As I settle at my desk to write this column, I open a diary, put away my phone, read some comments on old blog posts. Three-year-old Naseem takes her position on the floor with paper, crayons and sketch pens. She can do a circle and two lines for a human form. She proceeds to create.
Aliza, 6, and Sahar, 8, are in school.
A couple of days ago, we were all together at the school bus stop. It was a special day when they had to go to school in the afternoon for a rehearsal later in the evening. The school bus did not come for a while. For a small pocket of time, the roadside became our adda. No agenda, nothing to read, clean, clear or complete. Wide empty road, a cow and a common crane on the opposite side. Post-rain crispness in the air. We are sitting on the kerb.
I have yelled at Aliza in the morning. She didn’t want to bathe, she was whiny, something was bothering her and she couldn’t tell me what it was. She was distracted. All this made me very upset. More accurately, perhaps it was the trigger that brought out the upset in me. I sorted it out temporarily by raising my voice and yelling at her. Silence and a quick bath followed.
On her own: Don’t push your daughter to fear her own feelings
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A few hours later, we are here, hair pinned neatly and water bottles as accessories.
Aliza, do you love me? I ask, turning to look at her.
She continues to play with her fingers.
Ali, did you hear me? I am asking you.
Yes, says Aliza, looking at her fingers as she winds one little one around another. There is a pause.
I think that was a very silly question, says Sahar, who is sitting on my other side.
Why is it a silly question? I ask.
Sahar gets up. She raises her arms and moves in a circle as if she needs space to say this.
This is a silly question because you already know that we love you very much.
Yes, I do, I say. But sometimes Aliza gets so angry with me that I feel confused.
But Mamma, if you get angry with someone it doesn’t mean you don’t love her. We can love you and still be angry with you sometimes. Sahar is now in front of Aliza and me, using her hands and walking around. Her school uniform and polished shoes add to her authority.
That’s right, is it? I say.
Yes, she says.
I nod my head. Aliza nods more vigorously.
That’s the end of my speech, says Sahar, and sits down next to me again.
Earlier in the morning, I had thought to myself, love means letting her be angry. Her anger is important, powerful and necessary.
I had been thinking about men and women at that time. How can one be a woman and not feel angry at the blatant, deep, random misogyny embedded in everything around us? How can one deny the dissonance? Sometimes that anger will be misdirected at the lover. We will fight with father and brothers and friends because we are angry and sometimes we feel helpless. And they are there. Don’t take it personally, I was saying in my head to my husband.
The thought came back to me at the bus stop. Between Aliza and me. Love means letting her be angry. Her anger is important. Don’t let your parental agitation push her to fear her own feelings.
Adult life can be so tough. Bringing ourselves up, as we raise our children along the side. How do we know, in everyday life, whether we are winning or losing? After all, one could be doing one thing and feeling the other.
We can begin to find out by talking, by sharing, by putting it out there. We can help validate feelings and choices that ring true to us, even when they don’t have high cultural and peer approval ratings.
For now, I said to myself, think of Aliza as a child in distress. Just comfort her. Say sorry, so she knows that things can be mended. The power to clear her confusion is inside her. When she trusts me, she will trust herself. With that self, she will change the world one day.
Meanwhile, little Naseem is at my knee right now. Your time’s up, she says. Now make a duck and colour it. I’ll help you.
I think I am in safe hands.
Natasha Badhwar is a film-maker, media trainer and mother of three.Write to Natasha at email@example.com