Imagine yourself walking across a bridge over a wide river. Suddenly you look down and see two rowboats, and a family using each one. In the first the man is rowing strongly while the wife has a steady hand on the rudder; their children as seated in the bottom of the boat and all are singing, "Ganesha Saranam, Saranam Ganesha." The baby is nestled in the mother's lap, held by her free arm.
In the other boat, the man and wife each have one hand on the rudder and one hand on a oar; the baby is crying in the bottom of the boat, and the man and wife are at odds with each other. Two children are swimming a away, and one is perched on the bow, poised for a dive, saying, "This boat's getting nowhere! I'm leaving!" A fourth child is in the water and cries, "Help! I'm drowning!"
The man in this second boat speaks out, his voice resounding out across the water: "We are a modern, emancipated family. My wife and I both hold jobs, and we share equally in the housework and child care. Of course, we hire someone else for most of the child care to free my wife from such bothersome duties. She likes the social and intellectual stimulation that her job provides, though of course she's tired and a bit sharp with the children (and with me!) when she comes home at night. But she is free to lead her own life as she sees fit, wandering about in the world and coming in contact with all sorts of people. I wouldn't dream of confining her to the tedious drudgery of a traditional home life. I wouldn't want our acquaintances to think I'm a male chauvanist. Besides, she wouldn't stand for it! (But I remember my Amma - she was always at home for us, and her presence made the home an oasis of love, comfort and serenity. She worshipped our father and honored his every wish, so of course we always did too.)"
"I wish our older children would stay at home and study instead of spending so much time with that disreputable crowd. I'm almost certain that some of the crowd use drugs; our children are evasive on that topic. And I know that free sex is the rule and not the exception these days. When I tell them that they must study hard to qualify for a good job, they say, 'Why bother? Our friends are on Welfare and don't have to work at all.' Our children just don't seem to have the strong, secure sense of family and responsibility that I remember from my childhood."
Now it is the turn of the man in the second boat to speak. Though he is addressing the man in the other boat, you feel he is talking directly to you. "I suppose you'd call us an old-fashioned family, and say that we're 'behind the times.' I support the family, and my wife stays at home with the children. She keeps the oil lamps burning in our shrine room so that our guardian devas always know that we want and appreciate their help and protection. She teaches the children all the beautiful old stories about the Gods, and they automatically learn the sacred Thevaram hymns because they hear her singing every day. The children always know that she has time for their every need, and the older ones say that no other place save the temple is as pleasant as home. I know I feel the same, especially when I come home from a busy day at the office to find my wife and children awaiting my return. And when I go back to work in the morning, I go with the feeling that I really have something worthwhile to work for; I approach my job filled with energy and determination, and as a result my income has become more than ample for our needs and obligations. Maybe the reason this living pattern became a tradition is that it works so well."
Suddenly you are aware of yourself on the bridge once again. Pondering the revelations of the two Hindu fathers and the scene you have just witnessed, you continue across the wide river, and the families continue with their lives. But allow me to add to their poignant thoughts a few more of my own. Nobody can give children the same love and comfort as their mother. That secure psychic bond between mother and child is the source of the child's security and the key that unlocks his inner strength. This bond is badly damaged if the child's care is left to a paid worker, creating an emptiness, a frustration and an unloved feeling in the child's life - no matter how hard the worker may try to fill the vacancy. When my oldest child was small, I held an outside job for a few months. More recently, when there was financial need, I did child care for others in their homes for many years. In our family we are still in transition. Although my husband is now our sole support, our family relationships were twisted from their natural shape when I worked, and the healing process is slow. But it's worth every bit of time and effort.
If the superlative qualities suitable
to a family-life are lacking in a wife,
That life, however splendid,
is no life.
Holy Kural, Verse 52.
Neither virtuous deeds nor vast wealth
nor various accomplishments
Will be found with men who
carry out their wife's commands.
Holy Kural verse 909
A worthy wife
is the blessing of a home,
And good children
are its precious ornament.
Holy Kural verse 60
The author of this MY TURN, Chamundi Sabanathan, is 35 years old and the mother of four children, ranging from age 6 to 15. She and her husband, both adoptive Saivites, are Confirmed members of Saiva Siddhanta church, as are their two oldest children, and live in Cloverdale, California. Chamundi is also the talented artist who created the Yogaswami bija mantram portrait on page 13.
Readers: We invite you to submit manuscripts for MY TURN on topics relevant to Hinduism - to take this opportunity to share with others your views on what concerns you. Length of copy: 1,300-1,500 words. Please include a brief biographical sketch and photo of yourself.
Article copyright Himalayan Academy.