Updated: Jun 27
Story by Batul Munim
Our society is so gendered that we fail to recognize the problems it creates in the long run. As a mother of two boys, I believe the importance of gender-neutral parenting is the need of the hour! Gender-neutral parenting allows children to grow up to their potential without discriminating between any genders.
My brother and I were born in a conservative joint family. While my parents were really good to me in other aspects, I often had to hear them say, “boys can do this, girls can’t do that.” This was reflected when it came to household chores as well. As with a lot of Indian households, I, being the girl, wasn’t allowed to go for late night-outs with my friends while my brother could do the same as much as he’d like.
I even had to fight to convince them to let me get my diploma. And because late hours wouldn’t be acceptable at home, I couldn’t pick a career in events like I wanted. So, I had to choose the option that was available to me – public relations.
When I became a mother, I decided to raise my children differently. My boys are 11 and 7 and from a very young age, I have taught them to help with household chores. I made sure that they understood that these are life skills, important for everyone, and not something that only one gender is supposed to do.
When my older son was 5, he told me that he didn’t want to play with girls as they were weaker and would cry all the time. I helped him understand that crying is not a bad thing and both, boys and girls can do it. I also showed him some videos of women doing things that required a lot of strength. He was amazed and I could see the change in his thinking.
Another challenging incident as a mother was when my younger son, 4 at the time, told me that he wanted to wear nail paint and lipstick. With my background, I was naturally concerned to hear that. But after a lot of self-reflection and consulting my friends, I decided to support my son’s decision.
When I think about what would happen if any of my children came out to me as queer, it gives me a pause as it isn’t easy to accept something like this in Indian society. But they’re my children, and I believe, I would understand and love them just the same no matter what.
In Islam, women cannot offer namaz (prayers) and keep rozas (fasts) while we are on our menses. During Ramazan and Moharram, my older boy (10 at the time) kept asking me why I would skip prayers when we’re supposed to do them every day. I hesitated at first and made excuses to avoid the subject. But he would bring it up every time so I decided it was time that I told him. He was a little uncomfortable about it but he was able to understand and was more mindful ever since.
I’d like to think that my parenting style is ‘bindaas’ (cool). I encourage an open parent-child relationship and my aim is to make our relationship a safe space for my children. I want them to feel that they can come up to me and tell me anything in the whole wide world.
I know it’s difficult to watch your kids make mistakes but you have to sometimes let them as that’s the only way they will learn and master critical thinking.