How gender stereotypes get built in children by our daily statements

I have realized that there is a discussion going on about why the kitchen set gets gifted to the girls and the cricket set to the boys. Why Pink and Barbie are for the girls and Blue and Cars are for the boys? Why not the other way round or a different way altogether?

The objective of the discussion gets centred on keeping the child away from the gender stereotypes. A well-intentioned objective, I suppose. However, is the gender stereotypes limited to such obvious examples only?

I have heard the below statements quite a number of times in my own house-hold spoken by me / my wife:

I / Papa have / has come tired from office. Please do not bother me / him.

I / Papa have / has got a surprise gift for you. Say thank you to Papa.

I / Papa have / has a holiday today. Let me / him take some rest.

I / Papa am / is doing office work at home. Please do not disturb me / him.

I / Papa am / is taking an office call at home. Please do not disturb me / him.

I / Papa am / is working hard for your future. Remember this.

I / Papa will not eat your left-overs. Please give it to me.

I / Papa will play with you once you are fed and bathed.

I / Papa will decide what / where to shop and how much to spend.

I / Papa will not clean your poop. Please come over to me.

I suppose the above statements were regular fodder to the girls till the time I was working, one and a half-year back. Some of these statements were overtly said, some were understood by our twin daughters, even if not said explicitly. Once I left my job to become a full-time stay-at-home father to our twin daughters and my wife joined her organization www.facebook.com/Travelwithdirtyfeet, it was also an end to the above statements.

The girls, no longer, hear the above statements from their mother / me. I do not use any of the above statements for my wife even though I am fully aware that she slogs it out for the whole day running an experiential travel firm. I know that she used all the above statements for me even though I would have spent the whole day sitting on a chair, whiling away my time in meetings and breaks.

Even though my wife works and I do not any more, I cannot get myself to make above statements for her. Which, a mother is expected to keep making for her child’s father. To make matters worse, as a working mother (my wife), she cannot make any of the above statements herself, it does not occur to her. Rather, she keeps feeling guilty for leaving her children, which was an alien feeling to me, when I was working myself.

If I would have been still working, the girls would have continued hearing the above-mentioned statements. Their initiation in the Indian gender stereotypes between a man and a woman would have been over, by now.

What has got a kitchen set and cricket set / Blue and Pink / Barbie and Cars got to do with introducing gender stereotypes to the children?

I feel we do it all the time with each and every conversation, about our own perceived roles and responsibilities as parents. We need to get over our own gender stereotypes to start with, easier said than done.

What’s your say?

What should the parents of a 4-years old know – Part 2

This is the second part of “what should the parents of a 4-years old know”. For the first part, please click here.

Reward / Conditionality:

Being a stay-at-home parent has meant that I am never in a hurry. As the girls do not go to any formal environment, it has meant that they are also never in a hurry. In the case of any issue / any disagreement holding us up, we keep discussing it for whatever time possible, which is all the time. For that matter, even when we are outside the house.

We have consciously avoided getting the girls to act on a conditional basis. I promise that the focus will always be on the task and nothing else, though the task may not fructify at all, number of times.

Keep talking / explaining to the child:

As none of us is in hurry to do any task / go anywhere, we tend to discuss a lot. The girls keep on asking questions and I keep on giving answers to the best of my and Google’s capabilities. Though, this means that when we actually need to get ready / finish the task in a hurry, we are invariably late.

As a parent, I would want to encourage my child’s curiosity and if that means non-stop chattering and getting late for the task on hand, so be it. At least till the time, we can afford to.

Work on my own short-comings:

This is another tough one for me. I used to be a person with a short temper. I have realized that whenever I make the environment around not me not so pleasant, it has a direct impact on the girls. Of course, it is not a great discovery. For all the gyaan given to me, I had never heeded. Now, when I have seen the consequences on my daughters, I do not need any other further excuse not to change.

I realize that if there is anything that can bring about a positive change in one’s own self, it is being with a child.

Play, play & play:

What should the 4-year old be doing? Play, play & play.

Expectations:

It is a tough one. Well, let us be honest. After all the above inputs, what is the expected output? The child may not sing a nursery rhyme when you ask her to. S/he may not be at her best behaviour when you want her to. The child may want just a single pony when you want her to put two.

The resultant action of what we are trying to do with our children means that we have to keep our expectations from them in check.

I suppose around 3-5 years is the age of a child when s/he is actually a child. I have no memories of my being 3-5 years old. The daughters will also not have memories either when they are grown-up. How does it matter that they learn their alphabets/numbers 3-6 months, maybe even more, here and there?

We live only once, the childhood also comes only once. We long for those carefree days. It is not going to return for us though, and we have decided to give it to our daughters to the extent possible.

The last thing I want to know as a parent for my 4-year olds – Be a child.

PS: The things are of course not as good/rosy as I have written above. I am also trying to grow up with my daughters and trying to see how it works out for us, as a family. As mentioned in the beginning, we are a work-in-progress.

What should the parents of a 4-years old know

The twins have turned 4-years old. They are excited to tell people that they are not three years anymore. Even if they are not asked about their age, they go around announcing proudly that they have changed a year.

They, as well as, we as parents get asked about what they know and how much they know. I was also thinking quite a lot about what they have learnt and what they have not. Suddenly, it occurred to me as to why the parents do not get asked about what they know, have started knowing / in the process of knowing / they think they should start knowing after raising kids for four years long; for that matter, any years long.

I suppose it is not just the child who grows and learns, it is we as parents who also grow and learn all along. And we need to ask ourselves as well. I have jotted down the ideas that I feel I have learnt as a parent of 4-year olds. However, for all practical purposes, it is a work-in-progress for me on almost all the ideas, if not all. I keep discussing these ideas with my wife and we, as parents, keep evolving and learning in our own ways.

Academics:

The girls do not go to pre-school / day-care / nursery; as yet. They are not going to go for another year. In the house, we do try to teach them. I have made the promise to myself that I am not going to get worked up about their academics till they turn five years, and not going to work them up either.

We have realized that they are normal children, have the capacity to learn and are learning at their own pace. And, they can continue doing so, for another year.

Comparison:

It is a tough one, as human beings we are wired to compare with the surroundings. As the girls have not been exposed to a formal learning environment, they might seem to lag behind the children of their age. It can also be looked upon as that they continue to enjoy their childhood perks, as they are supposed to be doing. It all depends on the perspective, of course.

I promise myself that I will put the theory in action that every child is unique and has the freedom to learn at their own pace. I shall not compare.

Adjectives:

For me, using an adjective amounts to labelling/branding of the child. The child is just growing up, there is no way to know if the current trait is going to continue or a new attribute is going to pop up at any point in time. Why put the child in the shackle of a word?

I feel that identifying the adjective for a child becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I promise that I shall not use any tags/ labels/adjectives for the child.

Food:

We have consciously kept our daughters away from soft-drinks and fast food; they have not yet tasted either of them. On my own, I would have kept them away from chocolates as well, but I suppose that is another story. Once they grow up, they will have what they want to. As a child, they are supposed to eat what is cooked on a daily basis and that is what they do.

One of the pleasant surprises of our parenting journey is that both the girls eat all the vegetables. Keeping all the fingers crossed.

For the second part of the article, please click here.

How we introduced vegetables to our children?

As our twin daughters turn four years, we try and figure out how we are faring as parents. One of the things that stand out as an achievement for us is that both the girls eat all the vegetables.

I have tried to figure out how and why this has happened? To be honest, the points mentioned below are what we feel as parents that have contributed to our daughters eating all the vegetables. Though, it is very much possible that we can be wrong and that our daughters would have anyways had vegetables or they are having it for some other reasons.

Taste everything

We encourage our daughters to taste – and this means practically everything that is found in the kitchen. They taste all vegetables – raw (barring uncooked potato, I suppose they have put everything in their mouth), all spices (barring chilli powder of course), uncooked rice, all pulses, aata, kneaded dough. You name it and they would have tasted it. I do not remember when this started, but it was fairly long back for sure, and I suppose this contributed to their developing adventurous taste-buds. Yes, they have fairly good digestion too to digest whatever they taste and no issues on that front either.

Buy everything

Earlier, we used to buy vegetables from the supermarket. We realized that kids wanted to pick their own vegetables but were not able to reach the crates. So, we started going to the local market where vegetables are sold on either road-side or on push-carts.  Both the places our daughters are able to reach, pick and put vegetables in their own cloth bags. Once they pick and buy, I suppose it leads to some kind of ownership for them to eat their vegetables.

Prepare everything

Both the girls love helping their mother in the kitchen. Cutting vegetables is a family task with both kids busy cutting vegetables with their scissors and steamed vegetables with their toy knives. Similar to buying, I suppose this also leads to owning up their vegetables – they cut and put spices in curry preparation.

Once ready, we always announce that today’s vegetable curry has been made courtesy the efforts put in by the two young girls, their beaming smiles follows and their eating the vegetables.

Never an announcement for new trials

The girls’ contribution to buying and preparing vegetables happened along the way. When they started eating their vegetables, I remember that we never announced what was made for lunch/dinner. We just sat for food and started feeding them. I suppose the statements like “you have what you like”, “it is ok if you do not like” would have made them defensive and create a doubt in their minds about what is being fed to them. Rather, it was always made to look like business as usual and that it is expected of them to eat whatever is served.

Surprisingly, they ate and eat even now.

No question about liking vegetables but statements

We have never asked them if they liked what they ate. Rather, we make statements that today’s vegetable curry was excellent, yum, tasty and they join the chorus.

No favourite vegetables

We have not taught them the word “favourite“. They, of course, know about its existence as they have been asked a number of times by others about their favourite colours/vegetables. The answer prompted by us is that they like all the colours and also, all the vegetables.

It might be said that we are not helping our children to decide or making their choices all-across. I am not so sure, but this seems to have helped to treat and eat all the vegetables equally and also to dress up in all-coloured clothes.

No small servings

We have ensured that there are no small servings. Whatever is made, gets served in the same size as earlier time with a statement that we need to eat and finish what is served in the plate.

There are a lot of things that the girls do not give an ear to, but somehow they seem to follow this piece of instruction.

I suppose the above points have helped in developing an attitude to try out everything. They have never been rewarded for eating their vegetables or any conditions attached along with.

There are also below points that seem to have helped in developing their taste-buds to vegetables.

No salt or sugary foods

The girls are yet to taste soft drinks or canned juices. Same goes for French Fries /  Lays / Kurkure and the like. I suppose the lack of attack on their senses from this fast food stuff has helped them to appreciate the taste of vegetables.

Initiation to solid foods

One of the girls migrated to Cerelac prior to starting her actual solid food. Her sister went directly from milk to solid foods and she was the one who ate all the vegetables. The girl who was having Cerelac did not have a liking for vegetables till she turned two. I suppose it was seeing her sister having all the vegetables helped to begin her liking for vegetables.

My wife suspects that Cerelac has some amount of sugary taste across all the flavours and this made her reluctant to take vegetables. We feel that sugar and salt can follow vegetables, but not the other way round.

No exotic vegetables or dishes

The girls are comfortable with all the kinds of gourds, leafies and the local vegetables sold in the vegetable market. Having stopped going to the supermarket has ensured that we do not have any broccoli or lettuce or coloured capsicum in the house.

The girls love their white sauce pasta as a sure-shot once a week dinner dish. Apart from this, their mother has stayed away from making dishes specifically to introduce the vegetables. She wants the taste of vegetables to stand out and not the seasonings or the salt or the sugar. I suppose this has helped immensely.

To repeat, we do not know for sure what has actually led to both the girls having all the vegetables. The above-mentioned reasons are what we have come up in hindsight – may be true or completely off the mark.

I hope if any of the above points can be of help to you. Do share your experiences and views.

Preserving Innocence of 4-year-old

The twin daughters have turned 4-year-old. Like most of the parents, we also get concerned about their learning / mile-stones / development or the lack of. I have noticed that the attention always remains in such discussions on what the child is learning or has learnt already. At a personal level, we also focus on a few things that we do not want our daughters to learn, not just yet. To preserve their innocence.

I have given below the list of few concepts/words that we have managed to keep them away from. We consciously try not to use these words in front of B +ve and O +ve. They, of course, listen from others and at times, from their parents also; and ask about the meaning. We try to explain to them using other terminology.

Truth / Lie. One of the songs of 3 Idiots has a lyric – “Jhooth Bolna to Papa Ne Sikhaya” and it has always remained with me ever since I heard it. I will also teach them to lie, will have to, however taking my time. Currently, we are using the words “correct” and “not correct” as the milder versions of truth and lie.

Cheat. I feel that it is too strong a word to be used by a 4-year-old. They are yet to learn the worldly ways and better to learn it with a positive emotion rather than a word that gets used for criminals. They say it is not done / should not be done in other words.

Race.

Win / Lose.

Coming First / Coming Last.

Life is forever a race. We are forever running the race, trying to win, trying to come first focusing more so on destination and not the journey. The girls will also start racing once they get into the daily grind of life. Until that time, if they can also enjoy smelling the flowers and collecting the twigs and chasing the squirrels, we feel it is good enough for their childhood.

They recently watched Asian Games, saw Hima Das running. They understood the concept of race. For win/lose or first/last, they currently know that people get different medals and toys.

Smart. I do not care whether our children are called smart or not. To be precise, I do not care whether our children are actually smart or not. I do not see any reason for a 4-year-old to be classified as smart or for that matter, any other adjective, to be used for a 4-year-old. They are children and that should suffice.

Beautiful. I suppose there are other words as well to connote a similar meaning – pretty/cute/adorable. We stay away from the limelight world of being beautiful.

Favourite. Dressing up two girls has always been a task in itself for me as a stay-at-home father. To keep my job simpler, I never got into any discussion of what their favourite colour/favourite dress is. This actually led to an unintended benefit – not just the colours and dresses are treated equally, they have ended up treating all the vegetables also equally. Both the girls eat all the vegetables without any fuss. I attribute this to keeping the concept/word favourite away from them.

Conditions. There are no talks along the lines of “If you do this, you will get this” or “If you do not do this, you will not get this”. Of course, we do not get a number of times what we want the girls to do. However, we have refrained from getting them to act on a conditional basis. As a result, they are also not aware of their rights – the right to bargain and so and so forth. The task may or may not happen but the focus will always be on the task and nothing else.

Lays / Carbonated Soft Drinks. Sugar, salt and junk food are anyways going to be an integral part of an adult life. A 4-year-old does not need to know them on an immediate basis.

If you are wondering, how come O +ve and B +ve have still remained untouched from the above worlds? The answer is they are still out of the pre-school / nursery / day-care regime. I suppose, not sure though.

There have been accusations on us of un-necessarily shielding our children / not letting them get ready for the real world.

I feel that we, as adults, keep saying that we miss our childhood. Just that, we want our children to be adults, as fast as possible.

Honestly, for us, we just want them to be children as long as they can be, preserve their innocence. After that, they are anyways going to be a replica of the world we see around us, rather what we ourselves are.

What do you say?

Public Parks in India: 5 Parental Observations

We have been visiting public parks on a regular basis. This has led to the post of Public Parks – A 10-point survival guide for children. Also, the post of 5 must-do activities for 4 years in Parks. As I keep visiting the parks often with my twin daughters, I keep realizing a few perplexing issues which as a parent, I myself, am not able to comprehend. The issues relate to what the public parks connote and stand for.

Food:

This issue has been cropping up in high-profile public parks – where the foot-falls are high. Since last 6 months or so, we are getting stopped at the entrance by the security and told to deposit all the eatables at the baggage counter. Now, staying in a park for a period of 2-3 hours, at the minimum, means that B +ve and O +ve are going to ask for food. So, we always carry a good amount of home-made snacks. Now, we are being told that we cannot carry it inside. I have tried to reason out with no avail. We have been told that there is enough food stalls/food court inside to feed my children.

I am not able to decipher this. Is the Government running a public park or a multiplex? I suppose people go to parks to focus on their health. If they want to munch something, they would want healthy snacks and not the run-of-the-mill samosa / pakoda / french fries etc.

Food has to be a matter of choice in a space like public parks. Here, it is getting imposed on the visitors that they can only have from the food stalls inside – which is not at all reasonably priced and more importantly – unhealthy.

There is no way to argue or reason out with the mighty Indian State. Hence, we have decided to stay away from these public parks. Now, we only go to the public parks which are not in the limelight, where the rule of not allowing the outside food is not enforced.

(If the Government is not allowing food inside the parks on the pretext of protecting the environment, they need to apply to the food stalls inside too, and also to the food vendors that roam all through the park).

Children not allowed in the mornings:

This is another peculiar issue. We have been driven back a couple of times from the entrance for coming before 8 am. The park opens at 5 – 6 am, but only for morning walkers. The reason given to us is that children disturb the tranquillity of the place by making noise, so the morning walkers get disturbed. Hence, the children are allowed only after 8 am.

Children seem to be the lesser mortals.

Complete lack of interactive/experiential set-ups in any of the Parks

Once inside the park, the girls want to know the name of each of the trees, flowers, insects, seeds, birds – basically whatever they come across. My inability to answer my daughters for their queries inside the park is leading me to wonder why the park cannot have a name for each of the trees mentioned nearby, for each of the tree parts and also for the insects roaming in the parks.

Why cannot we have a nature-walk on demand / a person who can answer questions about the park and its inhabitants, the upkeep, the history? What all can be done in the park area and what it contributes to the society at large? Too much to ask, I suppose.

Leave aside this as learning of basic science, this is where I believe the inquisitiveness of a child gets killed and s/he becomes what we are.

Whatever is put up, minimum 50% will be unusable

At any point of time in any public park, at least one swing will be broken or its chain will be in some sort of tangle to make it uneven. Slides come in all sorts of gradients to slide down, most of the time inappropriate for children below four years of age. The height between the ground and the slide would be such that two-three children can fit in. See-saw will have either the seat or the handle to hold broken. Even the monkey bar and jungle gym will have some rods missing. Girls use their imagination and learn to make the most of the available resources – they learn “jugaad”.

Of course, no means to raise any complaints about these to anybody.

What are you doing in a park?

The girls are asked the perpetual question. What are they doing in the park when they should have been in the school? Well, they have not even turned four. People expect them to be in school all the time that they see them. To be honest, when we are in the park, there are hardly any children their age.

For me, the question needs to be flipped around. The children need to be in the parks. If they are not, the question needs to be raised – Where are they? Rather, we are being asked – why are you in a park?

I suppose I need help to figure out what the above observations imply.

My biggest regret as a stay-at-home father

The re-cap: My wife and I believe parenting to be an equal opportunity platform. Once we were convinced that our twin daughters can stay beyond the 24*7 comfort of their mother @ 2.5 years of their age, we swapped our roles. This has been the case for the last one and the quarter of a year of my being a stay-at-home father. We get asked a number of times – Any regrets?

Many times, I do get self-doubt. I keep asking myself whether the girls are better off with their mother than being with me. It has never been the case that I will replace their mother as a primary caregiver, I cannot. My wife has her own parenting workbook and style and I have my own. Our daughters get exposed to both. No regrets here, I suppose.

I had enough of corporate rat-race. No regrets here for sure (though I might as well end up where I came from for financial reasons, provided I get accepted in the first place).

There have been murmurs from some quarters that I rob my wife of her parenting joys. However, I am convinced that she is supportive of my role as a stay-at-home father. My wife works hard to ensure that I get as much support as possible. No regrets here.

If there are no regrets from the children(I suppose), the wife or my professional side, could there be any regrets? Yes, I have one and it is the biggest regret that I do not cook.

Gender stereotype

It is a conscious decision from us as parents that we will keep off our children from gender stereotypes as much as possible. They see their stay-at-home father and mother going to work. They see their father doing all normal household chores – buying vegetables and grocery, doing laundry, occasional dusting etc. The task of cleaning their poop is necessarily associated with their father. But, when it comes to any work inside the kitchen, they do not see me anywhere close by.

We have a full-time cook ever since I started my stay-at-home father journey. The cook does not turn up for any given 6-7 days a month. My wife ends up doing the cooking on these days, apart from her professional work and being with the children.

I am not sure about the other gender stereotypes but this particular one that man does not cook/enter the kitchen for cooking seems to be getting on with the girls. I do not like it for sure. When we tell them that men and women can do all the tasks interchangeably, we get asked why Papa does not do the cooking and I have no answers.

I am just not able to get myself going in the kitchen

At a second and more personal level, being at-home with children 24*7, I keep realizing on a daily basis how difficult job a woman does. She manages the family, the children, the household, all the related tasks, her professional tasks if she is a working woman, and above all she cooks.

I had 6 women reporting to me in my professional job. All had children. I never understood how they managed to be in the office for 9 hours plus the commute plus the household tasks plus the family and all of them managed to cook. I never had the courage to ask any of them. For that matter, I do not get it how my mother or my mom-in-law managed.

I get tired of managing the girls all by myself for measly 7-8 hours. And I do not even cook. I feel that I am just doing lip-service as a stay-at-home father when I cannot do as basic a task as cooking.

The daughters

The third regret is that my daughters do not get to engage themselves in the kitchen when they actually like to. They help their mother all throughout when she has to cook for 6-7 days a month. However, they do not get such a chance on a daily basis.

Yes, my biggest regret as a stay at home father is that I do not cook.

The promise

Our cook has decided to leave and we are not taking the replacement. My wife has said that she is going to cook, going forward. From my side, I know that I am not going to turn into an overnight chef but I am surely going to work on the gender stereotype that my daughters have on kitchen work, my understanding of a woman’s work inside the home and getting the girls a bit busy inside the kitchen.

Yes, I am going to help in the kitchen in some manner or the other.

Enough of regrets, time to make some amends.

Wish me luck.