Breaking the chains of obligation at 50-something
For the sake of social niceties, I have a forced smile stuck on my face. But my life is predictable and claustrophobic. I feel trapped by responsibilities towards my ageing parents and in-laws, my family, and my daily routine.
I don't want to be accountable for the bad fish curry, the pending electric bill, or the understocked pantry anymore. I don't want the onus of why my mother's cataract has not been taken care of or why my father-in-law is not going to his physio sessions. I just want to be left alone.
But I cannot and will not escape my obligations as a daughter, wife, mother, sister, friend, office executive, and employer to my household help. Yet, the burden of responsibilities overwhelms me.
These are the thoughts of us women, irrespective of age. However, after 50, attending to such family duties without stop or pause becomes rather a bore. We are always working; keeping our home is a 24/7 job, and answering the fishmonger's call while doing office assignments is second nature. Taking children/grandchildren to the doctor, topping up the electric card, and calling a handyman to fix the tap are our everyday odd jobs.
Our role in family life is taken for granted. But, God forbid, if we ever slack, there is always the dining room—the family court for interventions.
On a more philosophical note, we women intentionally want to play the slain martyr's role. We want to be the perfect daughter, the disciplining mother, the obliging wife, the efficient employee.
The word "martyrdom" reminds me of my own struggle, many years ago, with how I balanced my work and home to get my act together as a young, married, and working mother.
When I got married, my mother's wise words to me were: "You can continue your job, if it's important to you, but not at the expense of your new family. I never want to see a messy home and an unruly grandchild. You have to be a Perfect 10. I need to see that I raised you right."
Oh, the moral weight of those words. If only she knew how she had ruined my early years and how I am still suffocating in my 50s.
No one asked me to sacrifice my mental well-being and emotional needs for the family. I did it as a daughter, wife, and mother, of my own accord. I did it from my sense of responsibility, ingrained in me as a girl child. I was tutored to be obedient, giving, and surrendering. It is the case for us all; we do it subconsciously as if we were raised with this obliging trait.
At 50, the fact that no one is appreciating or taking into cognisance our "martyrdom" has become too much to handle. The pressure of it all is of a different magnitude altogether. Dealing with menopause, ageing, and still keeping house for others becomes bothersome. Yet, we women do not attempt to address any concerns.
Strangely, when you become old, your family's perspective of you and your continuance changes because, at that age, you are somehow deemed not smart enough, bold enough, and inspiring enough. You cannot be a role model for your family anymore, not even for your spouse.
At this point, you look back on your life to audit what you have achieved so far and after all the addition, subtraction, hard multiplication, and long divisions, the mathematics of your life boils down to half regrets, failed attempts, missed opportunities, a label of an ignorant parent, and indifferent spouse.
The sickness of the old mind is a cruel thing, it gnaws at all your relationships and the life you thought you had, slips away from you. You are on no one's priority list, its time you find a new world, where you are neither a queen nor princess, not even a doormat but just a dewy-eyed, carefree woman.
I kept asking around and women particularly suffer from this forlorn feeling in their advanced age. Sadness and loneliness in an old person are disappointing in a way that you have all your loved ones near you, yet, you know that you have lived your course and cannot be a burden to them. What you gave to your family is theirs to keep; do not expect a reward for it. Not even a hug.
I was talking to a representative of Moner Bondhu, a mental well-being platform, and they too agreed that we cannot justify our life choices. Whatever we did for our family was because we wanted to see them be happy and prosperous. They are not obligated to reciprocate those actions of goodwill.
However, it is important to share these feelings with someone you trust—be it a friend, family member, or therapist. Confronting these feelings is part of a process and seeking professional help is okay. One only needs to step out of their comfort zone and explore a new world; prioritise and love oneself the most, no matter what others say.
I think it is okay to be selfish when you're 50-something. So, to all the bored, unappreciated women out there: pack a bag and go on a girls' trip or play a game of Housie, because no one can be more empathetic towards you than your ya-ya sisters.
Raffat Binte Rashid is features editor at The Daily Star.
Views expressed in this article are the author's own.
Follow The Daily Star Opinion on Facebook for the latest opinions, commentaries and analyses by experts and professionals. To contribute your article or letter to The Daily Star Opinion, see our guidelines for submission.