! Not to mention Hi! sounds like hai hai, which is a negative expression in India! If families are living together or are close-knit, I feel there is more opportunity for such important values to get passed on.
2) Excuses people make why they cannot maintain relationships.
- Busy with daily routine:
This is a very common excuse. That life has become quick and people do not have time for each other. Well, people have always been busy. My father-in-law was an anatomy professor in Osmania Medical College and led a very busy professional life. In the 60s, mostly he was working outside Hyderabad–in Kakatiya and Gulbarga and visited home only for short periods of time. He had nine children at various stages of their careers, marriages etc. but he still, in those few days, took out time and visited his relatives if any were unwell for example. He was also very regular in writing letters to family members. Once he commented that very busy people have time for everything. So true! That gave me a lot of inspiration and does to this day. Similarly, my mother- and mother-in-law both, regularly a few times a month would get together, hire an autorickshaw, and together visit old and sick relatives. Again, this was when they were both well into their 60s and having each their own health, financial, family problems, and obligations. Last, my example – after retirement my husband and I started a play school and tuition centre and were busy from 8 am to 8pm. And we were also in our 60s. However, we still took our time to visit our hometown whether to take part in someone’s happiness or sorrow. Basically, we gave relationships a top priority.
b. Both are working and children’s education requires a lot of attention
This is really interesting. Having been a teacher for about 50 years, I can say that if anything things were much more difficult back then. There were almost no aim questions in exams and everything required long answers students required hence more preparation. Most mothers were not even educated to really help children easily, so they struggled even more. Also, earlier, kitchens were not fully equipped to leave alone have any appliances. There was no gas, cookers, grinders, mixers, and kitchen work was much more cumbersome and time-consuming. In addition, there was no concept of ordering fast or slow food from outside. In fact, it was never done. Moreover, people lived in large joint families which brought with it more chores and responsibilities for everyone – grown-up children needed extra care. Daughters were beside being educated in the housework, for which also mothers had to devote time. Even so, daughters could not help in the kitchen for a few days every month as well. I wonder how they could still find time to devote to their relatives?
3) Towards a path to build healthier and long-lasting relationships
We all want to have good relationships and enjoy them. Why do we then fail to achieve this? Why do relationships break down often and once-close relatives stop even talking? One of the causes of distressed relationships is bitterness in our conversations and interactions. A wound caused by a sword can be cared and healed but a wound caused by the tongue does not heal.
Geographical distances create an emotional disturbance. Often we do not meet frequently sometimes when we meet after a long gap and that too in some stressed situations we talk carelessly. If such talk is not taken with a pinch of salt and carried too far, misunderstandings often occur. What we should do? I went through a situation with a close relative who was younger than me. But I did not hesitate to talk to him and tried to improve the relationship because I care for relationships.
It all boils down to our way of talking. Some people talk less but talking is a beautiful communicating skill that has endless advantages. Hence, we must talk and communicate more but carefully. We must be sensitive to how others may react to what you are saying or our tone. We are all human beings and it is human to err. In case, we do hurt someone unknowingly, we should rectify the situation by talking it over and try to resolve it rather than letting our ego come in the way. If you are older to the other person, it is difficult but not impossible, if we care for relationships….I often say in jest – Eat sweets and make your tongue sweet!
I have listed down some specific dos and don’t’s below to act as a quick guide
a) Talk less but talk sweetly
b) Respect elders especially very old seniors who are highly sensitive.
c) Remember important dates. Call them do not wait for them to call you back.
d) Be tolerant especially if they are older than you.
a) Do not follow the barter system in relationships – it’s not a game of give and takes.
b) Do not postpone reaching out to people you care about
c) Avoid having business or monetary deals with relatives and family. It spoils relationships inevitably.
d) Do not argue, advise or criticize unless asked to
© Ruchie Verma.
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