“Don’t let parenting consume you entirely”

Sruthy Susan Ullas interviewed well-known children’s books author Sowmya Rajendran on the importance of raising empathetic, gender-sensitive children in stress-free home environments 

Pune-based Sowmya Rajendran is a popular children’s books writer with over 20 titles to her name. In 2015 Rajendran was awarded the Sahitya Akademi’s Bal Sahitya Puraskar for Mayil Will Not Be Quiet (Tulika Books, 2015). An English literature graduate of Stella Maris College, Chennai with a Masters in gender studies from University of Sussex, UK, she is also a journalist with The News Minute, a news website. Together with husband Magesh Nandagopal, a scientist with CSIR (Council for Scientific & Industrial Research), she raises daughter Adhira (6), a class I student of the Vidya Valley School, Pune.

What is your parenting philosophy?

It’s to graduate from being vital to becoming vestigial. That is, I want my child to become less dependent on me as she grows older, until I’m no longer necessary for her to lead a happy and fulfilling life. I believe that’s what adulting is about — being responsible for your own happiness and not depending on others. I will, of course, always be there for her if and when she needs me. 

A journalist’s job is 24/7. How do you balance motherhood and work?

My work is very important to me, and I’d go around the bend without it. I fitted my decision to become a parent into this need and not the other way around. From the start, I’ve explained to my daughter what I do and why it’s important to me. When she was three years old, I took her along with me shopping, eating out, and made sure she noticed that I was paying money for all these activities. I explained that my work earns money and happiness. Now she understands why I should have a job and is very cooperative. Better still, she’s determined to work for her living when she grows up. In fact, she just can’t fathom how princesses in fairy tales get married without first landing a job which pays for their food and shopping.

Reading has taken a back-seat among nexgen children. What are you suggestions to promote the reading habit in young children? 

I don’t know if reading has taken a back-seat. We hear the same complaint about every generation. Our generation was allegedly not reading because of television. This generation is not reading because of gadgets and the Internet. Adults expect children to read when they themselves don’t read. They also don’t buy children the books they want to read. They’d rather buy an encyclopedia or important looking educational book. Children learn by observation, so if you want your child to read, please read yourself; and when they are young, take the time to read to them. Moreover don’t hesitate to spend money on books. 

Parenting has become more complex than ever before in urban India. How do you cope with its many challenges?

I think parenting becomes simple when you admit you don’t know everything and respect your child’s opinions. Although I put my foot down in matters relating to her health and safety, we encourage her to make all other decisions herself or jointly with us. For example, I don’t see the sense of forcing her to wear a dress she doesn’t like because I think it looks good. Since she has great freedom to decide, tantrum throwing is minimal. 

Most parents tend to overly focus on academics. What’s your advice to them? 

Creativity and academics are not mutually exclusive. I can’t say marks and grades are not important. We’re part of the system and we need to learn how to negotiate with it. However, forcing children to study all day is criminal. Let them learn to think and decide for themselves. 

Do you believe exposing children to social media or allowing them too much gadget time is detrimental?

I’ve never given my daughter a tech gadget because it makes you stop observing the world around you. But, I acknowledge that technology is important. When she grows older, she will want to be on social media. I won’t restrict access but will educate her about online safety. 

You are a strong advocate of gender sensitive parenting. What’s your advice on raising gender sensitive children?

Most gender conditioning happens at home. In our home, there’s nothing that only Amma or Appa can do. Both of us do everything — cooking, cleaning, laundry, office work etc. In fact Adhira takes great delight in spotting gender bias and reports it to me enthusiastically. I also encourage her to examine gender biases in popular culture. For instance she recently wanted to know why girl characters in animation films including the progressive Frozen have such thin arms when the boys are muscular. 

What’s your final message to parents?

Being a parent is one of your many identities. Don’t let it consume you entirely. And if that happens, don’t blame your child or expect that being your child should be her sole identity either. Also, it’s fine for children to disagree with parents.

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