Battling Gender Stereotypes Outside the Home

harbigner_evolution_of_gender_rolesThis blog post has been reproduced with permission from ParentEdge, a leading Parenting magazine in India. The post is written by Ramya Rajesh, Editor of ParentEdge.

When my son wanted to apply nail polish on his toe-nails, the objection came from unexpected quarters – his older sister! And the reasons were rather unexpected too. She did not say “But only girls apply nail polish.” Instead she said, “Everyone in your school will say Girlie Girlie”. My son looked at her disbelievingly and wanted the nail polish anyway.

Off he went to school on Monday morning. At bed time, a little voice in the dark, ” I hate ….and ….They are so mean.” Turned out my daughter’s predictions were right and during assembly, four and five year olds had laughed at my son’s toe nails. I offered to remove the nail polish the next morning. But my son steadfastly refused. “Let them laugh, I don’t care.”

As parents who refuse to stereotype our children, my husband and I have came across many such situations. The world outside the home is so deeply into the boy-girl divide that the child needs to be prepared or in some situations, given a different point of view later. Or just given the space and time to question and think.

My son goes to a Montessori, and as part of the ‘daily life’ activities, children can sweep, knead atta, pound channa and so on. Last year, one day, both my son and a girl-peer wanted the broom at the same time, and the adult reportedly said, “Give the broom to her. Why do you want it, anyway, you are a boy.” When I heard this, I kept quiet for a few seconds, trying to frame a reply that would not bring the adult down in my child’s opinion, and yet set right the ‘damage’ that was done. I need not have bothered. My son said, “Amma, my teacher has not gone to …..uncle’s house. Remember, there, it is Ravi who cleans the house.” I thanked, in my mind, our friends, who had employed a man as domestic help (Rare, yes, but practical in their case as they live in a farmhouse)

When I look back, I feel that my daughter encountered far fewer situations – is it because it is now politically incorrect to be sexist with women and girls? What do you think?

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Freeing your Child from the ‘Me Too’ Trap

7fb20439bb92b8be3cc81ad7eaae707aGetting a child out of the ‘Me Too’ zone can be one of the most challenging tasks for a parent. It is a phase that perhaps most children get into when their need for belonging and social acceptance overrides their own sense of being. Before you know it, ‘I want that toy too’ turns into ‘I want a brother too’ and ‘I want a new house too’ and the list is endless. While each of us would have different ways of handling such demands and we might, on occasions offer no explanation but just say a ‘No’, it is important to realize that every time such an opportunity presents itself, we have a window to help a child think and make a decision.

When my daughter gets into this zone, I start by asking her a series of questions – ‘Why do you need it?’, ‘What will you do with it?’, ‘Do you think this is the best thing for you?’, ‘What will happen if you don’t have it?’ and then usually, our discussion turns towards listing a set of things – material and otherwise, which she has, which many others might not have. We start talking about what we like about those things and people who are present in our lives and it is usually enough to deter her from picking up the topic again.

The idea is not really to distract the child but more to offer the child a different perspective, that we, as parents are equipped to provide. Buying something for a child just because someone else has it, is reinforcing the belief ‘I must have what someone else has’. At every step, making the child think and then choose, is what a mindful parent might consider doing.

As a coach, one of the many tools I use with clients is that of ‘Gratitude’. There are studies to indicate that people who are grateful about the things they have in their lives (including people and relationships), are far happier than those who aren’t. With adults, the situation is no different, really. Many of us want everything that the other person might have – that which money can buy and that which money cannot. Expectation is often the root cause of disappointment. In contrast, if we replace expectation of things we don’t have with gratitude for things we have, a new world of happiness opens up.

If that does not work, encouraging a child to say a small prayer at bedtime to say thanks for the things that made him / her happy through the day is another wonderful way of initiating a child into gratitude. Another practice that might work better for older children is that of maintaining a ‘Gratitude Journal’.  Writing about the people and the things that made a positive difference every day or every week, can be very de-stressing and calming for any individual.

In essence, the key lesson is ‘Be thankful for what you have’.

This blog post is a reproduction of my blog written for Parent Edge, one of India’s leading parenting magazines.

Aligned Parenting

aligned-parenting-1080x675Gone are the days when one would say, ‘there is no school which teaches parenting’ because there are such schools that are functional and in demand now. However, not all of us might be inclined to learn about parenting and we might want to discover things along the way. Well, to each their own. Parenting is a unique journey which each of us must traverse for ourselves. Then, of course, there is the child – a result of the parenting that is doled out. If the child is a result of the parenting received, I often wonder how a child processes information that he / she receives which might sometimes be contradictory. For instance, one parent likes to binge on junk food while the other is on a health trip or one parent believes academics are the way to success in life while the other might think academics are really quite irrelevant in the long run. So what does the child believe? Research has proven that when presented with two scenarios, human beings are more likely to pick the one which presents an easier path. The easier path that gets chosen, may not necessarily be the best path for the child. Does one parent work on undoing the path that he / she does not want the child to follow? It can all become quite a mesh and at the end of it all, can leave the child unsure about his / her choices in life and have a lasting impact on his / her self-confidence.

So what does one do? The answer is similar to what organizations resort to when they want to cascade a certain culture – ‘Alignment’. Well, it might sound unrealistic, but think of it this way. Culture Alignment, in an organization, is meant to get employees to align their own objectives with the organization’s objectives. Similarly, parenting needs alignment too. Communication is key to any kind of alignment. If parents end up arguing about how they do things differently, the child is at a loss. If, on the other hand, parents are able to discuss about how to handle a particular situation and how to provide the child with consistent messaging, the child would be clear about what is acceptable and what is not.

There are certainly divergent views that exist. More often than not, I would say. In such cases, agreeing on dividing up roles and responsibilities helps, with the agreement that messaging would remain consistent. It is like being a leader in an organization. At any point in time, one needs to uphold the organization’s interest. One cannot promote one’s own beliefs over an organization’s culture. The organization in this case, is the child.

Making time to reconnect as a couple is important, especially after having a child. Making time to discuss parenting is equally important too. There is, after all, a human being each of us parents are responsible for; someone who will soon grow up and mirror everything that he / she believes the parents stand for.  Are we aligned on what we stand for, together?

This blog post is a reproduction of my blog written for Parent Edge, one of India’s leading parenting magazines.