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Why do we parent our boys and girls differently? Teach them both empathy, responsibility and care, and raise well-rounded individuals.
Growing up, it was just me and my sister at home; no brothers. She and I had our share of fun, of teasing and fighting, and even as we grew older, we still share a close bond that I really cherish, and am thankful for. In the 90’s, girls-only households were not so common in small town India and we were constantly asked, “…Aur aapko bhaiya nahin hai?” (So you do not have a brother?)
As we grew older, our bond with our mother changed into friendship and at some point, we became the ones holding her hand while crossing the road, teaching her technology, rooting for her in arguments against the world. I loved this evolution; my sister, our mom and I had turned into a small gang.
When I became pregnant, it was no secret that I wanted to have a girl. During my first pregnancy, I was still accepting of the fact that I was carrying a boy, but the second time when I found out I was having a boy again, I was very sad. Because I knew I would not have any more kids; I only wanted two and now I had no more shots at having a girl! Looking back, I realise I wanted a girl because I understood girls better. After all, I am one!
But I also wanted girls because of the perception that has been created by the society about boys. That boys are not sensitive, they don’t care for parents like girls do. Once they are out of the house for college or career, they do not look back and more so after they get married. That girls are always attached to their parents, no matter what.
Our society almost makes our boys to be emotionless, insensitive selfish people!
As a mom of boys, I am happy to declare that nothing could be farther from the truth. My boys are now 12 and 10 years old, and are the most sensitive and kind humans you will ever meet. I get asked by my friends and family all the time as to what my parenting style is. I believe my parenting style is to not parent the gender. I do not raise them as boys – I do not teach them some things because they are boys or not teach them some things because they are not girls and they do not need to know.
Chores in a house have no gender – stuff just needs to get done. Most of these chores are actually life skills and I am fully committed to raising self sufficient human beings. Right from when they were babies, my boys have hung out in the kitchen when I was cooking, and followed me around the house as I put away laundry or straightened a closet. Based on their age, I involved them in the process.
When they were toddlers, they would bring vegetables from the fridge, then they started washing them, putting chopped vegetables and seasoning in the pan once I measured it for them. As they got older they started chopping it themselves. Now, they can bake different kind of cakes, cook simple dishes, lay the table beautifully, do the dishes, load and unload the dishwasher, do laundry and even fold their own clothes. They are responsible for cleaning up after themselves at all times. They do not learn these so they can do it for their wife or girlfriend; they learn so they are never dependent on another human being for a meal or clean clothes, and can live in a clean, uncluttered house.
I have always been very open and transparent with my boys. I share the mental work list I chase every day to help them understand that, for example, the cereal box doesn’t magically get filled at night. It means that someone notices it is about to get finished, buys fresh cereal from the store and refills the box. The same goes for almost everything that happens seemingly seamlessly around the house, along with their mother’s full-time job.
I ask for some ‘Me time’ at the end of the day to wind my day down. I share my excitement when I am recognised at work for a job well done. I ask them to help in the evening with small chores like watering the plants or putting the trash out for trash day so we can all be done and can spend time playing UNO together.
I feel that mothers in past generations always downplayed the exhausting work they did. They barely asked for help or shared how tiresome their days were. So their kids grew up only acknowledging the work done by their fathers. Anyone would bring a glass of water to the father who came home after a long day, but no one ever thought of the mother who worked tirelessly the entire day. Or ask why she would be the last one to eat, after serving every one.
At my home, my kids pitch in in age appropriate manner. They want their mom to have a good evening, they offer massages or sleep in Saturdays because they see and know that their mom works hard too. We all take care of each other in our own way and it is actually wonderful.
When you are open and transparent, it is easy for anyone to understand you and be sensitive to you. Gender does not play a role in sensitivity. I have seen plenty of callous women and some very sensitive and thoughtful men. When you raise kids and lead by example in kindness, understanding and sensitivity, they automatically see and learn. We talk about failures, that they are inevitable and as long as we keep trying, it is okay to fail. We talk about disappointment and anger, and how to deal with them. I let them cry when they are upset instead of saying, “Boys do not cry!”
I teach them to understand their feelings, instead of pushing them away and to use words to express these feelings. I teach them that there are always two sides to an argument. I teach them to treat everyone with respect and kindness. I teach them about boundaries – to have some of their own and to respect others’ as well. These things cannot be taught by just talking once. For instance, I have to remind my 12-year-old that he cannot force his younger brother to give him a him a hug if he does not want to. He has to respect that at this moment he does not feel like hugging.
There are a million things that, as a mother, I want them to know, learn and understand. Most of it is leading by example, using a situation that naturally arises to demonstrate. It is not magic and certainly does not yield results in a week! But it does when you stay consistent with your messaging, with your own actions and reactions in tough situations, how you treat and teach them. They see, absorb, learn and then implement them in their life.
It does take patience though!
I feel we teach only girls about empathy, caring and understanding hard work, without being aware of it. Mothers constantly ask girls to get water for their brother or father. Rarely do boys get asked to get water for their sister or mother after they come home. Girls are asked to help their mothers in the kitchen, to learn household chores because they have to ‘…take care of family when they grow up‘. Boys are kept away from all this because ‘…they have to build a career and earn money.’ They are never taught to see work at home as important or hard work. Mothers themselves downplay it, then complain that boys are not empathetic!
All the men I know, close relatives or friends, care deeply and immensely for their parents. Post marriage this care intensifies and they want their spouse to care for their parents as well. The only problem is, their love and caring is their ‘duty’ and hardly ever gets acknowledged or praised. Sons should send money, help out financially and take care of logistics for the parents. When they do, it is no big deal. Daughters, on the other hand, get acknowledged for their phone calls also. This is again because there is no expectation from the daughter; she is supposed to take care of her family AKA husband, kids and parents-in-law. Anything she does for the parents is a bonus, and appreciated thus.
I have seen so many relationships between parents and boys turn sour over the years in spite of a very loving and caring son because he is tired of fulfilling expectations and still feeling under appreciated.
The point I am trying to make is that kids are a clean slate, we can mould them into what we want. If we can look beyond the gender, we can teach every kid to be self sufficient, empathetic, hard working and sensitive humans when they grow up.
I am so happy to be a mom of two boys who shower me constantly with their love, help and support. They are my biggest cheerleaders and I am theirs. They know, just like I do, that they have a lot to give to this world and are eager to do exactly that, being independent, supportive, caring and loving individuals.
Now, when someone says that they want a girl, I tell them to instead ask to become a parent who can teach a child to be their amazing best. Everything else will fall into place!
Image by amitsurti from Pixabay
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