This blog post has been contributed by Parenting Matters (http://parentingmatters.in/), a Chennai-based organisation which partners with parents to build skillsfor deeper connection in families. It provides platforms for parents to learn together with input from trained facilitators. This blog has been written by Sunitha R., a facilitator at Parenting Matters.
My daughter and her “dhavani”
My eleven year old daughter had always dressed in western clothes. She never did like to wear traditional Indian ones. Moreover, she was surrounded by her cousins, all boys and she was one of them, mostly in jeans and T-shirts. When I asked her to wear a ‘dhavani’ – a type of saree called a half-saree worn by teenage girls in South India – she refused. Even for her maturity function (a ceremony conducted when the girl child attains puberty) she refused to wear one.In our family this was totally unacceptable and the whole family expected her to dress traditionally but I did not want to force her.
As a parent we sometimes question the freedom we are giving our children and are criticised by the elders in the family for not being more “strict”. We are told that there are things for which we have to just put our foot down. But somehow this style of parenting did not appeal to me. There are some traditions we want to pass on to our children but I don’t believe that it can be done by using authority or black mail. I wanted my daughter to wear a dhavani when she felt ready for it and also with enjoyment.
If I looked deeper at this- valuing Indian dress or any other tradition- the child may give in to please you but does the child develop a sense of pride in our traditions which is what we want. Or do they wait to be free of you so they can do what they want? I pondered over how I could get my daughter to genuinely appreciate our traditions.
Influence versus power: I started pointing out to her, girls who came to functions dressed in traditional attire and how at other times they dress up in modern clothing. We talked about how it is possible to be versatile. Wearing Indian clothes does not make you “old fashioned” and that girls had the privilege of wearing a variety of clothes. I conveyed that both of us parents would enjoy seeing her in a dhavani. Over the next couple of years we saw her wearing ‘salwar-kameez’ or ‘kurthi’ – Indian dresses – for the family occasions. Then when she was about 16 years old at the Dussehra family, I was pleasantly surprised she convinced all her friends to wear dhavanis. She looked lovely in that beautiful dress and I was happy that the choice had been made by her.
The right choice: The point I would like to highlight is that inner discipline – when the child chooses to do the right thing because she believes it is the right thing to do – does not happen immediately. It takes years, nearly 5 years in this case, but in the long run she understood as it was not forced on her and hence there was no resentment towards me. She was happy doing it. It was not easy as there were many people telling me that she will become a spoilt child as I was pandering to all her needs. It required that I have full faith and confidence in her to know that she will understand things in future. It needed a lot patience to use tools of inner discipline like stating your expectations, giving choices, restricting your No’s and finding ways to meet the child’s needs*. I understood her need for acceptance from her cousin brothers at that time and she didn’t want to do something different that sets her apart.
Today she likes wearing traditional clothes with jewellery and accessories.
Respect works both ways: As parents we are powerful in our children’s lives and we often resort to force to make them do the things we want. They often rebel specially by the time they are teenagers and dig in their heels and say they will not. We are left with a lose- lose rather than win- win situation. I believe that when we respect them and share with them the things we value, while giving them the space to explore whether they want to take on those values, then we have a greater chance of influencing them to take good decisions in which they give importance to our input as well. When teenagers do not feel respected by their parents they turn away from them and make their decisions overly influenced by their peer group.
This experience of being able to pass onto my children something I value through discussions and respecting each other’s point of view has been true of many other decisions I see them take in their life.
*Read “How to Talk so that Kids Listen, How to Listen so that Kids Talk” by Faber and Mazlish and “Unconditional Parenting” by Alfie Kohn to learn more on building inner discipline.