Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Dealing with Peer Pressure

Peers are those people who are your age and peer pressure is when they try to influence how you act, to get you to do something etc. While peer pressure can sometimes be postive, most often, it becomes a powerful negative influence in our lives. Enough with the Psychology 101, but moving on...

Especially within the Indian community, while growing up, parents inadvertently compare their kids to their classmates, friends or to the children of other kids, as a result of which, the child tends to imbibe the ways of others around them and lose touch with individuality and originality, in some way or the other.

A good example that started the need for this post, for instance, when I was in my 12th grade, engineering was a mass appeal course that almost every science elective student wanted to pursue. Those who didn't get into engineering colleges, were left with options of B.Sc which was not a happy choice for many. Likewise, the commerce stream had their share of majority students attending the CA foundation classes and doing their B.Com etc. on a part-time basis. Welcome to Peer Pressure world...

Next came, the job market, where, no matter what the undergraduate education has been in, working in IT became a matter of pride and fitting in. Yes, there were others who had made other career choices, but, at what cost.

A parallel stream for those who wished to pursue masters education in abroad followed.

After degrees and jobs, came marriage, the pressure that many of your friends are getting married or have gotten married to eligible suitors while you are still single.

Once that stage has passed and your counter parts have settled in their respective lives either in US or in India, have bought homes etc. it is time for the baby syndrome to sink in.

"XYZ, who is a year younger to you and works in a good position, got married in 2003 and had her first baby in 2006 and is now pregnant with her second one", and where are you in this equation of life. Society, the community, family etc. are more vested to hear that you too are at the right phase in your current life. They seem to view you with pitiful eyes or disdain about your present condition, not once pausing to think that first of all, it is not anybody's business if you haven't found a job yet, or are still single or don't have a baby. Secondly, if you like your life the way it is now and are comfortable with your present status quo, does that make you any less smarter or what? People think that just because you are not part of the band wagon, doing the things that your friends and classmates are doing in their current life, you are losing out on the best things of life- such as career, marriage and having kids.

I have white colleagues at work who get married for the first time at 40 years, I am sure that would be frowned upon by several Indians. Their rationale is that they hadn't met someone whom they liked enough to get married sooner, while that can be considered both a pro and a con, would an Indian woman who marries for the first time at 40 be put to rest by gossip mongers? Well, that is not a great example, since the two cultures breed different mind-sets.

Many of my college mates are already mothers for the first time and it is that time when the rest of the group is beginning to venture into the next stage. Three of my close friends, two from school are pregnant at the same time and a third from college is pregnant with her second one. So, yes, there is a time when your peers are stepping into the next stage of their lives. Let that not force or bog you down to make those decisions that you are not ready to make in your lives.

Enjoy that college life or the early years of working in your first job, hanging out with your colleagues and friends without overly stressing about that next career progression move that you need to make, or enjoy the freedom of blissful single days spending your life as you wish or taking your time to start a family.

My friend Priya sent this forward to me, which I wanted to share on an ending note.

Being a Mum

We are sitting at lunch one day when my daughter casually mentions that she and her husband are thinking of "starting a family."

"We're taking a survey," she says half-joking. "Do you think I should have a baby?"

"It will change your life," I say, carefully keeping my tone neutral.

"I know," she says, "no more sleeping in on weekends, no more "spontaneous vacations."

But that is not what I meant at all.

I look at my daughter, trying to decide what to tell her. I want her to know what she will never learn in childbirth classes.
I want to tell her that the physical wounds of child bearing will heal, but becoming a mother will leave her with an emotional wound so raw that she will forever be vulnerable. I consider warning her that she will never again read a newspaper without asking, "What if that had been MY child?" That every plane crash, every house fire will haunt her! That when she sees pictures of starving children, she will wonder if anything could be worse than watching your child die.

I look at her carefully manicured nails and stylish suit and think that no matter how sophisticated she is, becoming a mother will reduce her to the primitive level of a bear protecting her cub.

That an urgent call of "Mum!" will cause her to drop a soufflé or her best crystal without a moment's hesitation. I feel that I should warn her that no matter how many years she has invested in her career, she would be professionally derailed by motherhood. She might arrange for childcare, but one day she will be going into an important business meeting and she will think of her baby's sweet smell. She will have to use every ounce of discipline to keep from running home, just to make sure her baby is all right.

I want my daughter to know that every day decisions will no longer be routine. That a five year old boy's desire to go to the men's room rather than the women's at McDonald's will become a major dilemma. That right there, in the midst of clattering trays and screaming children, issues of independence and gender identity will be weighed against the prospect that a child molester may be lurking in that rest-room. However decisive she may be at the office, she will second-guess herself constantly as a mother.

Looking at my attractive daughter, I want to assure her that eventually she will shed the pounds of pregnancy, but she will never feel the same about herself. That her life, now so important, will be of less value to her once she has a child. That she would give herself up in a moment to save her offspring, but will also begin to hope for more years, not to accomplish her own dreams, but to watch her child accomplish theirs.

I want her to know that a Caesarean scar or shiny stretch marks will become badges of honor. My daughter's relationship with her husband will change, but not in the way she thinks. I wish she could understand how much more you can love a man who is careful to powder the baby or who never hesitates to play with his child.

I think she should know that she would fall in love with him again for reasons she would now find very unromantic. I wish my daughter could sense the bond she will feel with women throughout history who have tried to stop war, prejudice and drunk driving. I want to describe to my daughter the exhilaration of seeing your child learn to ride a bike. I want to capture for her the belly laugh of a baby who is touching the soft fur of a dog or cat for the first time. I want her to taste the joy that is so real it actually hurts.

My daughter's quizzical look makes me realize that tears have formed in my eyes. "You'll never regret it," I finally say. Then I reached across the table, squeezed my daughter's hand and offered a silent prayer for her, and for me, and for all the mere mortal women who stumble they're way into this most wonderful of callings.


Spillay said...

Hi Mitr. When I was a child growing up, I too had that same pressure to excel put on me. The funny thing is, I think I would have lived my daily life with more passion if I was inspired to work hard for myself (and not just to be as good, if not better than so and so's daughter or son!!) That is why, now that I am a mum, I make sure that the message that I send to my children is a different one. :)

This is a good post. It makes me realise that even though people may grow up in different parts of the world, there are still lots of similarities that is shared.

Janaki Barath said...

Hi Mitr,

I happened to get to your blog today after a long time and can relate to all the pressures so well :-)

I think it is a challenge to be out of the peer pressure as any decision taken to please someone may not please ourself. The challenge has always proved rewarding in the long run.


Suma Rajesh said...

hey mitr...thanks for dropping ur comments on my blog..the sketch on the egg is fabulous and very nice reading ur post...

Balaji said...

the post put it nicely that peer pressure is there at every age. its just that the things one is pressured about are different :)
Wonderful piece at the end, btw. expressed the joys of motherhood beautifully :)

na_an said...

Great post!! Of course you know I can completely relate to this post :-). Having a baby is a very personal choice that should not be forced upon in any circumstances. As you put it rightly it is not others' business to comment on this issue. However, in any society (especially Indian society), people think its their birthright. I had one relative who would ask me if I was pregnant when ever she would see me. It would irritate me to no end.

Cham said...

Beautiful post, not so easy to deal the peer pressure :)
The pressure goes in all stage! Education- work- job- marria- but having a kid is someone personal choice. Many people re keep asking me, well for the second one. Except my family member :) - i even told undirectly to many it is none of their business! Personaly i feel that is Indian mentality!

Jayashree said...

As usual, a very thought provoking post. Pressure is a part of all walks of life, whether from peers or from family/society in general. There is pressure in the west too - if not to marry, then to move out of your parents' home and to become independent. As long as we are part of a larger society, we will always be subject to scrutiny, no matter where we live.

Bharathy said...

I should admit in our (or my ) period there was lesser comparison of friends from my parents and I was subjected to lesser peer pressure.I am grateful to them for respecting my individuality!..
Wonderful write up which gives a lovely glimpse of Peer pressure at different stages of an individual :)

Jayashree said...

What's your e-mail id, mitr? Wanted to mail you a list of some of the must-try restaurants in chennai.

Krishnan said...

Hi Mitr, thought provoking post on peer pressure and motherhood. Peer pressure is something hard to resist but one can always march to the beat of one's own drummer. After all, some choices are so important to let others decide.

Uma said...

So truly said! Well written article. I have gone thru that phase too!

Laavanya said...

Your article rings very true.. at every stage in life.. there is something to compare against and ponder.
I love that article from the mother to a daughter - beautiful. Thanks for sharing with us Mitr.

mitr_bayarea said...

Spillay- Good for you that you are letting your children be their own kind, thanks for sharing your experience.

Janaki- Welcome back...it is quite true that the decision we make pays off in the long run.

Suma- Thanks to google images...

Balaji- agree, its there at every age..thanks.

Na_an- we are exactly on the same page....yes, folks in India think it is their birthright.

Cham- second one ku pressure-oh Gosh....

Jayashree- hmm...an interesting response..yes, the pressure growing up in US is to get independent and go on our own at 18, isn't that a good thing?

Bharathy- you were fortunate...

Krishnan- hope that our drum's beat is loud enough to be heard over the others.

Uma-thanks for identifying...

Laavanya- thanks, yes the article was so good.

Aparna said...

Peer pressure is there everywhere in every society. I personally was left to do my thing in every aspect; but each time I felt I may not have chosen the right thing as it was always not the mainstream thing. This has always been the story of my life! My parents never once compared me with anyone nor did they every pressurise me.Thank them for that! Hope I can be half the mother that my mother has been to me and also fulfill the role of father to the best of my capability :)
Nice post :)