Our identity – what are we defined by

Today I read an article published in the New York Times, of a working mother, the title of which was ‘I picked my job over my kids’. I’d say it was a smart choice of title. Everybody has an opinion on this subject and it was bound to get her many views. Here in the article she narrates how on a number of occasions – important ones undoubtedly she chose to prioritize her work and not attend to the occasion or the children. Her justification was –

  • I’m a single parent, divorced and need to provide for self and family
  • My work as a lawyer (fighting for cases) against injustice is extremely important and my clients need me more at certain points in time.

As I read the article, somewhere I felt traces of pride on her accomplishments creeping in and the fact that she was doing a mighty important job. I have nothing against women feeling proud about their accomplishments, in fact it’s known to promote feminism and a sense of equality which is so important now to tip the balance in our favour.

What I have an issue with is the following –

  • the sense of superiority about the job she did, and her identity with it so complete
  • her sense of guilt and her explanations of conditions under which she forewent family time

So, firstly our identity is not our job or our visiting card. Some others introduce themselves as I’m a ‘housewife’ or a ‘homemaker’. But I do understand this is a problem with most of us. I’m so and so working with HDFC Bank, is how I used to introduce myself a few years ago. Now it is I’m Leena and that’s all. I’m a person as you see me. If you want more information about the work I do, the interests I pursue or my views, do ask and I’ll be happy to share it. 

Secondly, when we start thinking we are irreplaceable, it is a problem. No one in this world is. You’re out of your job and there’ll be someone the very next day/ moment ready for it. So, if she couldn’t be there for some important client meetings as the lawyer, I’m sure someone from her team (armed with adequate information) could have represented her as well. 

Thirdly, the job of saving an innocent black man from a life sentence or the other clients who she represents, as a lawyer sounded like just another one to me. Isn’t the job of a doctor mom as important, a teacher mom who readies the next generation, a mom spending time working as a clerk in an NGO, or a bank (to earn her independence), or a stay at home mom who as a parent has decided to raise confident well equipped children? All these jobs are as important. It’s great to feel a sense of purpose in the job you do, but all jobs have purpose for different individuals.

Finally, even if you’re pursuing your hobby of writing or spending some much needed ‘me’ time with friends or on a job that you describe as ‘purposeful’, and hence foregoing some time with the children – I think it’s absolutely fine. We all need time for the things we deem as important to us – not just a job. There’s no reason for guilt – ultimately, we can raise confident kids only if we are happy & confident ourselves.

Having said that, Women for (reasons of years of social conditioning) feel solely responsible for the well being of their children, that is what definitely needs to change.

The article in question is attached here. Click on the link for a read – NYT article

I have also written this as a response to LindaGHill’s Friday prompt for #SoCS

Would love to hear your take on it

The challenges of a boyish little girl

This topic came up as it does every second day. “I wish I was a boy”, sighed my nine year old daughter. Every time I comb her hair and ask her if she’d like to wear clips to keep them from her eyes, or show her a dress I’d like to buy for her, she categorically refuses. She’s an out and out tom-boy, a skilled football player, a good runner and very athletic, and of course the love of my life.

With how parents look at every critical aspect of their children these days, many of you must be wondering why I don’t appear worried. Well, I remember & remind myself how I was a tomboy as a growing child. I loved the outdoors, loved to bicycle around, and play out in the ground – not football so much, but kabadi, running, swimming etc. I do not remember myself playing with the kitchen set or playing house -house. My clothes though were mostly frocks and skirts – in those days shorts for girls were not available or should I say not made at all 😉

But I wanted to dig deeper, and question why as a child I wanted or for that matter she wants to be a boy. Not that we stop her from doing anything that her brother can do or is allowed to. So I asked her again – to reflect and tell me why she felt so. She almost immediately said, “People say I should wear my hair long, but I like it short. They question why I never wear frocks or skirts, but I love shorts- they’re so much more comfortable. They say they get confused as to whether I’m boy or girl. Why should people be bothered with what I am? I am what I am”.  I must mention here that I have a son who’s twelve and as all little siblings, my daughter looks up to Big brother. 

After a pause, she continued, “Once, one of the aunties in school (helpers) directed me to the boys washroom & I had to tell her that I am a girl. She said, “Accha, no earrings, short hair so I couldn’t make out”.

I know, gender stereotyping isn’t a new topic and has reduced from earlier, but it still very much exists in daily life, and while as adults we feel more confident in questioning age old practices/perceptions and demanding our due, it’s not so with children. I realized that a lot of us make these comments to our own children and those around us.  Maybe, we question/ rebuke out of a sense of superiority of doing the child a favour by directing her/ educating her on what she needs to be like/ dress like. We think its harmless, but it isn’t. For a growing child, it’s questioning her comfort with her body and all other associations with it. It undermines her confidence in many ways.

Would any of us like it, if someone came up everyday or people around regularly questioned or commented on the way we wear our hair or dress up in sarees or a salwar kameezes. These are inappropriate in the monsoons, aren’t they? Practically, monsoons call for short clothes and short hair. But we would hate it and after a point, we’d bluntly tell the person/s to get lost.

We harass children because they are easy targets & they allow us to get away. They are themselves unclear or have no answers. Because they cannot/do not retaliate.  So stop it – uncles and aunties, stop commenting on what others (esp children) wear or do and start paying attention to your mind – that needs some questioning.

I speak for myself here as well. I’ve since I decided not to push her to buy dresses or ask  her to keep her hair long. So go ahead my darling, be as you like, wear what you like, keep your hair as you like and play what you like playing. I love you just as you are!

Would love to hear your two bits on this as well. Feel free to comment and write in.

 

Parenting – Conscious Vs Instinctive

Parents have a set of rules for parenting, or do they? What are yours?
I’ve on & off thought about my parenting style. I have asked myself many questions like is parenting over-rated? Do we overthink our actions? Does parenting have to be thought through? Isn’t it an art or is it a science? What does it really mean to me? Do I have parenting goals? What are the goals of other parents? Maybe you haven’t articulated yours just like me. Would you care to now? Maybe this article will act as that push.

I became a parent by conscious choice. I decided slowly and thankfully after 5 years of marriage (and at the threshold of 30) that maybe I was ready to take the responsibility of another being. But when I did have my son, I was all at sea.  As a parent, I was clear about the values I wanted my children to imbibe, and while I focused a lot on the ‘which’, through my journey this far, I know realise the ‘HOW’ is far more important. For a long time, I just went by instinct. However, over the years watching my husband deal with the children, I’ve understood that there is just so much that can be learnt.

As parents, we bring our personalities, sensibilities and our priorities into the upbringing of our children. Each parent is different, for instance I’m more focused on direct teaching – spending my time on educating the children, telling them stories of values, stressing on the importance of time etc. I focus more on getting them to cultivate hobbies of reading or art, on education and sport; while my husband nurtures them well with his patience and understanding, allowing them decisions and making them aware of the consequences. His approach is mostly indirect. So, what is the right way? While parenting cannot be taught, it can be learned. A couple of months ago, I took up a parenting survey because I wanted to know how other parents approach it. Was there something more I could learn – there always is, isn’t it? There’s a lot to be learnt by observing other parents when they are with their children and our own parents. And that led me to ask a few key questions to a few parents around me, who I know are all doing a great job.

The survey did not throw up anything entirely new, but it was heartening to understand that concerns & challenges we face today are common across all. Some tips shared by the parents here are reminders of what good parenting entails – something we need to revisit from time to time. So, here’s the gist of my questionnaire with responses across parents clubbed on the topics.

What does parenting mean to you?

I love the beautiful way a mother put it to me, “As a parent, I have the power to influence a whole generation’.

My father brilliantly put it, again indicating the power of good parenting when we said, “You can create a masterpiece – an MF Hussain/Mother Teresa or a Dawood Ibrahim”

A third said, “I have the power to create the best version of me’

All these statements are powerful and underline one thing – Most Parents believe they should work on their children, so they achieve their potential. I also think this is very true of Indian parents. We WANT TO shape, nurture, mould our children. When I read these statements, I immediately felt driven to chalk out a program for the children to follow 🙂

But jokes apart, Parenting is taking responsibility of the decision we took as a person to bring in another life into this world. Thus, ‘responsibility’ was a key word for a lot of the respondents. We are responsible to the child & society for the decision we took to be a parent. It means getting your child to walk, run and then fly if possible.

There’s another school of thought which believes that parenting should be GUIDING AND GIVING DIRECTION – correcting when required, but not overtly moulding. Especially given that the concept of success, happiness and well-being and careers is so different than what it was in the 70/80s. I must mention here that 75% of the respondents believed in conscious moulding and overt guidance.

Whichever school of thought you belong to, you might want to read on to know what others are doing – just knowing – but do your own thing!

Revisiting ourselves & Parenting in today’s context

For a lot of parents, Parenting also meant being REAL about the challenges that come with it. It means changing diapers, cleaning up the goo, having emotionally tricky conversations, handling difficult questions, but also being open and real with them. Being open and honest so they believe you are real and not just a sermon preacher far removed from reality.

One friend put it very well saying it was ‘re-visiting who and what you are’.  I think this is an important statement. If we ourselves are insecure, inept and feel inadequate; little wonder if the child turns out insecure himself. So, parenting asks us parents some difficult questions – Are our emotional tantrums okay? Our we mature enough, do we love ourselves enough & are we kind as persons, can we leave our egos behind and not be control freaks, so our children blossom fully?

I know as a fact, that I have changed as a person since I became a parent. I check my behavior often; I think about the example I’m setting for my children with my views & tolerance. I think about the rituals I need to follow and how they impact my children. I do not follow most rituals like ‘Karvachauth, Raksha bandhan, Thread ceremony etc. I don’t think I can explain the gender differences and the caste differences to my children – I don’t want to honestly.

Parenting today most agreed, is about agreeing to disagree. The generation today is thinking independently and that needs to be respected and not just allowed but encouraged. I have different thoughts and views compared to my parents and neither of us are apologetic about having those. But despite all the disagreements, the importance of relationship and family and the sense of security it can give needs to be stressed.

Friends are the new family and that needs to be embraced by us parents. Allow strong friendships now, these will stand your child in good stead in future. Don’t be resentful about the time he/she spends with friends – accept and encourage it.

Next, I wanted to know if good parenting requires goals?

Maybe said most, broad ones mostly, but sometimes tactical ones as well (depending on the child’s age). Mind you, the GOALS are for the parent.

Goals are required more like a roadmap to have a broad direction as to where to go. However, it was heartening to know that for all 100% of the respondents the key goals were related to inculcation of values and making children good human beings and citizens.

Fortifying them to be emotionally strong was next, as was adapting to failures or changes in life and being able to understand and take control of emotions.  Then came learning new skills especially life skills like swimming, cooking, cycling and some others like sports, arts and music. But it’s easier said than done.

Parenting Challenges & overcoming them

Parenting has huge challenges and all without exception mentioned the struggle to maintain a fine balance between exposure and innocence, the struggle to give un-divided time and attention, the outside influences of gadgets / friends, poor education system and disciplining ourselves before them. So how do we as parents influence our children?

Here are some valuable tips the respondent parents shared

  • Children are all different, but some things are universal – they learn from example, so it’s important to be a good role model. Walk the talk and practice what you preach. If we want children to stay off gadgets and games, then we need to do so ourselves. If we want them to do well in sports or get fitter; working on ourselves will have to come first. My husband is a keen marathoner and we both also trek a lot. This has motivated our children to take up running and they love the outdoors as well.
  • Avoiding confrontations on difficult issues like growing tantrums, gadget time, hormonal changes, sexual orientation, study time, good vs bad company, will turn into confidence drainers. Regular and good communication in addressing issues head on lead to a happy healthy relationship. Parents can set out a time that works for them, dinner time or weekends. I talk to my son who’ll soon be entering his teens before bed. We chat for about 20 minutes or so in a relaxed atmosphere.
  • For us parents, it important to feel the joy of parenting – enjoy the process. Parenting is not about considering your child as a ‘lifelong PROJECT’ and thus being stressed all the time. Look at the extra-ordinariness in the ordinariness of being a parent. It’s good to pause occasionally and remind oneself or recollect along with your spouse the many things that thrilled you in the early days. My husband and I talk often of the time our son first learnt to roll onto his stomach. That day he spent all afternoon turning over and over with such glee. We need to look at the small little moments of everyday togetherness and cherish those.
  • Above all, remember that love works. In our race and impatience to make perfect humans of our children, we often forget that every child is different, and not all can be class toppers or world champions. But all can be kind, sensitive and loving beings if they feel loved themselves. Show them love, more so when they might deserve it least but need it most.

Show that love to yourself as well. Be kind and patient and at peace with yourself and then you’ll find children imbibing that peace and confidence.

I do hope this has been a good read, if not an eye-opener. Would love to know if you have a special knack/ method of handling children. Something that can help us all.
Happy parenting! Remember the JOY

P.S – Here’s an exercise for you to do:  Put down the key values YOU as a parent would want your child to imbibe.  Share yours with me if possible. Here’s my set of values for my children –

  1. Courage
  2. Empathy
  3. Confidence or self belief
  4. Positivity
  5. Creativity – To be self thinkers, to be able to analyse and break down data to form your own opinions
  6. Open mindedness