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The earliest memory I have of my childhood is probably from when I was about two. I was standing on a stool and trying to reach for an egg on a shelf and in the process I broke it in two. Some people claim having a memory as early as nine months old. This was a revelation of much importance when I became a mother, a major turning point in my life.
From the time I was expecting, family, friends and even strangers, would give me advice covering all possible subjects. Some welcome and some maybe not. In India, there are many old wives’ tales surrounding pregnancy and birth. And there was a lot of excitement associated with those months. A checklist was made, rewritten and then written again for the delivery date. One such item on the list was baby clothes, booties, muffins, socks, et al. Although it is widely believed to be a bad omen to buy things for an unborn child, practicality made us do things differently which made me come face to face with some important decisions, namely the color of the clothes!
Common practice is pink is for girls and blue for boys. Till that point in time I had accepted this as something you hear and just let it pass by without giving it much thought. But when you are faced with such facts, maybe minor to others, at a critical juncture of your life, it takes a whole new meaning and makes you think. It made me realize that I was already creating a stereotypical identity for the child who was not even born. I, the modern erudite woman of the 21st century who tried to live life on her own terms, was falling into this trap! I had criticized others for the very same conditioning toward their children before and there I found myself, being a hypocrite and doing the exact same thing.
Maybe it does not appear to be as earth-shattering as I am making it out to be but the point is we create stereotypes right from the time a child is conceived. Conditioned by our families, schools and society, we tend to pass on the same values and ideas to our children. Even something as basic as the color we associate with a particular gender.
This is an important point when we think back to stories of how some retain memories from as early as nine months old. I regularly see parents of children unknowingly push their children toward certain types of toys, games, sports, all based on their gender and I have grown certain that this is done without much thought. Kids being kids accept things as it is decided for them, usually without asking questions. How often have you heard the words “don’t cry like a girl!” when a boy is upset? We make choices based on our conditioning and pass them on to our children voluntarily or involuntarily. But it’s vital to remind ourselves daily that our children are the future. We should raise them with progressive values based on how we imagine the world can and should be for their generation.
We need to understand our responsibility as parents to empower our children with a diverse base of knowledge, sprinkled with different cultures and free of bias and prejudices. True, it’s no easy task. But as a parent I have realized that I need to pause every so often and mindfully take a critical look at how I’m treating my child, considering how this will influence her future perspective.
It is inherent to human beings to wait for someone else to lead. But when my child’s future is at stake, I cannot wait for the winds of change to blow knowing she is absorbing information every minute from the environment I have created for her in her eagerness to learn.
Start today. There’s no better time. And it’s your child’s future that you’re holding.
Pompy Bhowmik is a contributor for Breakthrough’s Bell Bajao blog.