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'I want my daughter to be tough'

Zelda Pande | July 24, 2006

I bet you know all the nursery ditties:

What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice and everything that is nice

What are little boys made of?
Snips and snails and puppy dog tails

Or you heard your father or grandmother say in a very sage and old-fashioned manner: Boys must grow up to be strong!

I'd like to make a statement that flies in the face of that convention: Girls need to be brought up stronger still.

I am bringing up two daughters and, being a woman myself, I think it is even more important to have your daughters grow up independent, fearless and tough.

I do know very definitely what I don't want my girls to be:

~ They cannot be wilting violets with no gumption and short on energy to tackle the important matters in life.

~ Nor do I want them to extra-feminine creatures not willing to earn a day's salary because their husband does that for them.

~ They cannot be insecure and unsure of what they can do with their life merely because they were born female.

~ They cannot be ninnies who listen faithfully to their husbands and have no opinions of their own.

You may be reading this and wondering what I am talking about, right? That these kind of women are outdated and don't exist.

But, even in Mumbai, a city where every girl gets a chance to prove herself, I run into these types on a daily basis.

Nor is this article an attack against women who are housewives. There are woman who run perfect homes and spend special time raising wonderful kids. Hats off to them. They give the word housewife its true meaning.

But then there are so many housewives -- I am sure you have bumped into so many of them -- who don't run great homes, can hardly put a good meal on the table and are too lazy to raise their kids properly. They don't have any justification for being housewives.      

But let's move back to the central theme of this piece: Why do we need to bring up our girls sturdy?

Well, because, tomorrow, they may want to be career types, earning their own income. They will need to go out there and be able to face working in tough environments, commuting long hours to work, often in offices that are predominantly male-dominated. I have not faced it, but your daughter may face a situation where a male colleague, equally qualified, gets better assignments. That just possibly may not happen if she is indispensable and tough at what she does.

No longer in an office, in Mumbai at least, can you say I can't do the night shift. You have to be able to do it and learn how to navigate your city safely and wisely after dark. No longer do women not face job transfers; they need to learn to start all over again in another city or country.

If they do not opt for an 'arranged marriage', they will need to have the ability to choose a sensible partner. So many of us could not be swayed by our parents' views while choosing a spouse. Don't expect your child will listen to you. But she needs to have the wisdom to choose well. The support of a great husband can make her life much happier.

It is likely that they will need to learn how to balance office and home which is no easy task for anyone, male or female. You need to be a superhuman to do that right.

Our daughters may make bad marriages or start bad relationships and have to be tough enough to stand their ground for what they believe in under such circumstances. They will need to know how to be able to plot a course to their life while in a bad marriage and come out on top in a society that, in many instances, can be extra conservative. Or else have the courage to break it up. All extremely, extraordinarily tough situations that we may have been fortunate never to have faced.

They may lose their spouses. They will need to know how to steer their families into the future without the male member, who may have added his salary to the family income apart from balancing the family's financial books, sorting legal matters and repairing the car.

It is never easy being a woman in a world where, sometimes, strangely, one wrong decision can cloud your future -- like getting accidentally pregnant or having a relationship with the wrong man. That does not take into account the things that can happen to you that are not in your control -- harassment, molestation and worse.

Equally important is the fact that, tomorrow, she herself will be a mom and needs to know how to bring her kids up.

Don't you want your daughter tough and clear headed enough to be able to face all these variables that could change the equation of her life? Don't you think she needs to be stronger, or as strong as a man, to be equipped to face these situations.

There is a girl I went to college with. No doubt she was bright in those days. Today, her daughter goes to the same school and same class as mine and I run into her fairly often. She has no career. She married money. And I spy her too often changing her hairstyle, shopping, socialising to imagine she could be anything more than an armchair/ remote mom. And I always wonder how can one not hate one's self for being of such little value to society? What did she go to school and college for?       

I want to be proud that tomorrow my daughters have made something of their lives. That their life has amounted to something even in the face of difficult circumstances. That they have not participated in mediocrity and have become good mothers, good homemakers and good career women. Hopefully, all three.

So I want my girls tough. Really tough.

Tips, small and big, that I think that could help make them tough...

~ Never think that any task is something only boys, and not girls too, need to learn. Teach your daughters to cook, sew, kick a ball, drive, learn karate, hammer a nail, change a bulb, write a legal affidavit, travel alone, study abroad. Your boys have to learn all these things too.

~ Never sissy them. Even when they are hurt or upset or sick or have issues, strike a balance between what is support and comfort and what amounts to babying them.

~ Don't make them too girlie, playing only with dolls -- less Barbie pleeease, if possible -- and make-up and girl companions. Buy them cars and road tracks and soccer balls. 

~ Discipline them. Don't shirk -- like so many moms and dads do these days -- from strong but just/ appropriate parenting. Tough love it is called.

~ Spend time talking to them and telling them what is right and what is wrong. Expose them to issues of life even from a young age. Let them express their views fearlessly and teach them to speak their mind. Bring them up to be clear-headed, not confused.

~ Don't have different standards for what your daughter can do and what your son is allowed to do.

~ Don't overprotect them. Again, it is difficult to find a middle road between sensible protection in a lawless world and over-coddling. But eventually your teenage, nearly-grown up daughter should be able to get around without drivers, cars, male chaperones. 

~ Let them be well-read, empowered by knowledge and aware of the affairs of the world. They should be able to discuss issues of business, maybe cricket, politics as well as their parents. 

Do you agree with Zelda Pande? Let us know. Share your parenting tips with other Get Ahead readers.  


Illustration: Uttam Ghosh

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Number of User Comments: 50

Sub: i want my--------

its beautifuly narrated and very applied in todays world i appriciate the writers selection of topic and valuable guidelines. regards-punetha k. k. indore(M.P.) ...

Posted by kamalpuneha

Sub: Great Article

Beautifully written article. I totally agree with you and this is exactly the way I was brought up and I am proud of it now, ...

Posted by SKGayatri

Sub: Neat article but..

A good read..but... There has been mention about tips on how to make our girls stronger. I'm not sure how handing over a barbie to ...

Posted by Divya

Sub: 100 % percent

i totally agree with the views !

Posted by renuka

Sub: Tough Daughters

Well written Zelda. I have Son. If I had a daughter, I would have liked her to grow up the same way only. However, I ...

Posted by Suvendu


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