Letters To My Daughters: On Adulting

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Dear kutties,

My Amma bought a diamond earring for me when I was in sixth grade. My first saree happened right after school. I learned to make dosais, shred coconut, grind chutneys sometime in middle school. I could be a functional adult by the time I left home. I’d like to think all of that preparation was so that I could be independent in every way. Instead, it was so I could be a good wife, a good daughter in law and eventually a good mother.

The word compromise was bandied about a lot growing up. Elders in the family once sat me down and explained why independent thinking women do not make good family women. They also explained how getting married young meant the woman-child was malleable. I’d like to think I rejected the notion but you see, these conversations are insidious. They prime girls like you and your sisters for a life predicated on other peoples needs. They teach you to put family first. That really means your needs come behind your parents, your in-laws, your husband’s and your children’s.

It sounds idyllic right? The notion that you are selfless in putting others first. The “others” who are intimately connected to you. What it means in everyday life is this. You rearrange your day, your week, your month, your life to navigate choices that are not yours. You are flexible, you understand, you forgive, you keep the peace. You compromise, for isn’t a happy home the ultimate goal? Even if that happy home does not include a happy you?

So, today here is my note to you.

Put your needs first unabashedly. To do that, ensure you can financially support yourself. That means, be smart about where and what you want to spend your time on. Find something that gives you joy. In an ideal world, that will also help pay your bills. In the real world, pick a job you can survive in that also pays. Then spend the time away from work on things that give you joy.

Fall in love. Wait to get married. An ideal partner is one who values similar things like being on time, keeping a clean home, being self-sufficient, wanting to raise a family (or not). Differences are great so long as they are superficial. Compatibility is very different from chemistry. You can have both though it is not a given. When in doubt, wait. It is easy to confound love for caretaking.

Raise a pet before you make babies. Responsibility is a huge cross to carry unless you are ready for it. Babies are awesome and amazing. They are also a lot of worry filled days and years. They mean making life-altering decisions and there is little space for regret and remorse. Like falling in love, take your time building a family. Some decisions are better for having taken the time.

Remember what I said at the very beginning about financial independence, hold on to it all your life. Remember to save a third of what you make. Keep your account separate. Your money is yours. Your identity while not entirely tied to the money in the bank is a great source of self-worth and self-respect.

If there is one thing I want you to take away from this. Look before you leap. Wait before major decisions. It is okay to put things off, cancel impulsive decisions and walk back on things if you feel otherwise. Your mental health matters. Your opinion matters. It is YOUR life. It is okay to put yourself first.

Love,

Amma

7 comments

  1. I loved this Laksh. Brought a tear to my eye. You described me and millions of other women. Is it time to put me first? Maybe, but why does it feel selfish?

    • That thing called conditioning no? We grew up watching our mothers and their mothers before them put everyone else including us first. We trust and believe that is the way “good” mothers and “good” women behave. We internalize, we imbibe, we perpetuate. When I tell my children to put themselves first, it feels strange at first, then with repetition it feels less so. Guilt is something we have to learn to let go. Putting ourselves first doesn’t mean we have to be selfish. It can also mean setting firm limits, learning to say no and prioritizing how we spend our time, with whom and on what.

  2. This is amazing! I wish I had known this in my youth. I wish I remembered to do these things in my twenties. I need to continue to remind myself even now in my thirties.

    • I am telling myself this in my 40s only now realizing how much difference this would have made in my 20s and 30s. Never too late for some self care.

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