#WeTheParents – Raising Twins

*Names of the children have been changed to protect their identity

Last week I asked my 8-year-old son, Nihar, to list five qualities he thought a boy should have. “Strength, speed, good at driving, intelligence; good at football” he said, after some thought. But girls can have these too, I pointed out. “I know,” he replied, “I didn’t say only boys had them.” My relief grew an inch when he added, “Actually, I can’t think of any quality that only boys have and girls don’t. Or the other way around!”

I have twins, a boy and a girl. Nihar and Anaya. People usually presume Anaya is younger by a year because she is built small, like my grandmother. Nihar hovers a foot above her. At a vaccination clinic a doctor casually inquired if we were feeding the boy more! I nearly went for his neck.

When they are heading to the park, I tell Nihar to watch out for Anaya. On a school excursion, or a play date I ask him to keep an eye on her.

I say, it is because Anaya is the smaller child, I tend to worry more about her safety. I think, it is because Anaya is the ‘girl child’, I tend to worry more about her safety.

I’ve made Nihar the de facto guardian, Anaya, the defenceless ‘guardee’. Unconsciously signalling to one that ‘he’ protects; to the other that ‘she’ needs it. My sometimes-wise husband corrects me when I assign this lopsided duty, and tells them to both keep an eye on each other. He levels the field, when I was flagrantly tilting it.

How could I miss this! I’ve always had lofty notions about my feminism; I’d congratulate myself for having weeded out most (clearly I’d missed a few!) gender stereotypes from the household; for starting the children early on Fundamentals of Feminism when I’d point out to them the backwardness of separate Girl/ Boy sections in book/toy-stores, and gendered colour-coded clothing. How then did I continue to make this most cardinal of errors!

As a journalist I’ve written that ALL children, irrespective of sex, are at equal risk of sexual abuse, molestation and kidnapping. Why then was I more anxious for Anaya’s safety while taking Nihar’s for granted?

Had Nihar been the physically smaller twin, or even the younger child, would I have dispatched them to the playground with Anaya ‘in charge’? At age 8, I think not. I might have accompanied them.

We conflate size and age with agency — the older and bigger you are, the more capable of looking after yourself. We inadvertently conflate sex with agency too — boys can take care of themselves, and of girls. They ought to. Even the most modern mothers can fall into old habits.

I live in Gurgaon, a city where a parent’s worst fears and nightmares are kept alive and healthy by daily reports on all manners of depravity visited on children, particularly on girls. Although I live in a guarded residential complex, I worry when I send my kids outdoors unsupervised. But I don’t want to cloister them (well, not until they’re 15), so I send them to the nearby playground like they’re going into battle — armed to the teeth with cautions, placing my son in command.

Now while I don’t want my daughter to feel especially threatened or vulnerable, I don’t want my son to feel like his safety doesn’t matter. Or unfairly anchoring him with responsibility. I want them both to feel equally empowered — possessed of the agency to look after themselves and the other.

As with many first moves, this starts with language. I’m revising my script, telling the boy I expect of him what I would of the girl, and the other way around. I hope it will embolden Anaya and give her a greater sense of agency. And it will reassure Nihar that someone’s watching his back too.

Photo Credits : Today's Parent

Words By : Joeanna Rebello Fernandes

For two decades Joeanna Rebello Fernandes has worked as a magazine and newspaper journalist. For over half that time she has worked with The Times of India across Mumbai, Chennai and Delhi. She is now a Senior Editor with Eicher Goodearth Ltd, a part of Eicher Motors, and has recently written a children’s book for them, Treasure at The Train Station: A Mumbai Adventure. You can follow her on twitter and instagram


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