How I Break Stereotypes Every Day While Raising My Child
Parents play a huge role in breaking stereotypes–in small ways every day. Find out how this mom of a 9-year-old boy is doing that...
By Monali Bordoloi • 8 min read
Gender bias has always been a massive topic to write about and unfortunately, it’s still deep-rooted in our society. But then, there are those who manage to root out biases in their own little ways, within their homes, and make a difference.
One such person is Dipanwita Sarkar. Mom to 9-year-old Aadyant, Dipanwita is doing all that she can to ensure that her son grows up to break gender boundaries. Here’s her account, as she tells it:
“At our home, we break stereotypes every day, not through lectures but through simple tasks and gestures. As parents, we consciously try to foster a bias-free environment for our child at home and for all the children we interact with.
Blue for boys? Think again
Pink for girls and blue for boys. Says who? I love to see boys in pinks and peaches. From the beginning, I’ve dressed up my child in all the colors of the rainbow and now my not-so-little boy does not shy away from wearing all shades, pink included.
Boys don't cry? Not in my home!
Society dictates that boys shouldn’t cry. Well, boys are humans, and humans cry when they get hurt, physically or emotionally. Crying, in fact, is therapeutic. It releases bottled-up anger and negative energy and gives an outlet to their little disappointments. No one should suffer in silence just because of their gender. I’ve never said ‘Don’t cry because you are a boy’ to my child; he’s free to cry to his heart’s content, even for little matters—sometimes it does get animated and high- pitched to garner attention and empathy. He has grown up to be an empathetic kid and things that affect him emotionally do bring tears to his eyes.
I handle his emotions with a few tight hugs, cuddles and a calming assuring talk, and he is up and about with all smiles the next minute.
So, parents, next time your son is hurt and crying, and you are tempted to say, ‘Boys don't cry,’ try using one of my tricks. How about replacing ‘Boys don’t cry’ with ‘We do get hurt when not careful’ or ‘You be careful next time’ or ‘Getting hurt is a part of growing up’ or ‘You are strong, you will heal very soon.’
This is for physical hurt from a fall, or a wound. But the same goes for emotional hurt. I always help my child see reason with care and encourage him to talk about the issue. Or ask for his suggestions on how to deal with his hurt rather than throw the age-old blanket of ‘Boys don't cry’ on him. I believe when we say that tiresome line again and again, our sons read it as ‘Do not express yourself, just bottle up your feelings.’
In our home, the little human is not discouraged from expressing or demonstrating his softer side. As a parent, I feel that this world could do with a little less ‘macho-ness’ and a lot more empathy.
I always tell my son that strength has nothing to do with not crying. Talking about strength and resilience, the world of sports has seen some of the biggest sportsmen, including athletes, having the grandest ‘cry’ moments. And at home, we regularly discuss these incidents and how they let their emotions come out in the field.
Sharing the load
Growing up, we were often told that kids are not supposed to help out at home, more so if it is a boy. There are so many households where the almost-grown-up boys sit around while the girls and the women of the house go about their chores.
Well, this is not the scene in our home. As part of a nuclear family, our little boy is used to seeing his father making tea every day, or heading to the kitchen to fix himself a quick snack or breakfast, or serving food to guests.
Speaking from experience, teaching by demonstration and appreciation works well with children. At home, our boy gladly lends a helping hand with chores. Of course, these are age-appropriate chores like picking up and arranging kitchen items, placing empty bottles near the water purifier and putting the filled bottles back in their designated place. He has also learnt to help me with laying the table and offering glasses of water to guests. Shelling eggs and peas, mixing or whipping batter, making popcorn, and helping with baking are a few other tasks my son enjoys doing. These are tasks that can be done by all children above five—and gender should not be a criterion for doing them.
Picking up one’s plate after eating is another small yet important habit that we encourage at home. I would like to share another example that started as a rule but has become a habit for my son over the years. When he was about 5 years old (now he is 9), I explained to him that when his friends visit (which is quite often), he has to request their help to put things back in their respective places before they leave. I keep reminding him to do the same when he goes to play at his friends’ homes. Over a period, this started happening without any reminder. This is a small yet effective way to prevent your child from developing the someone-will clean-up-after-me attitude.
I feel these small habits will help our children a lot when they leave home for higher studies or jobs or to pursue their interests, or when they run a home of their own.
Talk to your child about the effort that goes into a job well done
From early on, I used to have one-on-one conversations with my son regarding the behind-the-scenes effort that goes into running a household smoothly. Be it shopping, cleaning, cooking, washing clothes, dusting, folding or entertaining guests.
I let him understand, in his own little way, the 24/7 effort that goes into running and managing a household. I feel with this understanding, as he grows, he will be more sensitive and sensible as an individual, partner and family member. I believe children, irrespective of their gender, should learn to value and understand what it takes to get things ready for them on time day in, day out.
Rise to the occasion
This incident still brings tears of joy to my eyes. Once when my son was around 7, I had fallen sick and was almost bedridden with high fever, sore throat and body ache. When he came back from school, I told him about my condition and that he has to freshen up and have snacks by himself. After that I must have dozed off.
I woke up at the touch of a light peck on my cheeks and the feel of a wet towel on my forehead. ‘Mamma, you’ll be very happy to know what I did. I freshened up and changed, took out my water bottle and tiffin boxes from my school bag, rinsed them with water and kept them in the utility area. I soaked my white uniform in soap water. Then I finished eating my snacks. After that I thought it might give you relief if I put a wet towel on your forehead, just the way you do when I am sick. And we must go to the doctor in the evening. Now don’t say you’ll be fine without visiting the doctor, okay?’
I was overwhelmed, I hugged him and amidst cuddles (happily forgetting to stay away from him due to my bad cold) told him how proud I was of his actions.
Recently, we went on a road trip. The night we returned home, my back hurt from sitting for long hours. I declared in the car itself that I was tired and needed some help in unpacking the bags. Immediately, my boy piped in—‘Don’t worry, Mamma, I am here!’—and he actually helped me. I was so happy that day that he offered to help. I feel the trick lies in sharing things with our little ones and expressing how valuable their suggestion or help could be, irrespective of their gender. A simple tip that works is to get into a suggestion or solution mode rather than ordering them to do something or going on and on about the problem at hand in front of them.
So, in my home, no tasks are bracketed; everyone is involved, as and when needed.
From TV shows to toys, gender stereotyping is everywhere. But as parents, we can break that thought process by not imposing any gender-biased choices upon our children. We cannot expect to see different results if we continue to do things the same way. It starts with small steps at home, everyday situations that break age-old norms of stereotyped preferences and actions. Our thoughts lead our words, thereby influencing our actions. Our words and actions are what children watch and imbibe the most, hence change starts with us.”
Don't we all face everyday situations where we have to take a stand to break gender stereotypes? Tell us how you define gender roles in your home, share your experiences with us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would like to feature your views on our #ParentsOfIndia initiative.
About the author:
Written by Monali Bordoloi on February 9, 2021
Dipanwita Sarkar is founder, empowerment life coach at BestInYou.
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