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How To Raise Children Without Gender Biases & Patriarchal Trappings

On HerVoice, Nidhi Verma, a mother to a 3 year old sends this charming piece on figuring out her own parenting mantra.
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Published -06 May 2022, 11:52 ISTUpdated -06 May 2022, 11:51 IST
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How To Raise Children Without Gender Biases & Patriarchal Trappings

Born in 1982, I might be one of the last generations of urban children who got a healthy dose of Door Darshan and Vividh Bharati. Growing up in a joint family meant rough housing with brothers to be heard and proving my strength by smashing 6’s while playing cricket with a cork ball. Did I mention that I am a girl, well woman now. 

I wasn’t allowed to wear shorts or sleeveless tops, go to the cinema if not accompanied by my entire class from school or at least 2 grownups who happened to be related to me (eye-rolling involuntarily), eat anything even remotely considered street food, no school tours because bombs might explode, no outings at popular places because boys might notice my unearthly beauty and get smitten enough to become stalkers. Well…I’m sure you get the drift.

Then liberalization happened and BOOM! Cable TV came to our humble abode. Suddenly there were UFO’s on Earth, beautiful blond people in scandalous relationships and so many choices everywhere! My sisters and I got 30 minutes a day of TV time that we watched under strict supervision. Our childhood was very sheltered, we had moral science lessons not only in our convent schools but also at home. Sit this way, talk this way, walk this way, don’t argue, don’t question, study if you want to be someone and just listen to what the grownup is saying. Listen. Follow. And live it.

Move to 2022. I have a 3-year-old daughter, who speaks Peppa Pig’s English, shuffles profiles on Netflix on her own, and picks what she’d like to watch post-dinner…it’s dependent on her mood of course. She grooves to Dua Lupa, Barney, Lata Aunty and EDM. Her favourite food is spaghetti, cheese dosa and pan seared fish. She insists on reminding me to exercise to fix my ‘big tummy’ and wants to know why ‘papa has no boobs?’ She likes wearing leggings and shorts, keeps her hair long and in braids, starts every sentence with ‘why’ and refuses to do anything that she doesn’t agree with. 

In my attempt to give my daughter a childhood free of patriarchal pressures, gender specific behaviours and choice limitations, have I unknowingly given too much? In my conscious decision to not replicate my somewhat stifling early years and the expectations that were forced on me to be polite and docile and domesticated. Not that it worked, I’ve rebelled in my own way. 

I know parents who don’t allow their children to watch TV, eat food that’s not part of their staple diet, wear clothes that don’t match their sex, behave a certain way when the father comes home from work, etc., etc. And I recently had an argument with one such mother who insisted on calling my daughter a ‘good girl’ and repeatedly asked me why my little girl questioned so much and rarely wore frocks! 

Nidhi Verma

I explained at length to her that actions and not character should be attributed with words like ‘good’ or ‘bad’. That I would prefer adjectives like smart, kind, bright or strong over pretty, beautiful, delicate and wait for it….GOOD! Her tirade on gender and cultural sensitivity made my toes curl and I guess my monologue on women supporting patriarchy in this day and age, is what made her look at me as if I’d suddenly sprouted another head. She collected her child and walked away. 

I’d like to believe that I won that argument. 

But…did I overdo it? Is her tried and tested method of nurturing, the right one? I don’t know. I’m still trying to figure out the best practices and correct verbal and emotional cues to help a child become an empathetic and strong individual. 

A part of me also knows that irrespective of what happens, my daughter, like me, will always have the comfort of blaming her parents for at least a million wrong decisions.

About Author - Nidhi Verma

Media Professional, Mother of a super friendly 4 legged boy and a spirited young girl.

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