Perhaps nothing can be more fulfilling than to have a girl’s presence in your life and if she comes in the form of a daughter, it is picture perfect.  Now what comes along with it is the trickier part. The journey which the newborn girl undertakes getting conditioned by her parents, family, society are what have a long term bearing

on her! The day a girl is born and from thereon, usually the reactions which start pouring are, how pretty she looks, how fair she is, whether her fingers are shapely and so on….

As a parent myself, I have quite often faced dilemma, angst and the trapping of a traditional mother’s perception and expectation to confirm to how it has been, or how daughters are seen. But this is also the right time, being a mother who has to juggle work and home, who has some share of learning from her own girlhood to share what we as parents can steer clear of as we raise daughters!

[a] sadly girls (daughters) are measured on a scale of physical beauty and attractiveness- around those parameters which I touched upon as I began. We as parents take pride when someone says, “oh, how pretty your daughter is” or if she has a darker skin, a flatter nose, soon also hear things like, “hmm, she has gone on her/ him.. may be her skin will get fairer as she grows up.” And there! There as parents, we get trapped. If she is termed ‘pretty’, we are happy and proud and we will take additional pains to make sure she keeps looking so- whether she is going to school, just for an evening play out or for a friend’s birthday party. She also starts believing that this is the most important angle to her personality and she will expect affirmative responses to her look, to her dress in all those times. If she is not blessed with an ascribed prettiness, then more the burden. We keep thinking what more we can do, make her put on, tie her hair with, so that she looks cute, pretty and so on. And as they grow further, we all collectively are in this quagmire of “looking good”. That particular dress that has to be brought, the smooth skin that has to shine through and what not. And no, it is not about the money being spent on it so that the parent and their daughter remain happy looking good, but of how we as parents get crippled with the idea! As a mother, as a father, it is important from day one to realise is there is more to your daughter than to be a pretty face, having perfect features, waxed skin, a body type which fits into all dress types. She is a mind in herself, a being far more dignified and strong than a mere look and we as parents should stand by that and make her feel everyday that how trivial that look business is and not get conditioned by the larger society in making her one of those in the larger breed and confirm to what they expect her to be, instead investing and nurturing ‘a beautiful mind’ will be far more sensible

[b] “politeness is a virtue”- our daughters have heard it more than any other. No, I seriously do not have any problem with it. Surely, being polite and kind are virtues. Every person if starts practicing it , the world we are living in will be more gentle, welcoming and equal. But the thing I am coming from, which disturbs me as a parent is why it is mostly, rather near always that girls are expected to carry those virtues. When my daughter says something in a loud voice, we say, “sshh, say softly” while the same if spoken by a boy, we give it a miss and perhaps laugh that see how childish/ boyish he is. As a parent, never make the mistake of over emphasising the gender identity and differential expectations basis that. For us, it is important to groom a daughter who speaks her mind, who you ask to be polite but always firm, who may be gentle, but never too weak for everyone’s comfort. As a parent, encourage her to be what she actually is, not a version which best suits the liking of the society around. A girl with a strong self esteem will always know that it is important to be heard and also to hear. That daughter will know more of giving respect to voices around since you encouraged her to voice hers and not get stifled with “they ought to be polite!”

[c] We are surrounded by stereotypes. Some we had faced ourselves, some which perhaps we created, many a times unawares. These stem from pre-conceived notions and biases and we pass it on to our girls too! Passing on an opinion  and judgement basis what has been continuing, what the majoritarian views are is very problematic. The definition of a good daughter, a successful daughter is laden with what the society has deemed good or which satisfies our ego of matching up to what we have been expected to believe. My daughter is ‘creative’, my one is ‘not strong with numbers’ just like girls usually are not, she is very ‘caring’ and ‘loving’ like how daughters are , being ‘ambitious’ is looked as too brash et al or frequently converted into “she is my son” as if that is a superior designation the girl is honoured with! . Am sure you will have your own list of how we have seen it getting manifested. The take I have here is again, focus on the uniqueness of your child. Don’t get caught up in making her a clone of a popular image which is accepted. Every child born is unique and they will live in a time which will surpass ours. Rather than making them fit into a structure and conception of how successful and being good are defined as, help them carve out a road for themselves. Treat them as an individual, ease yourself of the burden of defining her within the given terminologies and let her bloom. And never, never ever compare them to what/ who they may be similar to or different from.

With love, with sensitivity and with basic mutual respect, every parent can become a friend of their daughter. And maybe that is what our aim should be, to be their friend and greatest strength. Those two human beings in her life who will try their best to make her reach her potential and not be stuck in conventional images and help her turn into a confident, caring and responsible human being! To be one such, the best we can do is to be a ‘living example’ for her to draw ideas, references, encouragement and inspiration from- preaching can always wait…

Anupama Muhuri

Senior Manager, Volunteer Action, CRY

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