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Is ‘just a mother’ high praise from a child? A contrary view of Chanda Kochhar’s letter to her daughter and parenting through conversations.
As parents of children who are older, the process of parenting has changed for my husband and I. Not for us any more the diapering and feeding, even as the pressure on parenting has increased with the complexity of our children’s society.
The one thing that hasn’t changed though is the primary tool we have to parent – conversations. The beginning years of conversations end up being more about convincing children to use their words versus force to resolve conflict. When that is repetitively done, children realize the power of words.
Like books, conversations shape and refine opinions, giving children the means to speak up while crafting their identities in their own eyes. Conversations open the ways of the world to our children while giving them our filter to view it with, until they develop their own.
I read Chanda Kochhar’s letter to her daughter with interest. A lot to like in it – the personal voice of a woman who has succeeded in a world traditionally known for the boy’s club and as an Indian parent who balanced a personal life with professional success. It is one side of a conversation that it is great to be privy to, one that talks about taking control of your destiny, following your dreams while enjoying every step, the power of work and diligence, et al.
A few notes jarred though while many resonated. I wasn’t able to pin down why this jarred until I watched Indra Nooyi and Anne Marie Slaughter discuss what could be done to support families systemically so that women could work and have families, trying to minimize the conflict between the career clock and the biological one. Nooyi talks about how men support each other, feedback given and taken in the sense it is meant. She says when she does the same thing, it is seen as being bitchy, going on to say that the sisterhood has to support its own much more and way better.
Kochhar’s daughter wrote saying “You never made us realize that you had such a demanding, successful, and stressful career.” As women, we have a steep climb fighting prejudice and uninformed opinions already. What can the sisterhood do? Inform, empower and support as needed. That first ‘inform’ part was where it hit a harsh note.
How do my kids (sons and daughters) know of the professional world before they join it, if not from their parents? Sure, it is our responsibility to get that balance straight – inform just enough to empower, not take their idealism away or sway them to believe the same things we do. But if I were not to talk about my day, my responsibilities, my achievements and my learning opportunities, where would they learn from: an odd letter here and there after they are all grown up?
I am not talking about bragging but honest, balanced conversations that explain and give children a sense of what you are responsible for – whether you work outside the house or not. Our children take their cues from us, whether we are confident and happy about what we do or dissatisfied. In their brains that are yet to develop enough to hold onto opposing points of view at the same time, these conversations might be forgotten but the content gets coded in black and white.
If enough of our sons knew the scope of a stay at home mother’s work and influence, we might have more supportive husbands for our daughters and won’t have to tell them to give up on their sleep and ‘me’ time to do everything that needs to be done.
If our daughters were told about our days, the scope of what we manage and how we do, they might make different choices that are versions smarter than ours. And isn’t that the hope, that our children start off steps ahead of us, taking advantage of what we have achieved?
One of my personal measures on gender issues is the ‘flip’ test. What would a man do in a situation like this or would it work if we were to talk about a guy the same way in the same situation? Most times, I have come up with the issue at hand being handled a specific way that would not be acceptable if it were not a woman at the center of it. Including how women have to justify being feminists when really the shoe should be on the other foot – people should justify not being sexist!
As women, we have significant strengths in our approach to everything requiring management and let’s get this straight – everything does! I would love to see Gen Next embrace these strengths while taking lessons from what has worked for people thus far for many leaders.
So, my point? Please talk to children and tell them in age-appropriate terms what you do and why, what you enjoy, your strengths and your failures. Do give them the filters to look at issues and question status quo. Yes, they will question us since the awakening of opinions will not be convenient or comfortable for anyone involved.
Listen to them when they ask and give them answers that show that we respect them as people, value their questions and give these questions the time they deserve. There is little virtue in getting to a certain point if more people can’t benefit from the journey, learning to do more and better. Kochhar herself says that most of what she learned of value was in her childhood.
Here’s to our children, version X.0 – they have generations before them rooting for their success and generations after depending on it!
Image source: youtube.
Sangitha Krishnamurthi is a special educator, blogger and mother of three. Her interests include living
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