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.

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?

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.

Little Moments: Memories with our children – 3

Little moments of beautiful memories of life with O +ve and B +ve. For the first part, please click here, the second part is here.

Using a map for hide and seek

O +ve has seen maps – in her books, in Uber and Ola apps, in videos, in our house as well. She has forever been fascinated by them; she feels that maps lead to a secret destination. O +ve keeps drawing lines, curves, circles and triangles on whatever she can get hold of and says that she has drawn a map. One day, just as we decided to play a game of hide and seek, she asked for some time, picked up her pencil and paper and set to work. After two minutes, she said she is ready with the map of our house and was pretty sure of seeking us out from any corner.

My little girl is gung-ho about discovering the world with her own maps.

Ramayana – an unfinished story

Who is Sita’s mother? What is her name?

Whilst on a walk, ‘If I touch this stone with my feet, will it turn into Ahalya?’ ‘Which stone should I touch so that it turns into Ahalya?’

Why didn’t Rama and Lakshmana take Jatayu to the hospital?

Why did Ravana take Sita?

What is the name of the squirrel which helped in building the Ram Setu?

At every point of the rendition of Ramayana, the girls had questions. We tried our best to answer them all, but Google also couldn’t throw up answers for the last one. The squirrel continues to remain anonymous. B +ve refuses to hear the story without figuring out the name of the squirrel. So, the Ramayana story-telling has been stalled for now.

Just as I am penning this down, it occurred to me that I could give B +ve the option of naming the squirrel. Maybe the story of Ramayana will continue after that!

Why doesn’t a bull give milk?

We were reading about farm animals. Cows give milk, buffaloes give milk et al. When the bull got introduced, B +ve immediately popped up the question – Does the bull give milk? Even before I could answer, O +ve came up with another question – Does the bull have an udder? I said ‘No’ and O +ve immediately turned towards B +ve and remarked with all-knowingness, ‘Bull does not have an udder, so it doesn’t give milk.’

On every occasion that we accost a member of the bovine family, O +ve and B +ve look down first to ascertain the presence of the udder to ensure correct identification of the animal’s gender.

Aadhaar Card as an all-in-one solution

The girls like watching videos of Australia Zoo. One fine day, they announced that they would like to visit Australia Zoo in person. So, we started explaining to them that to go out of the country, we need a passport and that we do not have one. To our utter surprise, B +ve said that we have an Aadhaar card, so what do we need a passport for? On thinking further, we realized that she is actually right. Why do we need multiple documents when we have already proven the citizenship of the country? When PAN card is seeded with Aadhaar, we can obtain passport basis Aadhaar, what is the need for dual paperwork in all such instances?

To be honest, we do not find any flaw in B +ve’s logic; just that the complex and convoluted Government of India will not see any sense in a child’s simple take.

A world trip with B +ve and O +ve

In the above Australia Zoo discussion, I also explained to the girls that going to Australia is an expensive affair and that we do not have money to afford a trip currently. O +ve quipped that I can go to the ATM and take out the money. I told her that one can withdraw money from ATM only if it is there in the bank account and I don’t have that many in mine. She gave me her ATM card (the girls carry our expired cards in their wallets) and told me to withdraw the money from her account for the tickets.

We have begun planning for a round trip of the world, courtesy – our girls’ ATM cards 🙂

Anganwadi Visit – A Child’s Perspective Part II

Anganwadi Visit – A Child’s Perspective Continued from Part – 1

Why is everywhere dark around?

It did not occur to us in the first Anganwadi centre. We did not ask in the second centre. When we did in the third centre, we were told that Government runs Anganwadi centres on rent, which they keep to the minimum and pass on the responsibility of electricity to the landlord. Hence, there were actually no lights or fans in any of the three Anganwadi centres we visited, as the landlords had removed the electricity connection.

We are children; we spread happiness and cheer wherever we go. What do we do with this darkness all around us?

How do we go for poop?

All the three centres did have wash-room. But, you can imagine the chaos when there are 2-3 adults for 30 children who need assistance to visit the washroom. In fact, when we visited the first centre, what welcomed us was the sight of a 3-year-old girl doing pee outside the room, in the open.

So much for Swachh Bharat, we cannot let our PM down. We are not going to pee and poop like this.

What exactly is the time for us to play?

On paper, Anganwadi centres are open from 9 am to 4 pm. On the ground, children come at the time when food is disbursed or one-two hours prior to that. They take food and go back home unless their parents are too busy to come and pick them up. So, either it is jam-packed or there is mostly nobody around.

Is it a place to play or collect food and hang around for some time?

Where are the teachers?

I do not have any idea about the qualifications of Anganwadi in-charge so I will stay clear of it.

What was visible was 1-2 women remaining seated, as there was not much place to walk, and trying hard to control the situation of 25-30 children. One woman was deputed to take care of the food to avoid raids from the children. The result – a hapless lady surrounded by a crowd of hyperactive children. There are no teachers, as such, practically not possible.

Where do we sleep, if we want to?

We are children, below 4 years and we like our afternoon siesta. But here, there are no fans and no dedicated place to snooze; apart from children all around us.

We like to play and keep ourselves busy, but here there is actually no place for us to either play or rest. What are we supposed to be doing?

Pre-school education?

We were anyways looking at Anganwadi as a place for getting play-mates, so this point did not matter as such for us.

Pre-school education is a stated objective of Anganwadi, however, the practical aspects governing the set-up makes this completely redundant. One cannot expect anything in an adult:child ratio of 1:30 at worst or 1:15 at best.

Conclusion

No, we do not want to go to this place called Anganwadi and we do not want any of our fellow children to go either. It is not meant for children. We want a place to hop, skip, jump and run with fellow children and not a tiny and dingy room with no place to move about with children half our age.

The above is what O +ve and B +ve would have communicated to us if their language skills would have developed.

Yes, we did want to send our daughters to Anganwadi to expose them to the reality of India, but we developed cold feet and backed out of Anganwadi when we actually saw the reality ourselves.

Our search for finding play-mates for our daughters continues. Also to give them all-round exposure, what our country has to offer in its real diversity.

As far as Anganwadi is concerned – Whose children are they anyway? The government surely thinks and acts so.