A few months back I wrote the post, Raising Men, which received a lot of great feedback and sparked worthwhile discussions amongst young mothers, women, and even some men from all around the globe. At the same time a lot of you also inquired into whether I would be writing a post about how I am raising my only daughter. Truthfully I have been very hesitant to write this post because I feel what I have to say may stir up some controversy. However, these days anything and everything can be viewed as controversial so today I decided to get out of my comfort zone and write this post.
When I first found out I was pregnant with Akshaya, I hoped that the baby was a boy. And believe me, it was not due to the South-Asian preference of having a boy child over a girl – It was merely my way of protecting a daughter of mine that would be born into this world that oppresses, shames, and attacks its women; the so-called inferior gender. Many of you know, I was unwed when Akshaya was conceived so naturally my husband’s side of the family decided that an abortion would be the best solution for both parties involved. Regardless of the fact that it takes two to make a baby, I was the one that was questioned and criticized by both families because I was the woman and women are the ones that become pregnant and bring shame to their families. When it was clear to everyone that I wanted to keep the baby and that my parents, although unhappy with the circumstances, were supporting this decision, things got even more difficult for me. It seems we all want to know, raise, and be strong women, but no one wants to deal with a woman with a voice that she isn’t afraid to use. Out of sheer bitterness and mostly helplessness, I hoped then my baby would be a boy so that he could grow up in a world that was clearly paved out for him.
But what was growing inside of me was greater than my bitterness. At 33 weeks pregnant, I found out that I was having a daughter and I cannot express in words the amount of love, pride, and hope that flooded my heart. I vowed that day I would give my daughter a worthy name and raise her to be strong, courageous, and independent (all the qualities we typically associate with men), while uncompromising all the beautiful traits that make her a woman – let’s be honest, being a woman and the only gender to be able to grow life within ourselves is pretty incredible. It was quite important to me to give my daughter a strong name so that if she faces challenges due to her gender, her name would stand as a constant reminder of the fact that nothing can and will stop her. My daughter’s name Akshaya Shakthi is a combination of two names – Akshaya meaning indestructible and Shakthi; a form of the Hindu Goddess Durga who represents valour and strength.
I plan to raise a daughter as powerful as her name and by powerful I mean she will be so secure and confident with herself and the decisions that she makes that she wouldn’t need validation from anyone, including me. That is not to say that Akshaya will never feel insecure or doubt herself because we are all human afterall, but those feelings hopefully won’t be paralyzing as she will understand that she needs to work through them rather than submit to them. Please note that being powerful also means displaying characteristics such as respect, kindness, empathy, intergrity, and positivity.
As my daughter is only six, there is only so much I could teach her at the moment. Regardless, I have started with the basics and hope to go from there. First off, I encourage Akshaya to pursue all of her passions and basically anything she wants to do or learn (within age-appropriate limits, of course). I initially registered Akshaya for dance lessons because she loves music and dance and an year later I registered Udayan for soccer because he enjoyed kicking the ball around. As soon as Akshaya discovered that she also enjoys soccer, she started soccer lessons. Now that Udayan has decided that he loves dancing, he is taking Hip-Hop lessons. Children as young as my children simply do not know about gender stereotypes unless they are exposed to them, so for now both my children are able to do things they enjoy without fear of being ridiculed by their peers. My goal is to raise both genders as equals but I know as they grow they will slowly but surely be exposed to society’s gender roles and it will have an impact (even if it is a slight one) on how they carry themselves.
One way I limit my young children’s exposure to gender stereotypes is by limiting their exposure to media and pop culture which includes both the radio and television. My husband is very adamant that the children do not listen to mainstream music as he believes that it affects their minds without them being aware of it. If you listen closely to the lyrics of some of the more popular songs you will notice that they are sexual in nature, degrading towards women, contain profanity, or describe situations that children should not be listening to. As per my rules, both the older children do not watch television from Monday-Friday but on weekends we watch movies that reflect our values, as a family. Most of the Disney princesses need saving from a Prince Charming, and most of the female characters in television shows carry purses than books and I definitely do not want Akshaya growing up thinking that this is the norm. In doing this I hope it will allow my daughter (and also my sons) the time she needs to develop her own ideas and thoughts based on her own first-hand experiences and that of others around her. Perhaps then, my daughter will be better equipped to resist and even reject the common gender stereotypes and narrow-minded views that are portrayed by the media.
My husband and I disagree on this one, but I allow the kids to disagree with us, state their opinions, show their frustration and anger, and say “no” without fear of being shut down as I believe this is very vital to their happiness and confidence. Growing up in a Sri-Lankan/South-Asian home, most of us weren’t ever allowed to say “no” to our parents due to either fear, respect, or both but I find that this negatively impacts confidence especially the confidence of a girl and later causes them to become somewhat “people pleasers” who are afraid to say “no”. We should be raising our girls (but also our boys) to be confident enough to stand up for themselves and others and be heard rather than being submissive so that they may later stand up to classmates, boyfriends, spouses, strangers, and even bosses if necessary. Raising a powerful girl means you will be living with one – It will not be easy to hear “no” and your patience will often be tested however, it will be worth it.
Perhaps the most important way I am helping my daughter is by letting her have a voice in matters that concern her. This may seem ridiculous to some but since two years of age, Akshaya has been picking out her own clothes and she almost always has been putting her outfits together without me deciding for her. It is such as simple thing but it really gives a child her age the opportunity to practice making decisions. Akshaya also decides what she would like to eat and take to school for lunch. Obviously Akshaya is very young so she isn’t given full control over her life and all the decisions that impact her, but the little things do help her learn that what she thinks and decides matters.
Along with encouraging Akshaya to make her own decisions, I also encourage her to take risks and to get out of her comfort zone once in awhile. In conjunction with that I also make sure to teach my daughter to trust her instincts because sometimes sticking to your comfort zone might actually be the best thing in that situation. I truly believe confidence, courage, and character is built from taking risks and girls will healthy self-esteem can face challenges that much easier. While encouraging our daughters to take risks, it is also equally important to give them the opportunity to learn and develop the coping skills that are necessary for when things don’t go their way.
As mothers we desperately want to protect your children in any way that we can and fix all their problems for them because it hurts to see them hurt. I find that this applies to our daughters more because we are taught to see our little girls as fragile and needing extra care and protection, but with Akshaya I hold back and encourage her to solve her own problems by helping her think of ways which can resolve the issue at hand. Ultimately I give her the final say (within reason of course, even if I disagree) because I want her to learn even at this tender age that she has control over her choices, and her life and more importantly that she is responsible for her actions and the outcome of those actions.
As a mother, I am my daughter’s first role model simply because she identifies with me due to nothing more than being of the same gender. Taking that into consideration, I know that I have to display the traits and values I want Akshaya to develop as she grows and reflect them in the way that I parent her. It is a lot easier to learn by example than to learn without any at all. I know the world isn’t ready for powerful women as we are often called derogatory names for knowing what we want, being comfortable with our sexuality, and for being more successful than men. I pray that when (and I say when, because it is inevitable) my daughter is called a b**** for standing up for herself or another, and when she is called a wh*** for refusing unwanted advances, and a f****** feminist for believing in equality, that her confidence and strength allows her to laugh to herself and move onto greater things rather than be tormented by the remarks of these insecure men that have forgotten that they were once vulnerable enough to need the protection of a woman’s womb. I hope to raise a powerful woman because although the world may not be ready for her, the world needs her and more like her in order to stand against the oppression of women.
“And I can’t trust this world to teach their sons how to treat my daughter, so I will raise her to be a sword. A spear. A shield.” – Elizabeth Avecedo
Disclaimer: This post solely reflects my own experiences as a woman and my own opinions in regards to how I wish to parent my daughter as a result of those experiences and that of other women. That is not to say that I am right or that this is the only way to raise a daughter or child. A lot of which has been written also applies to my boys – they definitely don’t get off easy just because they are male. If anything I will be harder on my boys, as we all know there is no need for feminism if we all raise our sons correctly. To clarify, being a feminist means you believe in equality for all women, men, and transgender people. If you don’t consider yourself a feminist, you are a sexist – Plain and simple.
Click here to read the rest of Elizabeth Acevedo’s spoken word, Spear.