Here we speak to three women who are the ‘in between’ generation – living with their mothers and daughters – to find out how the roles of womanhood have evolved over the years.
Rajeswari Krishnan, 44, Business Operations Administrator
When my husband, Krishnan, and I moved to the UAE in 2007, my mother-in-law Rajam Iyer, now 75, also came to live with us. She prefers staying with us since Krishnan is her only child, and she loves spending time with her two grandchildren.
We share a deep bond and I even call her Amma (which means mother in our mother tongue). Since my husband works in Oman, I take care of my family almost single-handedly. It is a godsend that Amma is living with us as I could not have focused on my career without her support.
As far as personalities go, we are a stark contrast. My daughter and I are outgoing, while Amma is deep-rooted in her cultural values and won’t budge from that. But all the three generations of women living under one roof have developed a mutual understanding, and one of support.
Right from my school days I was actively involved in extracurricular activities, mainly in Girl Guides. I had to travel a lot, train in camps and was almost never at home. I was the State team leader and won the President Award for my five-year-long service. I was for sure nowhere near the image of a perfect woman society held at that time.
My mother-in-law had to drop out of school at the age of 13, as her family could not afford the fees and she had to take care of her ailing mother. For someone who grew up under such drastic circumstances, she is now a frequent traveller and can take care of herself quite competently.
My daughter Mayurika, 15, and I are similar in many ways: we’re cheerful, excel at public speaking... but she is more headstrong than me. Even at her young age, she is bold and pragmatic.
I grew up in a joint family, and learnt how to adjust to everything at a young age. My sister and I compromised on many things in life as a direct consequence of not being able to afford everything; priorities of other people in the extended family triumphed over the small desires we had, such as new clothes or fancy things. But I learnt how to be strong on my own.
Comparing this to my daughter’s life, I let her grow in a better and more exposing environment. Unlike me, she can afford to spend on her desires and has the rights and freedom to speak up and find her own goals and dreams. I make sure she does not have to compromise to anyone.
Mayurika was a speaker at TEDxYouth at DPS Dubai in 2017. She has participated in Model United Nations (MUN) youth conferences twice and won the Outstanding Delegate award at the OxfordMUN in Singapore recently. Additionally, her hobbies include playing the guitar and keyboard as well as drawing and reading.
I find myself constantly being the mediator between the other two generations; Amma is aghast by the idea of a young girl going out with friends late in the evening, or travelling alone to other countries. She is also a staunch believer in religious rituals, customs and traditions.
Mayurika sees little need to put so much effort into preserving culture and tradition. I do my best to bridge this gap and teach my daughter the important aspects of our culture and why her grandmother is so insistent on maintaining them.
I have a son, Vaibav, 14, as well. I show absolutely no discrimination based on my kids’ genders in the rights and freedom they deserve in life. They are free to be their own person, and pave their paths for the future.
Salwa Alhammadi, 38, Director of Quality and Excellence
My mother, Umm Jassim, 65, is a conservative Emirati who always thinks about “what will people say”. I am the other end of the spectrum; bold and outgoing.
I have always followed my heart and desires, much to my mother’s chagrin.
In 2004, when I was just 22, I rushed into a love marriage – against my mother’s advice. The marriage did not last long. When my daughter Shaima was only six months old, I got a divorce. Though my mother was there to help me raise my child, we were constantly at loggerheads with each other, mainly in our ideologies.
Initially, I tried to raise Shaima according to the same style my mother advised, but as she grew, I felt the gap between me and her was widening. So I changed my approach and decided to be her friend. I talked to her, listened to her little tales and rants, and got to know the finer details of her life and her relationships. I never underestimated her ideas or feelings and this helped in building trust between me and her. I have always given her the space and freedom to make her own choices. But it wasn’t easy. I was always under self-doubt and fear.
When I decided to send my daughter to a co-ed school, my mother was against it. When my daughter was around 14, my mother insisted she wear loose clothing and an abaya. I understood that her sentiments stemmed from her traditional values and the dictums of society but I was pretty adamant that my daughter be raised to be a freethinker, and make her own choices.
Today she is a strong, independent 16-year-old. We share a very warm and friendly relationship. Being a single parent, she has seen the struggles I have gone through and she appreciates me for it. But sometimes, I have to use my mother’s tactics of firmness, when she tries to get too cheeky.
I have always believed in following my dreams. I completed my MBA from the UK in 2013, and am now pursuing my PhD in Educational Leadership specialised in Higher Education Administration from the US. I am also a certified Leadership Coach, Speaker and Trainer; currently about to publish my first self-help book, The Dream …& Alternative Dreams.
In 2018, I founded the Youth Forum for children between 14 and 18 to promote sustainable values and engage them in community work.
My mother has always supported me in my educational aspirations and taken great pride in my qualifications. But the rugged ambition to create a niche for myself is something she never really understands.
My mother gives endlessly and is dedicated to caring for her children; just like many of the women of her generation. She puts her family before everything. So when I told her I was getting married again last year, she showed resistance. She felt my priorities should be the wellbeing of my daughter. But I felt I had brought up Shaima to be strong and independent and she fully supported my marriage.
I learnt the values of maintaining family bonds and showing respect to different cultures from my mother. In effect, I consider myself as a woman with high determination aiming to reach the pinnacles of success professionally and academically, while adhering to customs and traditions that do not contradict my basic values.
The values and beliefs entrenched in my mother cannot change – because her ideas are coming from deep-rooted societal dictums. From big things to small, everything in her life is defined by traditional values. For instance, she does not even like to be photographed.
After going through many stages of intellectual and emotional maturity, I realised there is little similarity between my mother’s, my daughter’s and my generation, except for the family bonding. And if we Emirati women want to move forward in life, we should not fall prey to man-made customs that give little importance to a woman’s feelings and aspirations.
Tasneem Anwar, 52, Homemaker
While I was growing up, my parents were in Saudi and since there were no Indian schools there back then, I was brought up in a joint family in India. This meant that I had no communication with my parents for months as there were no phones; letters took weeks to be delivered.
With my three kids I made sure that we would always live together as a family. But early on, I realised that I had to unlearn everything I grew up believing in order to make my kids strong and independent people. In my time, no matter how well you studied, the expectation from girls was to stay at home and raise a family. But I ensured that my daughters Nehla, 30, and Nazla, 25, were given equal opportunities to pursue education and the careers of their choice as my son Nazil, 22. Today Nehla is an IT specialist, Nazla is an assistant brand manager and Nazil is doing his final year MBBS.
My mother, Sulekha Veerankutty, 72, has been living with me in Dubai since the past five years. Her generation had a very authoritarian parenting style of ‘fear combined with respect’. When it was my turn, it was more of a trial–and-error kind of parenting. As the kids grew, we became more like friends and now talk to each other about everything under the sun.
I have two brothers and while growing up, we had very gender-specific roles. My brothers never had to do any chores at home. I was always reminded that I was a girl and had to learn all the house chores.
But when it came to my kids, I made them clean their respective rooms, make their beds and do the laundry. When it came to washing dishes, I relied more on my girls. However, they protested and made sure my son also did his fair share.
I find today’s generation more open and pragmatic. For instance, periods and pregnancy were taboo topics and I wouldn’t discuss it with my father; my kids talk to my husband about their period pains.
In 2015, we decided to get Nehla married. Though it was an arranged marriage, she and her husband Suhayil had a one-month courtship period before they finally decided to tie the knot.
This is quite a contrast to my mother’s times where she did not even see the face of her future husband until after she was married. She came to know he had 11 siblings only when she went to live in his house with him!
Nehla has a two-year-old daughter Zoey. Since both she and Suhayil are working they have split their chores among themselves and stick to a schedule. Suhayil does his fair share of diaper changing and bathing Zoey. My mother finds this a bit astounding as it was unheard of in her times for men to do household chores.
One of the most lovable traits of my mother is that she is a remarkable storyteller. Her anecdotes and the pride she has in her family values have helped my kids imbibe our culture and identity. I clearly lack that trait.
My mum tends to worry a lot about things, whereas I am more open to trying new things and experiencing different challenges. For example, when we go to adventure parks and I sit on a rollercoaster, my mother gets a panic attack.
Similarly, I want to go skydiving soon but I know I have to do it without telling her.
The biggest lesson I’ve learnt from her is how to put family above everything else. She comes from a generation that is selfless and hardworking. I hope that I have passed on these same values to my daughter and she creates the same environment for her family.