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How to raise a daughter

The author tries to figure out how to raise fearless daughters while keeping them safe in a messy world

The author feels that daughters are not valuable simply because they are her daughters or each other’s sisters. They have value because they are human. Photo: painting by Maya Burman/ Chawla Art Gallery's Instagram page

My daughters found a dead mouse on the driveway this week. When telling me about it, my three-year-old said it was so dead, it couldn’t even walk.

“The mother and father will have to come and get it and take it home,” she added.

“Sure,” I said, feeling a slight tug of guilt at letting her believe that. But there is just too much that is too difficult to explain right now.

What does one write about in a week within a year when everything feels hopeless?

How does one parent?

When my daughters look over my shoulder while I read the horrifying news about Hathras, I quickly put my phone away and allow myself to just hug them and not think about their tiny bodies being turned into sites of violence. I don’t yet have the words, even vague ones, to explain this to them.

Instead I sit down on the floor and help them build a rocket with their Magnatiles. I think about how to make them aware of their privilege and the injustice in the world.

I think back to the mothers of the sons in our Mumbai preschool who laughed and joked about boys being boys, one of whom thought nothing about telling me her son kept talking about wanting to kiss my daughter.

But what do I teach my daughters in the privacy of our own home? Of course, the onus of change needs to be on the sons but it is not yet, and it does not look like it will be even for the next generation. So I have to teach my daughters to police themselves in order to protect themselves. I want the world to change but even more than that, I want to protect my family. If boys are going to be boys, my girls have to learn to be careful about getting home at night, they have to think about what they are wearing and whether or not their drink was tampered with.

And the worst part is that they have to live knowing that they can be as careful as they want and they will still be vulnerable. And we have to figure out how to raise them so they know that but still live unafraid.

I try to tell them they don’t need to always be nice, that niceness in women is used to take advantage of them, but then when one of them tries to bite the other, I quickly backtrack and say: “No, no, you have to be nice to each other and you have to be nice in general but you don’t have to be nice in a situation that makes you uncomfortable. Does that make sense? But sometimes if you aren’t nice, men may decide they want revenge. That definitely doesn’t make sense.”

They stare at me and my madness. They don’t even know what revenge means yet.

“And you don’t have to blindly respect someone or be nice to someone just because they’re older or in a position of authority.”

I keep talking, now forgetting about them and remembering all the encounters I have had with people who have tried to rely on societal structures to be creeps. Examples as old as time.

“Except me, and your father, and your grandparents,” I say. “And usually your teachers but then there are all these cases of coaches assaulting their young athletes because of this relationship so maybe not. Oh God, I don’t know, maybe you can just live at home forever.”

One of them is now trying to climb up a bookshelf and the other one has toddled off to the patio. I have some time to come up with the answers.

“But your brilliant brains will never be hemmed in by rules and restrictions,” I nearly shout after them, my fist in the air.

But the truth is that this week, I feel afraid. I have no answers, no convenient anecdotes. What I know is that my daughters are not valuable simply because they are my daughters or each other’s sisters or someday, if they choose, partners or wives or mothers. They have value because they are human and the world will not always remember that.

Diksha Basu is the best-selling author of The Windfall and Destination Wedding.

    09.10.2020 | 01:00 PM IST

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