Mumbai-based creative producer Avni Bathija Wittke (33) has a demanding job, but she ensures that she spends quality time with her two-and-a-half-year old son Vanraj every single day. Juggling personal and professional life is no mean feat, but for her nothing has been more fulfilling than motherhood.
But if there’s one thing she has resisted, it is parenting advice from all quarters.
“It’s not like I do not respect the traditional style of parenting, but I wanted to do certain things my way,” she says.
For instance, the first basic thing that she changed was her baby’s feeding pattern. “I didn’t want to start my son off with mashed food like most Indian babies are weaned. I adopted baby-led weaning, where he started off straight with whole foods. I was often told that I am being careless to give a six-month-old a stick of carrot, but I knew what I was doing” she says. Since she inculcated this habit from the very beginning, travel has been fuss-free for little Vanraj.
There are many new-age mothers like Avni, who have adopted their own style of parenting without piling on any guilt. According to Winnie, a US-based online marketplace for child care services, millennials made up for 90 percent of parents in 2017, thereby turning into a powerful force shaping the future of parenting.
Gender neutral parenting
With the takeover of globalization and influence of social media, thought processes are changing and the millennial parents are seldom like the generations before them. Women who have brought up in gender-discriminatory environments as well as those from more progressive households seem to be stressing on teaching gender equality to their children today.
The concept is relatively new in India -something that grandmothers, aunts or relatives might not approve of. But these new-age mothers feel this is the only way to put an end to conversations around the so-called ‘weaker sex.’ So, no more toy-cars for boys, or dolls for girls - the kids choose the toys they want.
Independent graphic designer, Urmimala Nag (36), mother to two boys, Ved (10) and Abraneil (14 months) tries to have conversations with her sons that aren’t gender-specific. “I focus on empathy and gender neutral tones. Whether it’s language or chores or literature, films, clothes, toys - I let them choose. It’s not easy because the idea is still new amongst his peers. But you’ve to instil that confidence in them from the start.”
In the US and UK, several mothers refer to their kids as ‘theybies’, instead of attaching a gender to them, while Sweden has pre-schools where teachers refer to kids as ‘friends.’
A channel of communication
The new-age moms believe in the power of honest communication - they would rather have their kids ask them questions of all kinds, instead of finding misleading answers from other children or worse, online. As Urmimala says, it’s absolutely essential that your relationship with the children is based on unconditional love and transparency. The channel of communication has to be open, so that kids feel comfortable to share anything, be it out of curiosity or concern.
Bindu Vinith (45), a travel professional, who has two daughters aged 18 and 15, feels that present day parenting is strikingly different from that of the earlier generation’s. “My kids talk to me (and my husband) freely on several topics that were definitely not on the table earlier- periods, boys, sexual discrimination, gender issues, and LGBT. I would also like to believe that my daughters do not have the fear of expectations, and rather have more freedom in choosing their careers/life choices,” she says.
Kusum Bhagria (43), who has a son (14) and daughter (11), believes in the same philosophy. “Our elders would consider certain topics as taboo and kids would often be misinformed about most things. This would lead children to lie, and that’s unhealthy. I have discussed topics like bad touch, relationships, and domestic violence with kids. We even watched the movie Pink together, explaining to them the importance of respecting others and taking responsibility for our own actions,” she says.
Learning from their own experiences
In the spirit of making children grow up to be independent and be confident individuals, today’s young mothers take an effort to be not over-protective of them.
Jhilmil Motihar (36), a brand communication specialist and mother to one-year-old, Takshiv, feels that it is important for children to learn from their own experiences. “It’s not that we don’t want to protect our child, but I feel he should shape his own experiences. For instance, if he’s touching a thorny plant, I don’t want to be around him with an instruction manual. Instead, when he touches it and feels that the surface is hard, or there’s a thorn, he won’t do it again, “she says.
For these new-age mothers, parenting is not about doing what others do - it is about following their instincts and being confident about what’s best for their child!
(Edited by Athira Nair)