Raising a girl

When Buzz was about 2, a friend asked me my thoughts on Fairy Tale books. Buzz was in her animal phase then and I had not really given fairy tales much thought. I gave a very jumbled reply, if I remember correctly. Something along the lines of, yeah.. sure.. maybe.. when she is over her animal books.

Buzz is growing up, has her wishes and her wants. Says things like, ‘this is my choice’ and stands strong for it. But as a parent it is my duty (not choice) to look at the bigger picture and guide her through her choices. It is very easy to give in to a simple demand of ‘that dress’, ‘those shoes’, ‘this book’, ‘that toy’ as an isolated ask. The picture however is not made up of singular events.

We all love our kids, there is no questioning that. We all think they are the best thing there is. We want to dress them pretty, ooh and aah over them, click their pictures and in this age of social networking post them on Facebook for others to like. I love to do all of these things too, barring a couple that is. I never vocalize how cute/good I think Buzz (and now Bugz) looks. I in fact got really mad when a friend said Buzz looked very nice that particular day because her hair was tied differently, while in Buzz’s presence. There are a few messages I don’t want my daughters to be growing up with (inevitable as it may be). Looking cute or beautiful is one of them. The way to impress others is to get all dressed up, is another. Here I am not saying that I don’t complement Buzz at all. I am very free which them when she helps others. I tell her she did great when she does her art projects. I tell her I am super proud of her as she rides her bike without training wheels. I lavish her with kisses and hugs for the little things she does. Complements on clothes and looks on the other hand, no I don’t.

I dress Buzz up mostly based on the weather but it is important to me that she for now wears all kids of clothes, in varied colors. Her closet has jeans, tights, shorts, pants, T-shirts, tops, skirts and dresses in shades of blue, green, pink, orange, purple, yellow, grey and white. I was shocked a few months back when Buzz one day refused to wear Jeans and said, ‘Boys wear jeans and not girls’. Since then we have had this conversation about what girls do verses what boys do, a number of times.

D loves to watch NBA and Buzz sometimes sits with him. One day she said, ‘only boys play basketball’. D told her that was not true. We searched and showed her videos of girls playing basketball and since then every time we come across women playing a sport of TV, which sadly is way fewer in number, we record it in order to show her the girls indeed play varied sports. On our drive to and from school, she always asks if a certain song has been sung by a boy or a girl. The music industry thankfully does the boy vs. girl ratio well. One day we were talking about various things and she said, ‘only boys can be fireman’. I told her that girls can in fact be fire(wo)men. ‘No’ she came back, ‘xyz in my school said only boys get to become fireman’.

School and what other kids wear/do is such a big influence on our kid’s life. I knew that, but the sheer impact of it has taken me by surprise. Princesses, getting dressed up, wearing jewelry, cartoons now rule Buzz’s world. And this is when she has not been exposed to any of this at home. There is little or no television viewing for her, she does not see me wear any jewelry or put on any kind of makeup and there is little or no talk about dressing up. But she is seen wearing a necklace and a ring. I almost ruptured a nerve when we opened a goody bad from a friends son’s birthday party and saw the necklace and ring in it (for both Buzz and Bugz); plasticy, blingy, junk jewelry as a gift for little girls!! Apparently girls from school wear them all the time. I still deal with her wearing these at home (stand strong against wearing any of it in school) but I can see D’s eye itch every single time he sees her with one of those. She once colored all 20 nails of her’s with sketch-pen because a girl in her class came with nail polish on. It took multiple scrubbings to get is back to their normal color.

They asked all the kids in school, what they wanted to be once they grew up. Princess cried a few girls. The rest followed. So Princess it was. I asked Buzz what a princess does? She said, ‘the princess wears a long dress and a crown, spins in circles and waves to everyone’. Cliché Disney image of a princess anyone? I started talking to her about the importance of various professions after that. Fireman, gets fire under control and saves lives; Construction worker builds the house we live in; Pilot flies an airplane and so on. What is so important that a Princess does, I asked? She had no answer. The trip to India and back helped as she thought about it and said she wanted to be an airhostess. The way they were dressed had a big role to play but she had an answer to what they do. A giant step forward in my mind. This past week she was called out in school for not telling the truth. She thought something had happened and went and told the teachers. It in fact came out that it really had not happened, she perceived it that way. Not really lying but it was an opportunity to talk to her why lying is bad and how we should always tell the truth. She asked me, ‘if I don’t ever lie can I be a Police Officer then? I want to help everyone’. ‘Yes, you can’, I told her and did a mental dance.

I wore ear-rings one day. She asked me why she could not wear one as well. I told her she did not have her ears pierced. She wanted to know when she could get them pierced. I asked her when she thought was a good time. She came back with when she turns 6. Fair enough! I know there is a tradition in some parts of India around getting ears pierced and I have been now told that it is less painful for little kids but it somehow was never a matter of urgency for me. I remember sitting in my mother’s lap when my ears got pierced, so I don’t really have a precedent on getting the piercing done at a early age. When she turns 6 and still wants to go ahead, I will let her. Her choice as she so often says.

One day I was at the library picking books for her and came across one of the Fairy Tales. Keeping aside all my prejudice for Disney that I have build up since I have had Buzz, I picked up the book and did a quick scan through. Evil witch, damsel in distress, handsome prince, fighting, running away – is this what I want my daughter to read? No, I said and kept the book back. Buzz got ‘Hansel and Gretel’ as a gift. I have such a hard time explaining why the step-mom is evil and worse why the Dad left the kids alone in the jungle even when he loved them so much. ‘Chicken Licken’ is so much easier to explain.

It is very easy for me to keep the Jeans aside because she does not want to wear them, or let her think that only boys can be firemen, or put nail polish on, or let her thing that wanting to become a Princess when she grows up is OK, or get her ear-rings today, or get her the Disney princess books that she so wants. But I ask the very basic question every time. Why? Her reason behind it is what makes me decide what path I am going to take. It is my responsibility to give my kids choices, all the choices. I have to have the world opened for them. I have to let them see the entire spectrum and not get bogged down by marketing gimmicks, color coded dresses, what others are doing. Why narrow the scope by following what everyone else is doing or what the film industry and the marketing talking heads are telling us? I also don’t want to be a friend to my daughters at the expense of not being a mom. Discipline, is important for the kids. I don’t believe in letting them have their way in everything in the name of choice. As a parent I need to set boundaries and I would rather be on the stricter side than have the kids misbehave.

One thing I have recently started working on with Buzz is to tell her, ‘it is ok to be different; to think different’. Chicken Licken comes to the recue. We never know what the future holds but I am making this parenting thing work in the way it makes sense to me and hope that the kids grow up thinking it was not all bad. I hope both Buzz and Bugz learn to think freely and know the true meaning of choice.

Do read this article if you have a chance. Food for thought for sure. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lisa-bloom/how-to-talk-to-little-gir_b_882510.html?ref=fb&src=sp

30 thoughts on “Raising a girl

  1. Interesting. Since I am no parent ; my thoughts that are following this are from mostly observations and the way I see things. I understand it is discipline. I understand going against the tide and your immense dislike for stereotype for girls and women. What I am not understanding is isn’t Buzz too small to understand this?

    I have almost been like the woman you think; no make up, no dress up sorts. I have taken different paths in my life; been different and believe me every day there is fight inside me. Because when I stand there at family functions or get together ; I look different; I don’t fit in that frame. But having said, I don’t think about it more often than not. Because I am too self centered too give up my choices and it is my life and I want to live it my way blah blah.

    Honestly it gets my goat when i see little girls dress up for it is for the parents in question. I feel quite appalled when a mother compares her kid to another kid. A mother of one year old girl told me that she was worried because her daughter’s teeth were not okay because she is to get married one day. I was shocked and astonished. ( the fact that she will get another set of teeth which the mother overlooked).

    A lot depends on upbringing I agree but then again a lot comes with maturity; the way one wants to think and what one wants to do with ones life IMO. I am sure our generation was also brought up in not so liberal environment. But if today we think things should be done differently that is because we have seen that kind of world.

    Discipline is good but I don’t know if this force of being different is good. Also these girly indulgence will fade with time and age. I think we just need empower our girls. We need to tell them importance of being themselves, of having their own life and being strong. So that they can decide what they want to do, how they want to do.

    Sorry for so much rant. 🙂

    1. I agree with you, Buzz is too little to understand. I guess where my point did not come across is where you think I force her to be different. She does wear dresses and frequently at that, has pink in her closet, wears her necklace and ring, had a few the princess books that she wants among other things. What I am trying to do is add more to the mix. Not get bound by only these.

      Where you say, ‘we need to tell then the importance of being themselves’ is where I worded it as ‘it is ok to be different’. An example would be, Buzz loves to run and climb and jump over things and play, which means she plays with boys in her class. She is the only girl in her class to do that because of which she stopped for a few days. To fit in. We including her teachers sat her down and told her to keep playing with boys if she like to (simpler explanation of being yourself). It was ok to be different from other girls in her class.

  2. We need more sensible parents like you.
    Strange, isn’t it? We do not realise how much gender stereotyping happens around us. No matter how much we try to avoid it, we realise its all around us. Even in today’s day and age. 😐

    1. There are a lot of sterotypes and I am not really trying to fight them (as bad as it sounds). I am trying to give my girls an even ground to grow, than get in to the boy vs. girl thing.

      1. It’s already here for me and it takes immense patience from my side to make the boy understand why he can’t have certain things his friends have. I should be glad of one thing, so far he is showing that he has the brains of his dad and err weighs all the things I say and then makes his decisions wisely. But i wonder till when this will last? 😦

        1. Such a smart boy you have. He listens and thinks things through. Don’t think you can ask for more. Hope it lasts for a really long time.

  3. ‘Its OK to be different’ exactly the message I want to give my kids…

    However, I dont actively restrain them from things… for eg Ammu loves fairy tales and the dresses that are shown in those books. I let her be.. I believe its a phase and she’ll get over it. Also, I dont hold back on compliments when they look good … But of course, I’ve tried to also convey in different circumstances that looking good is not the be all and end all… being good and doing good is!

    But as you say.. I too am shocked when I see peer pressure working its way and it depresses me as to the kind of messages that they get from those around them..

    Hopefully, they’ll turn out fine! But so agree… its a tough job we have!!

    1. Ammu, I think is old enough to understand fairy tales. Buzz does not really understand the evil witch, closing people in to rooms, magic etc. I am sure there will come a time when she will want to read them and I will let her. Right now she does not really ask for a Fairy tale book. She asks for princess pictures on the cover that attract her. I buy her color books and activity books of the same, just not as many as she wants. And I add other things to the mix.

      This parenting thing is so difficult!!

      1. Actually, Ammu, at that age, mostly didnt care for the story itself.. she found the dresses and hair dos attractive and so she liked the books 🙂 In fact, all the Princess stories came to her as gifts.. something that I had no control/influence over..
        Even now, I wonder if she understands fairy tales completely.. Maybe I should talk to her and find out what she thinks about them, now that she’s moved on to other types of books 🙂

        1. Buzz loves for me to read to her and asks questions about what is in the story. That is where I have realized that fairy tales have some very difficult questions to answer. As in the post ‘Hansel and Gretel’ is something she got as a gift and wanted me to read to her. She does not understand the concept Step-mom, evil mom on top of that, a mom who closed the kids in a room and asked the dad to leave the kids alone in a forest and a dad who actually does that. She was very disturbed by it all and kept asking why this? At one point as is with kid’s mind she let her thoughts go and came up with ‘if I am not good, you will ask Papa to leave me in the forest and he will take and leave me behind’. She was in tears and refused to believe that we would not do that to her, well because it was in a book.

          As I said for now she is too little for these. We will see when she grows up.

          1. Aah! Now, i think I kinda get where you are coming from. Honestly, I have read only Cinderella and Red Riding Hood with her if I remember right. And my answer to her questions were usually some variation of ‘there are people in this world who like to trouble others and feel happy when others suffer’. I’m not completely sure how she has processed this explanation.
            It can see how difficult it must be for you to explain and convince Buzz. Painful to see them suffer so.. hope she comes out of this phase soon. Hugs Comfy.

            1. As I keep saying over and over, parenting is hard. There is no right or wrong. All we do is muddle around doing what we think is right for our kids. Hugs right back to you Priya 🙂

  4. I am not a parent but I loved reading this! I think what you said about the big picture is key. It’s about not just going with flow on seemingly small things but actually thinking about what messages you (and others) are sending your children. It’s easy not to bother and just keep doing what everyone does but as Einstein says, it is madness to keep doing the same thing and expect a different result.

  5. exactly “I also don’t want to be a friend to my daughters at the expense of not being a mom”.. they can have many friends but only one mom who looks at the broader perspective of every aspect. I wish I could have some clear thoughts too. this post is a food for thought.. I go by Adi’s reaction and allow her to do it and at the same time explaining why that is not correct.. I say “Its okay for this time as we have just discussed about it but think over next time”.. Most times I challenge her with “why nots”..

    yes absolutely it is okay to be different and I always tell her “don’t do it just because your friend or classmate did it. think! think! do you really want it?” mostly she would go with “yes” for the moment but I have noticed a change when it happens again.. ask some questions, give some pointers and give them some space to mull over it..

    parenting is a life long learning..

    1. I do exactly as you say Ani. I go by Buzz’s reaction, let her go ahead and do something and tell her not to do it the next time.

      I am glad you notice a change in Adi. That is what I would want for Buzz too when she is a little older.

  6. I’m not a parent yet, so don’t really have any experience in dealing with stuff like this. Two things were constantly running in my mind, though, as I was reading your post. Please note that I do not mean any offense, I only intend to get answers to some questions that are on my mind and understand a viewpoint that is different from mine.

    1. I agree that stereotyping does exist all around us – from TV programmes and stores to books and marketing campaigns. Can you really avoid it from affecting your kids, however strict you are at home? Instead, isn’t it better to teach your kids how not to fall prey to such stereotyping, that is OK to want things that are different from the ones that other girls/boys want? I mean – you can’t fight all the stereotyping that exists in the world. What you can do is make your child aware of it (of course, it will happen slowly with small kids) and teach them not to fall prey, right?

    2. Isn’t not wearing earrings or nail polish an extreme step? Why can’t feminism and wearing jewellery co-exist? You don’t have to burn bras in order to be a feminist, in order to avoid stereotyping. I am very much a feminist, though I love wearing my jewellery and nail paint. I think it is all in the mind – it is all about the way you think, rather than the way you dress up, no?

    You won’t throw me out of your blog, will you?

    1. I am glad you felt you could post your opinions here. To answer your questions:

      1. There is no getting away from stereotypes. There are indeed all around us. I guess the main point that did not come across in this post is that Buzz does most things kids her age are doing and I let her. I am only trying to add a little more to the mix. Letting her see sports with girls in them, making her read other types of books as well, telling her it is ok to play games she likes even when other girls her age are not, telling her that women can be policemen and firemen. Buzz is too little to teach about stereotypes so all I do is ask her questions, answer her questions as truthfully as I can and then let her be. As a parent, I do make her do a few things she does not want to do every now and then like wearing a pair of jeans and sweater when it is snowing outside rather than the dress she wants to wear and that is important to me.

      2. I don’t have any issue with her wearing earrings. In the same vein I don’t feel the need to get her ears pierced as well. The when will be her choice and the day she really wants, I will take her for the same. Nail polish I do think she is too little for. And I guess I that is my mindset more than anything but yeah I am not ok with her going that route yet. When she is a little older (and don’t ask me how old that is since I have not thought that far out :P) she can apply nail polish as and when she wants.

      When I talk about being strict with her, I talk in terms of not letting her have her way in every thing. She is too little to know right from wrong and it is my responsibility to say no and stand strong for that no when I think it is the right thing for her (like dressing warm on a super cold day).

      No, not throwing you off the blog. 🙂

  7. As I was reading through the post, I too had similar questions like others raised, but your comments section explains it better where you are coming from. There is never a right or wrong thing , but as a patent I always go with my judgement and instincts which could be wrong too, but I am happy with it..

  8. The advantage of Buzz being a little older to Paapu is that I get to see my future and challenges a little ahead of time. Thanks to you I also get really good tips on how I can deal with them 🙂

    While I do not avoid complimenting over looks ( it boosts self confidence, me thinks), I have avoided all sorts of princess stories/books/movies so far. She still gets all the latest from her school mates ( one of them owns a room full of princess attires and accessories!! Gasp!) Currently refuses to wear jeans-“Only boys wear them” is the exact statement.

    As she grows, my plan is to let her pass the stereotype ‘phases’ , but keep pressing on the fact that she is capable of anything, no matter the gender.

    Psst: I take a sneak peek into the goody bags before Paapu does and get rid of the stuff like plastic bling,Hate them too.

    1. Future challenges, so many I tell you. 😛

      Did you read the article I posted at the bottom, do if you haven’t. Some of my reservations when talking about looks and dress up stem from similar thoughts. The problem with compliments about looks I have is that they come when we dress them up in a certain way or have their hair in a certain style, which is where we sometimes send the wrong message. I do tell her she is special to me or she is always beautiful no matter what. I don’t do, ‘today you look pretty’.

      On the Jeans issue, the way I have dealt with it to ask her, ‘does mom wear jeans’, ‘ does xyz teacher wear jeans’? When she comes up with yes I explain that we as girls have added choices on what to wear and we should wear them all. She gets it on some level and has days assigned to what she is wearing (all by herself). Thursday is wear jean day for now.

      Keep telling her that she can do anything she wants, no matter the gender is exactly what we are doing, along with showing her examples of girls/women doing something when she says only boys do that.

      Psst: She is old enough to have a deadly grip on the goody bag till she has opened it. That she waits till we are in the car and have started driving, I will be thankful for.

  9. R What do you want to be when you grow up?

    R: I want to be barbie girl

    and THIS comes from a girl who doesnt even own a barbie doll..I almost fainted that day when she told me..now a days thats exactly what she wants to be..

    RM: WHy?

    R: So that I can grow up and dance all day..I dont want to go to office..its boring

    Then I faint the second time

    Positive part..well she doesnt need to be barbie to dance..she can be a choreographer as well eh?

    I think her school and daycare have a very strong influence on her..stronger than what I would like

    Similar to you, I keep telling her about how a policeman, fireman, etc etc help the soceity and there is no such thing only a girl or boy can do..

    I buy gender neutral colours for her and I tried to get her into jeans as much as I can..she, like Buzz says she will wear only dresses and skirts because girls wear them!

    I am totally againt nail polish even for adults because the chemicals that go into them are pretty scary! (Hazards of being a chemical engineer eh?) I have her ears pierced but her ear rings are non removable gold ones which havent been changed yet!

    I want her to be feminine sure, but I dont want her to get sterotyped!

    Sorry for the late comment, but couldnt resist

    You are an inspiration you know that right?

    1. You go RM, make her a choreographer. Let her dance as much as she likes. 🙂

      Policeman story coming up soon, my fainting of the day moment yesterday. Sigh! this kids growing thing is so hard. 😐

      I like how nail polish look but hate how bad the nails looks post them, the yellow, dried up look, so I don’t apply nail polish often, may be a couple of times a year for a handful days each time. But I really do think Buzz is too young for it. Don’t know when I will think she is the right age but she is not there yet.

      I have no issues with ear piercing for young kids but as I said I was (and still am) in any hurry to get them pierced for the girls, since we don’t have any religious reasons behind that. When Buzz (and later Bugz) really wants to I will take her.

      You said it right, I want her to feminine (or not). Her choice. But I also want her to have a bigger canvas to look at.

      Me an inspiration? Noooo.. look at the number of people who did not get the point I was trying to make 😀

  10. I get your point and I totally appreciate your view because I pretty much think on the same lines. My bit of experience and thoughts on the whole thing so far:

    I use kajal, earrings and sometimes paint my nails too. When Chirpy watched this, she demanded for her to use these things for couple of times. I did not say that she cannot, I only told her that she can only when she grows up. Now she just notices me doing this stuff and says herself “I can do it when I’m grown up, not now”. Earlier I thought I should stop using nail paints, not do it in front of her etc. but then I thought why not? This is me and I can’t hide my personality from my daughter. I can’t change over night, though I can modify few things here and there and that I do. So, if there is something that I don’t want my daughter to do, I’ll make her sit and explain her the same.

    We don’t watch TV in principle for two reasons: We don’t like plonking in front of TV and we don’t have time to do so. Now the third reasons had got added that we don’t Chirpy to be a TV fan. Doesn’t mean we don’t allow her to watch TV, but however cliched it may sound, we ourselves watch TV with her and that for a very selected slot and programs. The only purpose it I don’t want my daughter to be a TV fan when there are better things to do in life like books, playing and crafts. With due respect to TV lovers, me and Husby are against taking resort in TV when the kid needs some engagement.

    When Chirpy was only about 3-4 months I started buying books for her and today after 2 years she one enthused book lover I can see growing in front of my eye. This, honestly, is for my own reasons. I always wanted my children to love books and that’s why I started her on books very early.

    She has a routine to go to the park every single day in the evening for an our or so and this was started when she was around 1 year old. Now is the day when she can’t stay put inside in the evenings cause she has been conditioned like that.

    I had introduced her to colors, drawing note book and play dough couple of months back. I’m fully aware that she is not going to use it the way these things are used but today I’m glad that she is aware of the concepts and at least once a day makes drawings and wants to play with dough.

    I’m doing this so that while she is growing up she’ll be aware of the options she can have for spending her time at home: reading, playing, drawing etc.

    While I was being a mom and doing all this stuff for bringing my kid into a certain that I chose for her, other moms my age and people around ridiculed me saying I’m kind of pressurizing my child to be something that I want her to be.

    I said and thought only one thing on this: If this is pressurizing I’m fine for it to be called like that. I’m doing all this for my daughter and me and not for scoring points as a good mom.

    Now why I’m writing all this here and how does it connect to your post above. After reading your post I realized one thing that howsoever we try to influence our child with ‘good’ habits and right things according to us, there are always 40% chances that our children pick up from the external environment that they are exposed to. My experience so far is pretty good because Chirpy hasn’t started school and has never gone to creche. She has been all these only with us and that’s why she does only that we show her or teach her.

    Now I’m thinking about the time when she starts play school this year. How would she come home with different concepts from the ones we tried to build around her. But of course I’m not worried or something but this is a food for thought for me to see what is coming.

    Being a parent is not an easy task and I’m totally aware of it right from the start. You’ve to give your 100% and yet should not expect that all of that you did should turn out exactly the way you wanted it to. But that does not mean you stop teaching your child what YOU want to 🙂 We will stick to our guns 😉 and try to bring out the person in our children 🙂

    I also don’t want my child to dream about prince coming on horse etc etc type of fairy tales, there is a very different kind of life ahead and I want my child to be very very practical about things to come (of course step by step).

    My child should be aware of all the choices available and then make a wise decision. Not just plain follow others to be accepted by them. Any profession is a good profession as far as you understand what you are getting into and what is expected out of you in that. Any dress is a good dress is it suits the occasion and your age and you know how to carry it. In our books also, me and Husby have a rule ” You can’t get away with everything you want to and that to your way. There are certain rules and those need to be followed no matter what”. If that makes us just parents and not cool understanding parents, we are fine with that!

    P.S. I don’t what I wrote made any connection with your post or not, but this all that came to my mind when I read your post. Also, like mentioned I had a written a much better reply to this earlier which my hungry phone ate 😦 But anyway, I’m sure you’ll understand what I wanted to state above 🙂 I leave it that you!

    Also I’ve to tell you how I so agree with your statement above “I also don’t want to be a friend to my daughters at the expense of not being a mom.”

    1. You are doing all the right things Scriby. I am sure Chirpy will grow up loving all the little things you do. Parenting is not about stopping what you do, it is about explaining that something only adults can do.
      Outside influence is a huge deal as the grow and the challenge keeps our minds ticking. I do understand everything you said and thank you for taking the time to write it all a second time around. 🙂

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