A shocking question, isn’t it? Especially if your child is young. A video released as part of the ‘Vogue Empower’ campaign spoke about how we teach our boys it is not ‘manly’ to cry, when we should be teaching them not to make the women in their lives cry. As we celebrate Mother’s Day on May 8 and appreciate mothers for the amazing contribution they make to our lives, let us also try and leverage the power of the mother in bringing up her sons well.
In our society, daughters are constantly monitored and asked to get back home early, but sons are rarely asked about where they are going during late night hang outs. The women are educated about the importance of staying safe, carrying pepper spray, and covering up to avoid untoward attention. But are the men being educated about consent?
There is no doubt that a child is most influenced by his parents during his formative years. How a man treats women depends, to a large extent, on his relationship with his mother, her attitude and beliefs, and the dynamics between both his parents.
So what can a mother do to ensure her son grows up believing in gender equality and shuns violence, be it sexual or physical?
Teach him he is not entitled
Parents in India, often unintentionally, instill a sense of entitlement in their sons. When everything from cooking his food to ironing his clothes is taken care of by the female members of the family, a boy grows up with the expectation that he will be taken care of. It is just a step forward when he feels entitled to a woman’s body.
The problem often is that children learn from actions and not from words. So if you are a mother who tells your son that he is not entitled to preferential treatment, but take on all the household chores single-handedly, while your husband sits in the living room watching television, your son is not going to take your words seriously. Even if you are a housewife and have maids to help you with housework and you feel bad for the spouse who is back home after a tiring day, ensure he is involved in part of the chores, at least during weekends. That way, your son absorbs that it is not embarrassing or un-manly to do house work since his father does it and that chores are the responsibility of both genders. If you are the parent of a son and a daughter, ensure that you do not set disparate standards of behaviour for both of them. As he grows up, he will automatically transfer this sense of gender equality to spaces outside the home.
You could also ensure your children, irrespective of gender, contribute to age-appropriate chores.
- A six-year-old could leave his plate and glass in the sink.
- A 10-year-old could be asked to fold his washed clothes and keep them in his cupboard.
- A 15-year-old could get groceries from the store.
Teach him he is not superior
Are you passing on your prejudices to your child? This does not just involve just patriarchal thoughts, and can include racist, casteist and elitist ways of thinking. Are you rude to your maid/driver/other employees in your child’s presence? Do you make derogatory statements about people based on their race, caste, gender or social status?
For example, do you make these kind of statements in your child’s presence?
- They are uneducated, low-class people. What can you expect from them?
- Girls nowadays wear such revealing clothes, so shameless.
- The police are no good. Anybody with intelligence can get away with crimes.
- Why make a big deal out of eve-teasing? After all, boys will be boys.
Teach him he cannot get away with mistakes
Discipline at home is extremely important. Again this has to be age-appropriate and consistent. For example, if your 10-year-old son has beaten up a child on the playground and if you have decided to punish him by not allowing him to go out and play for a week, then stick to it. After a couple of days, don’t feel bad for him and change your mind. And do not allow another family member to intervene and advocate leniency for him. You should ensure that he gets the message that bad or insensitive behaviour will lead to fair and consistent punishment.
Being a parent is a great joy and blessing and, at the same time, a huge responsibility. It is important to keep communication channels open, especially with older children, and initiate conversations on relationships and the importance of mutual respect. It is tough to do the right thing, even when you know what it is. I think every parent should read Kahlil Gibran’s beautiful lines so that we comprehend the truth and beauty behind these words.
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.