Feminist Parenting Is Sometimes Tu-Tu-Mein-Mein Between Parents And Elders!

Parents today who believe in feminist parenting might face opposition from the traditional mindsets of older family members. How can this be resolved?

Parents today who believe in feminist parenting might face opposition from the traditional mindsets of older family members. How can this be resolved?

From the traditional roles defined for the father and the mother, to the style of raising children, everything today is going for a shift towards feminist parenting. Breaking old norms, women are doing more of tasks traditionally considered ‘men’s tasks’, and men are finding fulfillment in doing the supposedly ‘womanly’ chores like cooking and cleaning. Can the traditional Indian joint families and older members of extended families withstand this change of dynamics today? Read on….

There is nothing more nauseating than your toddler pooping big time while you have your meal. And my daughter has mastered the act of performing her ‘poopy’ feat exactly at the time I sit down to eat. Fortunately when she was at it yesterday, I was saved from the humongous effort of cleaning it – thanks to my husband who (without that tag) is a believer in feminist parenting. Before I could even get up, he was quick to get the wipes, pick up the ‘pieces’ (UGH!) and also get my daughter’s bum thoroughly cleaned.

However grateful I was for him to have saved the moment for me, it did not go well with the patriarch of the house – our Baba. He was quick to retort “even your grandfather never did such filthy work, though he loved his children so much.” My husband laughed over it with a “The grandson always achieves what the grandfather hasn’t”. But we knew this was one of our regular patriarchal family vs. the feminist parenting things.

I live in a joint family and I feel I am truly blessed to have liberal, cooperative and extremely understanding in-laws. Yet, since the last two years of our lives together, it is hard to miss the palpable and in-your-face difference of opinions and values when my in laws experience our obvious role reversals in terms of parenting. Where our actions come from today’s practical and equality based, feminist parenting, their thoughts evidently come from centuries of a patriarchal mindset. And they were bound to clash somewhere along the path.

So when I ask my husband to make his own tea in the morning, my in-laws expect me to not just make it but also serve him – like the ‘adarsh bahu’. The first time I asked my husband to clean the bathroom, my in-laws were shocked. Not because I asked him, but because he actually did it. It was unacceptable to them that the ‘man of the house’ can have anything to do with the bathroom other than ‘sh**ting’.

This obviously percolates to the way we raise our daughter as well. So it should be always be I who should bathe my 18 months toddler even if she enjoys her bath plus play time with her dad. I should be teaching her A,B,C,D at home, and should not take her out to play basketball wearing my shorts. I should apply ‘besan‘ on my daughters entire body because “who will marry a hairy girl?” And yes. They have not yet gotten over the fact that I haven’t changed my surname after marriage.

As much as it was impossible for me to accept their ‘dad is superior to mom’ philosophy, it was equally shocking for them that both of us were throwing many of their strongly rooted values into the dustbin. The initial surprises started changing into expected disagreements. Both the sides were aware that no one is doing anything deliberately to hurt other. It was just the way we were wired – in layman’s language it was a ‘generation gap’.

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Fortunately for all of us, we had tremendous love and respect for each other and we never ever raised our voices even in times of serious fall outs. Eventually we were able to reach a stage where we discussed, analyzed and settled for a middle path. But what I realized was that their fundamental notions about the father’s and mother’s role in a family cannot be completely altered. They can be made dormant, but cannot be completely uprooted instantly. Certain issues still keep cropping up, but as a family unit, we now refer to our self made guidebook to trudge the path.

The problem

Let’s face it, the traditional patriarchal mindset is not going to evaporate instantly just like that, it requires years of convincing and explanations to just make it dormant.

Even if we live in nuclear families, we can’t let go of our extended families completely. So visiting relatives, parents staying with us, etc. would always find it difficult to accept the changing dynamics of the modern marriage.

Most of the disagreements arise not because people are unable to adapt but because they are completely unaware that they need to adapt. For eg., some people just don’t understand that a girl’s education is actually more important that her marriage. Because they have been fed with “ladki ki shadi and ladke ki padhai” since they were born. It is not their fault, you see.

The solution

There were the years of wisdom when Albus Dumbledore said that love can overcome every trouble of life. It is true. One has to be extremely patient and compassionate with people from an older generation as it’s difficult for them to accept the changing concepts of life when they have lived with one for their entire life.

Discuss, communicate, analyze and express. It’s the only way for a peaceful and harmonious existence.

Understand that the things you take for granted and understand easily might be foreign and undecipherable for others. Things need to be spoken clearly rather than expecting the person to understand them directly.

Feminism means different things for different people. But at the core it’s about equality, harmony and not sticking to gender norms. The patriarch of the house is also a feminist when he lovingly feeds his granddaughter. The only difference is, he doesn’t know it’s feminism.

Image source: shutterstock

*tu-tu-mein-mein in the title is a Hindi phrase that refers to incessant squabbling. 

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