MOTHERS are protective; they are protective by nature. Mothers shield their offspring, try to keep them out of harm's way every time, all the time. Mothers want the best for their children for sure. However, some mothers are not only protective, they are 'overprotective' about their kids. While a mother's protectiveness is instinctive and critical to a child's survival, is a mother's 'overprotectiveness' desirable or healthy for a child? Are there sometimes high costs associated with a mother's overprotective nature?
When Elora Roushan, 36, a full-time professional and a mother of two, was in her adolescence, she switched to wearing salwar kameez upon her mother's wish. A salwar suit accompanied by a dupatta was the only outfit she was allowed to wear outside. While her friends always wore jeans, she almost never wore them on the streets of Dhaka. Today, she believes that her mother's overprotectiveness made her a shy person and affected the development of her natural personality.
"I wish my mother had tried to make me feel comfortable about my growing body after I hit puberty. Instead, she taught me that it was normal for boys to ogle girls. Therefore, a girl, who wants to stay safe, must cover herself and lower her gaze when she meets a boy or man," said Roushan.
Roushan believes that it is exactly this belief that psychologically cripples many young girls in our society. Instead of instilling courage and confidence, some mothers trap their daughters in bubbles from which they can seldom escape.
Roushan thinks that if she had received adequate support from her mother, she could have achieved bigger and better things in life. She strongly believes that by asking girls to subdue themselves and their emotions, wants and wishes, mothers often condone the very sexual harassment they want to keep their girls safe from.
"A girl who loves sports can never pursue a career in any sport, if she is expected to wear only salwar kameez. No girl can dream big or venture into the outside world, if they are told from their childhood that being 'happily married' is the most important thing in life," she said.
"Many of our mothers, who led lives built upon fear and demureness, wanted the same for their daughters. But fear only breeds fear. They did not try to break the shackles they were chained in. Instead, they bound their daughters with the same shackles," Roushan added.
Roushan also laments over the fact that her family did not allow her to study business in college.
"My mother, who is highly educated and was a working woman for nearly 30 years, was convinced that I was not bright enough to pursue an undergraduate degree in business," she said. It should be noted that Roushan earned an MBA from one of the best business schools in the country a few years ago. This time, she paid for her own degree.
"I want my own daughter to grow up to be a self-assured person. I want to teach her that for her, the sky is the limit! I will not repeat the mistakes my mother made," said Roushan.
While some mothers do make wrong choices for their children, there are others who can correctly foresee their children's future and warn them ahead of time.
Sadia Hossain, 35, a process engineer by profession, lives in America's Midwest. Hossain is a survivor of an abusive relationship that began when she was just 19. She married her long-term boyfriend against her mother's wish and survived everything from physical torture and mental torment to infidelity and a lack of commitment in a marital relationship.
"My mother was against my relationship with him from the very beginning. But I never listened. I was blindly in love," said Hossain. "She saw things that I did not."
After Hossain made up her mind to marry her then-boyfriend, her mother stopped talking with her out of frustration over her daughter's miscalculated major life decision.
"But I was adamant about respecting my love and my six-year relationship. I also thought I would not be happy with any other man," she said.
"But I should have thought with my head, not my heart. I should have also not tried to drag my dysfunctional marriage for nine long years," she added.
Now, in her mid-30s, Hossain is single and lonely. She, who loves children, said, "My biological clock is ticking away, and I don't know if I will ever have a child of my own."
When she comes home to an empty house in the evening, her heart longs for love and company.
"Nobody waits for me at home when I return from work. I wait for no one either. It's not easy being single in this big world," she said.
"I often think of my mother and how much she tried to persuade me to move away from the unstable relationship I had had with my ex. I so wish I had listened to her," Hossain said. "If I did, my life would perhaps be different today."
Our unpleasant experiences as children and adults teach us a lot about life and reality, but sometimes, those teachings are so overwhelming that we wish we had not experienced them at all. A lot of times, we also wish we had listened to our mothers, to whose warnings and advice we once paid no heed. We conveniently ignored the fact that these women experienced this world much longer than we did.
Like Hossain, Nabila Kamal, 31, recently went through a messy divorce. Kamal, a full-time professional, now lives alone in a rented apartment in Dhaka.
"I decided to live alone because I did not want to be a burden to anyone. Besides, my parents now live out of the country," she said.
After Kamal's short-lived marriage came to an end, she was drained, both mentally and physically. She was lonely, depressed and insomniac. It was during those days following her divorce that she realised deeply how important it is for a woman to be strong, dauntless and self-supporting.
"But I was not raised that way! My mother kept me in a shell during my growing years. She even used to accompany me to my university," Kamal said. "On very rare occasions, I went outside alone."
"I think I would have adjusted to my new life much better, if I were raised to be an independent woman, because you don't know where life will take you!" she said.
While she is unhappy about certain things that her super protective mother did to her, from guarding her all the time to not letting her study English literature, there were some occasions when her advice was justified and appropriate.
"My mother warned me against marrying the man I did. I married him against my family's wish," she said. "Today, when I look back and think of the terrible things I had experienced in my short-lived marriage, I feel that I should have listened to my mother."
“But I will always regret the fact that I never strongly challenged her ideas. Perhaps if I could convince her to let me explore the outside world, I could have handled my current situation better,” Kamal said. “It would have helped me at my work, too.”
While it is true that our mothers try to ward off evil to protect us, there are times when their protectiveness does turn to over or excessive protectiveness. But giving too much protection does more harm than good to a child. As Maria Montessori, famous Italian physician and educator, once said, "A child needs freedom within limits."
A child should be allowed to explore the world, and not be confined in a bubble, because overprotection is a hindrance to a child growing up to become an independent adult, someone who can think and act independently, take risks, accept challenges and handle stress.
Lamia Tarannum, 35, grew up in the '90s in a socially conservative family of Dhaka. Even though she attended English medium schools, where the friends she had wore western outfits, once she hit her teenage, she was forbidden from wearing skirts, jeans, T-shirts or even kurtis. She was not allowed to talk to her male classmates on the phone or attend their birthday parties. It was also made clear to her at a young age that she should get married as per her parents' wish.
"I was a confused child. I lived my growing years torn between two worlds," Tarannum said. "On one hand, my parents sent me to study at co-educational English medium schools. On the other hand, they expected me not to interact with boys and men."
She was also not allowed to go on business trips (locally or abroad) despite working in a reputable multinational organisation in Dhaka. Tarannum regrets missing out on valuable learning experiences.
Now in her mid-30s, Tarannum is single. Her parents' dream of finding the 'right man' for her did not materialise. "They have now allowed me to find my own man! But that is not only frustrating, but also unfair, as I now feel ill-equipped with the social skills required to develop a strong and committed relationship."
Tarannum says that she was an obedient child all her life and therefore never strongly protested against the unjust decisions her conservative father imposed upon her. And she thinks that her mother, a Dhaka University graduate and a former school teacher, also never tried hard enough to change her father’s rigid views.
"I never got from my mother the emotional support that I needed during the most difficult periods of my life, my teenage and my 20s," Tarannum said. "She was preoccupied with work and taking care of the household; and while she tried to make peace, at the end of the day, she always kind of agreed with my father’s decisions when it came to me.”
"As a woman I hoped she would understand my dreams, fears and mental turmoils better than my father, but she did not, not enough" she added. "Even at 35, I lack the independence, courage and confidence many girls gain at 20."
Tarannum, who lives with her parents, says, "Most of my friends are married and raising children while I still live with my mom and dad under the same roof, not to mention society’s constant judgement of an unmarried girl my age. It's not a great feeling."
A mother’s love for her child is fierce, loyal and protective. Although a mother’s protection is instinctive, there are times when a mother’s protection turns to overprotection. And it is only when a mother is super or over protective that her protective nature stands as a hindrance to a child’s normal development. We want our children, especially our girls, to be independent, confident and fearless enough to fight with dignity all the challenges life hurls at them.
Note: The names of individuals interviewed for this article have been changed to protect their privacy.
By Wara Karim