When I was pregnant with my elder son, I used to often sit and wonder what values I would want to teach my children and ponder over the kind of human beings I would want them to grow up to be. Of course, every mother wants her child to be gentle, kind, caring, compassionate, strong and so on. But if I had to dig deep down and really think about not only the values they need to integrate into their character, but also the values they display in their everyday behavior, I know I want my children to be honest, forgiving, respectful, charitable, believe in themselves, committed and courageous. Frankly, I could go on and on! Not only do I hope they imbibe all these values but that they also use these values to make a difference in the world. But above all, I want them to exhibit equality in every aspect of their lives.
Whether you have boys or girls, the world we live in today demands that they are treated the same and taught the same things. Let me explain. Living in India, the question of equality is always a question mark. When I talk about equality here, I am referring to the equality between men and women or should I say the inequality. This issue of gender equality is long-standing and one where the progress is extremely slow, bordering on non-existent. The almost ‘inferior’ status of women even today is one of the many reasons for the rise in crimes against women. But is that the only reason why there is an upward trend in crimes against women, especially rapes, dowry deaths and honor killings? My answer is no. The safety of women in India has been at stake for a long time now and no law put down by the people running the country will ever make a difference. One of the main reasons that men even in the year 2017 feel like they have the power and the right to hold women back and mistreat them, is because growing up, they have not been taught otherwise. Now is the time to teach our sons to act respectfully instead of telling our daughters to be careful.
Let’s talk about what we as mothers as part of our parenting philosophy should be teaching our sons. Lessons in gender equality should begin early and be repeated often. It is never too early to start. But there is something else we as mothers need to focus on even before addressing equality with our sons. Boys are always taught to be assertive and aggressive. Rarely do you hear anyone telling their sons to be gentle, kind and sensitive. There is a popular ad by VogueEmpower with Madhuri Dixit which deals with domestic violence and how boys don’t cry. This ad rubbed many people the wrong way, but I think it clearly portrayed a big part of what is wrong with the world today and the changes that we as parents need to make to our parenting philosophy.
As a mother to two boys, I try every day to refrain from saying ‘don’t cry’. Ever. Of course, it does come out at times, but it is a work in progress. As I mentioned earlier, it is never too late to start. If my son shuts the door on his hand by mistake and cries, I say “let it out”. If he falls in the playground, I don’t say “be a big boy, stop crying”. There is no rule against boys crying and there never has been. It is a social norm that has been put into place by us. My elder son loves walking around in other people’s shoes (men’s and women’s). He also loves parading around with my handbag slung over his shoulder. I take pictures when he does that. He loves Pink. So, if he likes a toy or a shirt in pink, I buy it for him. He is also obsessed with cars and repairing them. He loves Tennis and Golf. Who took charge and said Blue is for boys and Pink is for girls? Holding back our sons from exploring their more gentle and sensitive side is what gives them the idea that girls are supposed to be gentle and sensitive, while boys should be anything but. There starts the gender inequality. I have heard of mothers saying “’boys will be boys” when the topic of their sons bullying others in class comes up. When gender is often used to excuse a certain type of behavior, a dangerous message is sent. It is time to stop attributing behavior to gender and help our children understand that everyone is the same. If we can spend some time at home educating our sons on this, we can help the world be a safer and better place.
We need to step back and think about the messages we send our children every day. The bottom line is that we cannot control what our children see and learn in the world out there but we can control what they are taught at home. We can encourage them to be their own unique selves despite what society tells them is appropriate according to their gender. We can empower them to knock down barriers created by gender differences, leading to an overall safer world around them.
Every mother has her own struggle with motherhood. From an identity crisis and a fear of the unknown to balancing motherhood with work, a social life and so on, the challenges we face as mothers never end. The entire journey from the time we conceive is filled with endless moments of happiness, joy, panic and fear. However, the one common fear among most mothers is the ability of others to care for their child.
As humans, we are programmed to question and over-think everything. As mothers, we probably do this more than anyone else. It would be impossible not to. Every decision from the brand of diapers to schools is scrutinized ten times over. But those decisions do not hold a candle to the decision of leaving your child with family or other caretakers.
Trust is a funny thing and doesn’t come easily to people. Our experiences determine how easily we can trust another person; it simply requires faith in human nature. In this case, however you can have the utmost faith and trust in a family member or the nanny to care for your child for a few hours maybe, but it can be daunting to leave them in the care of others for an extended period. Not everyone shares the same childcare philosophies and that is perhaps the biggest cause of concern for most mothers.
There is a first time for everything and of course many people have starting problems. It requires a deep conditioning of the mind to be comfortable with leaving your child and going on a 2-day vacation for example. It goes without saying that the dynamics of a vacation with children and without children are significantly different. I am and always have been a ‘travel-without-your-child’ kind of mother. Being able to re-charge, helps me be a better mother. The first time my husband and I left our elder son and went on a 3-day beach vacation, I was bombarded with feelings of sadness and guilt. I felt like the worst mother to walk the earth and wondered what must be running through my son’s mind just then. Would he think that his parents have abandoned him and would never return? Would the nanny forget to give him his milk? How will everyone at home manage if he catches a cold or has a fever? Will they be able to give the correct dosage of medication? Suddenly in my mind, everyone seemed incompetent and inefficient when they were anything but. I had this mental picture of my son standing near the gate howling and waiting for us to come back. Exactly like a movie, right? Well, little did I know that he was doing anything but that! When we spoke on Face-time, I realised he had sort of forgotten that his parents weren’t even around and he was very happily playing with the people around him at home.
Travelling without children is the best therapy in the world. We don’t have to feel guilty about saying so or not say it all thinking others will judge. After I made peace with the fact that my son was happy and content even without us near him, the vacation started doing its’ job. It was a long-forgotten but refreshing feeling to know that there was no one else to take care of for a few days other than myself. I could feel my mind slowly begin to unclog itself. I recently went to Amsterdam with my three best friends, after I had my second son. Everyone had their own reasons for wanting to take a break from life and what a break it was. We did things we would never have had time to do back home. We spoke about things that we would never have gotten around to talking about amidst our chaotic lives. Was it an excruciatingly difficult task to make the decision to leave my 2 month for almost a whole week? Yes of course! But the outcome of making that decision outweighed the difficulty I had with making it in the first place. I came back with renewed energy and a much happier person, ready to resume my responsibilities as a mother.
I know many people who believe that with help at home, motherhood should be a cakewalk. No one with family at home and nannies to care for their child should ever complain about the struggles of motherhood. There is nothing I disagree with more. You don’t have to be changing every single diaper, giving every feed and spending every half hour putting your child to sleep without any time for yourself, to know how hard motherhood can be. A mother’s mind-space is clouded with child related details most of the time. Whether we are physically with our children or not, they are mentally always with us. Even if there is nothing to worry about, we worry. It takes a lot to be able to finally say “as long as my child is eating and sleeping properly while in the care if others, I have nothing to worry about”.
Everyone needs a time-out from motherhood to try and reconnect with the pre-motherhood version of themselves; it is so easy to forget. So, go ahead and travel to your hearts content. Who came up with the rule that travelling is off the table when you have small children at home? Maybe the same people who came up with the rule that you can forget about sleep for the next 18 years once you have a baby. None of these rules are set in stone. Stepping out of your comfort zone is always hard and takes some getting used to but in the end, it is rewarding. Do whatever is good for your soul.
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone” – Neale Donald Walsch
Hi! I'm Antara and I was once a 'let's get the party started, consume a bottle of Rose Champagne on the weekend' kind of girl. Now at 33 and a mom of a teddy bear looking 2 year old boy (with another little bundle on the way), I am still that 'let's get the party started, consume a bottle of Rose Champagne on the weekend kind of girl.'