Monday, May 19, 2008

Hobson’s Choice

One of the biggest burdens of adulthood is choice.

Some say that it is a liberty, the reward of growing up. Perhaps it is. It would be if the choices were between good and better or between nice and nicer. More often than not it’s a Hobson’s choice. Where each involves a sacrifice, compromise and the promise of pain or guilt.

The most thorny of these, the most difficult to negotiate through are the choices where the past and the future collide.

I have a friend in the US. A troubled friend –in the unenviable position of having to decide whether to stay in the US and live with the guilt of being physically absent from an ailing, ageing father ( and a in-need-of-moral-support-mother) OR coming back to India and severely limiting his future career prospects and growth (not too many options for his particular specialization in India). His parents of course, are urging him to continue the current way. But for him, and for any reasonably sensitive person like him, every trip to India is a harsh confrontation of additional wrinkles, a slower gait and greyer hairs in the parents. A constant reminder that they are slowly entering into the twilight years of their lives and that there is not much he can/or is doing to retard this unwelcome progression.

What is the right way to reach in such a case? In both the cases, the consequences are painful. But it’s a decision which needs to be made. Future prospects or present responsibilities? Support for parents or curtailing career? “Get the parents to come and stay with you in the US” – could be the convenient answer. But is it really fair to uproot them from their homes, familiar environment, support system, friends to instil them in an alien place, dependent on the child for everything?

This predicament – call it Hobson’s choice or Cornelian dilemma can take many forms.

Take the case of a surviving parent who has sentimentally stored every memento of a forty year old marriage moving into the house of a child – what takes precedence, the memories that the parent HAD created with his or her spouse or the memories that a child WILL create with his/her spouse and the growing family? Does the child act as a repository of his parents keepsakes or does he build his future homes on the foundations of his dreams? When does sentiment cease to be sentiment and become baggage or even worse, a millstone around the child’s neck?

Take a situation where there is a newborn child in the household. The new grandparent has some strongly held beliefs on child-rearing which have been contravened by medical practioners. It becomes a potential minefield on deciding which diametrically opposing path to traverse.

How does one reconcile these two polarities of each situation and yet, not be consumed by guilt or regret of a choice poorly made.
The common sense answer would be the future - that is the decision which you will live with for a greater part of your life. But then, how can you ignore the fact that you are the reflection and the culmination of decisions the people in the past had taken about their future.

There IS no right way.


IdeaSmith said...

You hit the nail on the head. Good post.

Rada said...


Sometimes there are no easy solutions, isn't it?

Sometimes you have to make decisions not based on past or future, but based on which choice will make you more happy or at least, less unhappy!

As for conflicts between different generations, I guess it is a question of giving each other space. I have seen three generations living under one roof in perfect harmony and the secret has always been, a sense of tolerance and respect for each other.


lekhni said...

Yes, it's a tough choice. It's hard to get parents over even for long visits, since they get bored after some here permanently (even if they are eligible - have green cards etc.) is unthinkable for many parents..

But then for many, the choice also becomes one between children and parents. If the children have allergies/ schooling issues/ extracurriculars that they have to give up, that may be an issue.

Downsizing one's career is also something that is not just about oneself but also about your kids..

Cynic in Wonderland said...

ideasmithy - i have seen so many people i know grappling with situations like this. i guess, there is an age or a lifestage where one needs to go through it

rada - wonder whether one know what will make one happy or unhappy. both points of view are usually valid. therein lies the problem. And its not so much about living in harmony - one can do that, stay amicably, but somewhere i suspect, one or the other party needs to give up something, if not both.

lekhini, when it is a decision of kids versus parents, i would think its easier - its more altruistic in that sense. most people i would assume, would lean towards a decision which is led by the child. but when it is self versus the parent - thats when one gets torn.

Nandini Vishwanath said...

Cyn, good post. I agree with Lekhni when she said that bringing parents here for even a short while is very depressing for them. My 'new' friends are like that. Sigh. It is indeed a dilemma.

Epiphany said...

I think moving the parents would be the worst thing that can be done...Instead of a choice between right and wrong isn't it a choice between a decision that screws up your plans or somebody else's? I'd rather take a chance with changing my own life so that you have control on what happens later....

vEENs said...

there is no right way.

Decisions.. they are the most difficult ones...they are very complex.

AmitL said...

Cyn,being in a somewhat similar situation myself,I've thought about this a lot.
1. It all boils down to your own sensitivities.
2. It boils down to what your aim/target is.If you're looking to making a good savings,you'll go with a fixed saving in mind,get that,and return to a simple job in India.In this case,the elders are also happy,knowing that the son/daughter is going to return.
3. If you want to settle abroad only,and,want the kid(s)to have only a 'foreign education',then,the elders cannot be given that priority-I've seen far too many parents who went abroad to their kids,and,returned,disappointed,not seeing the kind of homely environment which exists in India.
4.For kids,if they grow up only in a foreign country,their first 5-8 years,settling down in India would be next to impossible.
5.Then,again,if your priority is only your elders,then,there's not much choice,na??
All said and done,it's one of life's tough decisions.Me,personally,I'm defi returning to our home country next year.Cheers!!

P said...

This is one question that has been on my mind a lot lately. Right now no one is depending on me, but in a few years I will have to make the choice. Hope I get a good job offer close to home!
I won't worry about my future kid's education in India. School level education system in India seems much better to me than US system (Middle school kids don't know how to multiply two 2-digit numbers without a calculator here! For real). Only thing I won't want is to move them from one country to another in their formative years.

Vijay said...

Its an easier decision now than it was before... career wise.

I came back in '95 to be close to the family. It does make it easier when kids are younger.

Cynic in Wonderland said...

nandini - of course it will be, shifting them there strips them away of their independence.

epiphany - there is no right or wrong. the point is by screwing up your plans or smeone elses, you are still screwing up your head. then what does one do?

veens - true

amit - thats the issue no. which one is your bigger priority. can one actually chose between parents and kids? or parents and self?

p - i guess a lot of people abroad go through this dilemma

vijay - yes you are right. its much easier now in terms of opportunities and the world is a smaller place and all that. but relocating from a newer country is still difficult i would think

Arunima said...

I jus have to say what you said in the last line. There is no right way.

Sandy said...

read recently somewhere that we almost always look at decisions we have taken in the past and condescend the person (us, when we made that choice) for having been so foolish or naive... i do not agree with that entirely.

but in this case, i think, you'll almost always regret the decision you make.