Written by: Life & Prose
I’ve grown up hearing about what a forced marriage is. What it can do to a husband & wife and the lasting physical and mental health issues it can cause for the spouses. What I want to ask is, have you ever heard about kids that grow up as a product of a forced marriage? Because I’m one of them.
Don’t get me wrong, I have some really happy memories with my family but when I see how distraught and depressed my mum is, all I can think are of the bad ones. When my parents argued, they probably thought we wouldn’t remember anything. I considered them to have had the longest long-distance relationship, whilst living between four walls. Even till today, I can count on my fingers the number of times they have spoken directly to each other. If my parents want to say something to each other, they say it to one of us (the children), whilst the other parent is in the room: “Tell your father the dinners ready” or “what time does your dad come home tomorrow?”
As bizarre as it might sound, there has only been one single time that I have heard my dad speak to my mum. I remember distinctly how it happened and that it felt so surreal. I had to do a double-take because I couldn’t comprehend what had just happened. That was the first and only time her birth name was spoken in this house. She normally only hears herself being referred to as “Ammi” (mum). The whole ordeal made me feel uncomfortable, uneasy. Maybe because I wasn’t used to it? How embarrassing is that? Let’s not even try and unpack how I used to think that parents not sharing a room was normal. Ha.
Vivid memories include my mum trying to set herself on fire and my dad fighting to take the matches out of her hand. I remember my mum bashing her head in with the blue telephone. I remember my mum’s in-laws coming to our home and degrading and insulting my mum. I remember all the birthday’s and Eid’s when none of my extended family even came to see us. I remember my grandad seeing us in secret in case his wife found out he’d been at ours. But what I remember the most, other than the secrecy and the hate, is my mother’s patience. Regardless of how bad she was treated, she never answered back and she still prayed for everyone. She stayed silent for the best part of her life and I know she never left because she had three kids.
I always wondered how my mum’s life had been if she stayed in Pakistan. She had been a teacher there, she could’ve been the head of a school by now.
A bit of a backstory to all this. A lot of people who get married and come to England, do so because they feel their life will change for the better. That they will have all the luxuries they never had in Pakistan. Both of my parents never had much growing up, going to school was expensive but they scraped through and some days they would only have a few meals a day. Although my dad has built a good life, in terms of being financially stable and keeping a roof over our heads, what I don’t understand is why he never wanted my mum to progress when she got here. He didn’t help her learn better English, I used to help her with homework that she got from the part-time classes she took. He didn’t even help her get a drivers licence. She’s been in the country almost 30 years and still does not hold a British passport, even though when my dad does and he emigrated one or two years before my mum.
Over the last 8 years, when I have come home from school or work I hope I will catch her feeling happy. But she is always just sitting there, staring at the T.V, not really taking in what is on. I always asked her, how was your day?
“ Jehse pehle ta, kuch badalna toh nai”(Same as before, nothing is going to change.)
Throughout the evening, however, she does lighten up a bit the more we talk (but not about family).
I have cried so many times, almost every week, thinking about the state of my family. When I am at work or school, I think about how my mum must be coping all alone. I’ve tried to find so many ways to bring us together.
And then something did bring us altogether-death & illness.
My mother lost her three siblings and niece in the space of a few months whilst recently being diagnosed with stage four chronic kidney disease. Her kidneys only work at around 7% and she is on dialysis. I am not saying by any means that my dad is the sole reason this happened but he certainly didn’t help. I believe her silent suffering, struggles & stress and lack of love caused this. I never ever thought I’d have to take care of my mum at such a young age. I’ve turned down multiple dream jobs so I can stay with her and I don’t go out with my friends. Even when I want a shower, I schedule it when I know my mums sleeping so she’s not alone. Even when we have arguments and I know I’m right, I’ve almost chewed off my tongue to stop myself saying what I need to say- that’s because I think about how much she’s gone through and I don’t want to add to that.
My siblings and I are all below the age of 27, we care for my mum together. My brother will look after her during the day whilst I work and then we swap when I’m back. Isn’t this the prime of our lives? Should we be hesitating when we want to do things that we want to do? As you can tell, I think about why things are the way they are, a lot. My mother is very religious and believes this is a test from Allah, which I believe too. I guess life is about finding ways to make it out alive and although she’s been so patient through it all, I just don’t know how.
Growing up was tough, not financially or having a roof over our head but in every other aspect. My dad’s poor decisions and my mum’s constant negativity has resulted in endless counselling sessions at work, not being able to stay positive or even love myself, not being able to do things I want to do such as travel or journalism and being stressed most of the time. As much as I’m ashamed to say, I’ve truly resented them both at times especially when I see other people my age who are seemingly care-free. Why do they get to make decisions and not feel as though they will affect their whole family? I’m scared to leave or chase my dreams because I know everything will fall apart at home. I think I’ve taken on my mother’s role of desperately trying to pull everyone together because she’s too ill and broken to do that anymore.
I know when I have a child that I will never ever ever put her in the position I’m in. and I would never let her see or hear the things I did. I never ever want her to feel as though it’s her responsibility to hold the family together. But this is the reality for me and I don’t plan on giving up anytime soon. It probably does mean, less time for me but I have learnt to be content with that. My mum needs me right now- any differences or resentment I held have disappeared. The scars will always be there. As bad as it sounds, I’ve learnt how not bring up my kids and what kind of person not to marry. I never would want to pass on the negativity and the lack of self-love to my daughter like my mum has. I never want me and my partner to argue in front of our children as my dad did. I’m going to tell my children that I love them every day and I’m going to hug them. Be by their side when they are upset and my feelings and sadness will always be secondary to theirs.
I’ve learnt that I cannot change my parents, but I can help them see the good in life. Which can be tiring sometimes. I remind them of the blessings we have and I joke around them as much as I can. I don’t think I can sleep until I know my mum isn’t sleeping with a heavy heart. This life is passing and I believe we should use it to do good in this world and others. Right now I’m just thinking to marry the guy she wants me to just so I can give her that. But do I want to continue this vicious cycle- or is it time to break it? Even if it means breaking my mum’s heart.
Although things are different now, since my mother fell ill my dad has really stepped up. I still think he struggles to show affection towards my mum but I know he cares and my mum knows he cares. He prays for her, he’ll tell us what food to make for her and has stopped buying the food she can’t eat. He gets annoyed when she sleeps all day, so now he tries to get her to go out, even if it is to the supermarket. He gives to charity in her name and rushes to the hospital when she’s taken in an emergency. I’ve even seen him tried to hide his tears. That’s enough, for now. As much as I appreciate how much he’s grown, as a better husband. I can’t help but wonder maybe it’s too little too late.