I have always known it technically, but lived experience makes me increasingly aware of the invisible yet inevitable impact of my behaviour on my children. Sometimes it can feel like a really heavy weight to carry, but often awareness dawns and I realize that I can toss the ball towards the sky, run and catch it as it returns, and basically make a game of it. More people will join in when I look like I am having too much fun all by myself.
Gossip like an old crone
I tell my children stories about everyone in the family. One by one I shall narrate them all. I’ve even got some of them lined up on a timeline for age-appropriateness. I will tell them about elopements and adoptions, about divorces and separations. I will tell them about heartbreak and recovery, about depression, addictions and suicide. About being uprooted and of healing.
My daughters and I will look at, fumble with, search for and feel around our own life stories and personal histories. You can call it gossip, because we do enjoy these conversations very much. We shall banish shame and taboos from our own discourse. We shall celebrate survival as if it is a miracle.
Talk to strangers
I was not very good at this as a younger woman. I was wary and shy and it took very little to make me feel threatened and act aggressive. The mere presence of children in my entourage changes the dynamics of communication between the world and me. People reach out and talk to or about the children. I have learnt to ask for help. I have learnt to recognize that I need help and that doesn’t make me a lesser person.
Because the children are watching, I am inspired to stay in control and keep calm, even when I don’t know what is coming next. This has made me chatty and relaxed. I talk to strangers in the Metro, malls, libraries, restaurants and public toilets as if I have known them for a long time. I need to demonstrate authority to my daughters. The world is not our enemy, it responds to friendliness. We are not helpless pawns, we influence situations with our own aura and power. I’m a woman, you are little women and we have tools that enable our happiness, safety and well-being.
Act like a complete clown
At home, I talk gibberish, I dance like a toy whose limbs are loose from the joints and I cry like a circus clown when I can’t find the last piece of cake that I thought was waiting for me. I want to exist outside my well-behaved body, I want to hear sounds that are not subdued, I want to express more than what is allowed in the cage of social propriety. This is my definition of being at home.
I am surprised at how homeless I can feel unexpectedly, I recognize it in other women and I don’t want to pass it on to my daughters.
“You are so funny, Mamma,” says my eldest child, and that’s all I have ever needed to hear. I tried all this tentatively, not really expecting a very hospitable response, but years of persisting has clearly made me a better clown than I used to be. I want to raise daughters unafraid of being funny.
Fight with their father
“What’s the matter with you,” my husband texted me long after we had walked out of an argument.
“I was fighting with you because the children were watching,” I texted back. Then I picked up the phone and just called him. “Babu, I have to confront you when they watch us having an argument,” I said.
“I thought we are supposed to tone it down in their presence?” he said referring to a previous discussion we have had about the inevitable differences of opinion between us.
“How do you want your daughters to behave when they are confronted with an entitled brat of a boy making a stupid argument?” I asked him.
“I want them to demolish him,” he said, which is milder than the words he usually uses when he imagines his daughters and young men in the future.
“Well, then they have to see their mother do that, so that they know that it is normal behaviour. If I keep backing off from flare-ups for the sake of temporary peace or because I am scared of raised voices and accusations, then that’s what your daughters will also do as adult women,” I said. “Subconscious role-modelling, you see.”
I’m really serious about this. And therefore I take this really seriously. I fight with my husband to show my children how to speak up for yourself in intimate relationships. How to say what you feel calmly when the other is raising his voice and getting very agitated about whatever is at stake. Sometimes it is as trivial as how the bedcovers must be folded around the bed. Sometimes it is more significant.
I would let go of a lot more things between us if I wasn’t acutely aware that our children are watching us.
“Did you call me an entitled brat of a boy?” my husband came back to me much later.
“No way,” I giggled. “I would never ever do that, jaaneman.”
“You are such a badmaash,” he said.
“Thank you, are you proud of me?” I said.
Flirt with my sweetheart
“Mamma, you forgot one more thing you do that makes him very embarrassed,” my daughter reminds me as I discuss this piece with her father and her. “You jump into his lap and kiss him behind his ear.” As expected, her father’s face is turning red.
“But beta, I would do a lot more of that if you guys weren’t watching,” I say.
“You are so funny, Mamma,” she says, running off to get ready for school.
Natasha Badhwar is a film-maker, media trainer and mother of three.