Raising A Child. Not A Girl Or A Boy
The Differences Indian Parents Make When Raising a Boy And Raising A Girl
As a mother of two girls, when I look at others raising children of different sexes I ponder whether I would do things differently if mine were of the opposite gender.
Let me begin with my experience of having two girls. When my older daughter was a cherubic 5 year old, I had my second child, another baby girl. While the immediate family was thrilled to have another baby in the house and we were keen on having same sex siblings, the reaction from people around us was that of, to put it mildly, pity and disappointment. This distress because I had two girls was a bit unnerving and difficult to digest. One house help even suggested I have a third child soon; guaranteeing it will be a boy. How? Till date I have no clue. While this article is not about girl / boy preference it does make me wonder if we as Indians bring our kids up equally.
Often times my help discusses how her parents raised her different from her brother, he was given many liberties while she wasn’t. When they had financial difficulties and could not educate both, she was asked to drop out of school. Even today she hands her entire salary to her mother while her brother keeps his for personal spending. Do her parents love her less? No, and this I have witnessed first-hand. But they expect her as a girl to make the sacrifices.
Does this also mean that only our daughters are sacrificing, and making adjustments? Not true. Boys feel equally pressurised. A male friend of mine once remarked, “You women have it easy, you’ll can do what you want, you’ll are free to pursue any dream. We men are bogged down with expectations from everyone. Parents want a successful son, and we are constantly compared to the next up-and-coming around us. If you have sitting next to you a successful woman CEO of a multinational, you won’t be made to feel inferior about it.”
We Indians attribute a lot of our success to our parents and as a culture have many achievements to show. Surely we are doing some things right. Yet living in society we get trapped in gender roles and stereotypes and this trickles down to parenting as well.
So mainly from an urban view point what are the areas where we as parents distinguish between our girls and boys?
While it is actively encouraged that the son studies and pursues higher education for better job prospects, the daughter is asked to do something that is easier for her to manage. A female friend was strongly discouraged from becoming a criminal lawyer as it’s not safe for women to pursue the criminal field; she is a civil lawyer now.
Family matters –
As a rule when the boy gets older the parents automatically gravitate towards him with financial matters while any emotional disorder is addressed with the daughter. The general belief is that women understand emotions better, while men money.
While many parents save for their son’s education or better work scenarios, the prevailing trend for daughters is to save for their marriage.
Though not very noticeable when they are kids, the distinction in freedom to dress, socialize or behave in certain manners at social gatherings etc. is easier on sons. As a child, I remember going to a friend’s house and laughing loudly at some joke, immediately her aunt commented, “You’ll shouldn’t laugh so loud, you’ll are women”. After all these years it still comes to mind.
Now years later, I have a friend whose teenage son’s girlfriend visits them regularly and the kids lock the room for privacy. When questioned, my friend said though he’s not comfortable about it, since it’s his son he doesn’t say much, but if his daughter did the same he would not tolerate it.
Daughters are pampered more than sons, this I noted mostly in urban areas. Many parents admit to it openly. To quote a friend, “I’m partial towards my daughter cause at the back of my mind it’s always there that the Indian world is going to make her feel the gender difference.” They believe that the daughter will go away, and are not sure how easy the new household she enters into will be.
Some boys find it resentful that their sisters are favoured in this manner and allowed to get away with things for which they are put to task. One young boy was heard complaining, “Just because she’s going to get married and go she gets away with everything.”
Indian parents have lot of expectations from their children. The demands are different for sons and daughters. But many times both feel the pressure to live up to them. Daughters are expected to behave in a certain manner, it’s ok to have a career but the house should not be neglected. If parents are not home, the daughter is likely to overlook the son’s needs as she’s the woman. Sons also have a defined role in the household; they are supposed to keep the family secure and safe. Be the main bread earner and follow the dreams parents have for him. Though parents in urban living are opening up to the idea of their children pursuing their passions, they still feel they should have a say in their children’s lives. Parents are more accepting of their daughters pursuing interests that don’t pay well than they are of their sons.
To summarise it, the Hindi movie 'Dil Dhadakne Do' ties it all up beautifully. We as parents, especially in India, assume we know what’s best for our children and assign them gender specific roles. The daughter, no matter how capable, is never the front runner in financial matters. The son on the other hand is asked to stick to the regular and often times gets bogged down by expectations which he finds difficult to fulfil.
While Indian parents are evolving with time and there is more acceptance and less discrimination, it will be a long time before we blur the gender lines. Here some may argue that we need to preserve them for a more organised society but, I expect we could do with a little tweaking.
By Jumana Rajkotwala
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