My younger son is going through a phase—he dislikes girls. He will be 11 soon. Recently, his elder brother’s friends (14-year-olds) teased him about some girl, saying she liked him, etc. He kept telling them to shut up, and finally said “I don’t like girls, I’m gay”. Now, nobody lets him forget this, and he’s teased endlessly about it. His elder brother is also irritated by all this. Should I sit him as well as some of the other boys down and tell them that a) this is not the definition of being gay b) the word ‘gay’ is not something to laugh at and mock about?
Well, I don’t know whether the parents of the other boys will appreciate you tackling this topic with their sons. So I think it’s best you let this one go. However, you could speak to both your sons—this is as good a time as any to come up with an age-appropriate conversation on both counts that you mention. One, set them right on the fact that a gay person is not (necessarily) a woman-hater or a person who dislikes girls. The other point being that “gay” shouldn’t be a “teasing word”. Once you enter into this conversation, be prepared to answer various questions that range from “are they bad people” right on to “would you hate me if I became gay?” Answer them the best you can, depending on your position on these things. It’s also ok to say “I don’t know”, if the line of questions become intricate, or too graphic and difficult to explain.
There is just one guiding principle, really, in all such conversations when talking to children about “the other”—people of any kind of religious, community or sexual orientation that is different from what the child is familiar with. And that is: Regardless of your own approval/disapproval of any group of people, no one group or person who is different from you or unfamiliar to you should be mocked at and reviled, targeted or baited. That really is the bottom line, isn’t it?
Braving bullies:‘Gay’ shouldn’t be a mock directed at your young son. Thinkstock
As for the specifics of your question, no doubt his startling statement has created room for much mirth and teasing, among the boys. I’d suggest you just let it die down. If your elder son is also being teased about his younger brother’s statement, you could ask him to say something dismissive, and not take it all so seriously. It’s just a word that the youngsters have stumbled on, and its “tease-value” or “charge” will fizzle out in a while. As for your son hating girls, you must know that this is a phase, and you can let him take his time to arrive at some kind of balance about it because there’s likely to also be a phase when all he’ll think of, is girls.
My daughter has just had a baby, who is less than a month old. While I help her with baby-related chores, she has to do the bulk of the handling. She lives in Sweden and will not have much help when she returns there. However, I find that though she is quite patient, at least once a day when the baby is crying after being fed and needs a dry diaper, she shouts at the baby and says things such as “I’ll slap you if you don’t shut up”. My husband and I have intervened and told her how wrong this is. She breaks down and cries and promises not to do it again, but still does it. We are very fearful that she may, in just such a state, harm the baby by shaking him or actually slapping him when she is alone with him back in Sweden. In what way can we prevent this?
It is difficult being locked in with your baby 24 hours, but you know that already. Exhaustion and frustration do set in at least for some part of the day. However, yes, there is no way that this fatigue and exasperation should be thrown in the direction of a tiny baby that is doing nothing on purpose to irritate its mother. The fact that your daughter breaks down in this way shows that she’s also aware that it’s wrong, but can’t help it and needs something else from you by way of support. Many new mothers want to get it perfectly right—and feel defeated and dejected when a baby keeps crying or remains restless. While the shouting is directed at the baby, at some level she’s probably also shouting, so that you take note of her tiredness and of the fact that she’s trying so hard. Perhaps you can validate her efforts in more ways, even if you don’t want to “take over” the baby-handling a lot. Once you’ve ruled out any specific health issue such as colic, etc., you should encourage your daughter to steel herself a little and not be so very frazzled by the sound of her baby crying. It doesn’t mean that she’s falling down on her job, for sure—this you need to convey.
‘Second, you must caution her that allowing herself to vent her feelings directly at the child is dangerous because, as you say, she could be driven to act upon her threats one day when she’s alone. It’s been known to happen. Even shaking a child in irritation can be bad, even fatal. Not to speak of the sheer fear and helplessness even an infant can feel when its mother is so angry and rejecting.
Baby blues: Refrain from yelling. Thinkstock
Well before she returns to her home, you and she and her husband need to look at what options of childcare and support are available in that country, so that she is not so totally alone in the daily rearing of the child. It is important to form a social circle of other moms in her situation, so that she does not feel the isolation and the too-heavy burden of doing this all on her own. It’s important for her baby, for her as well as for the well-being of her marriage. In India too, while there are better family support systems, those are beginning to vanish or be unavailable, and cannot be counted on, not in urban centres and in nuclear families. So it’s essential that young mothers find ways in which they can step away for a brief while, even if it is just for some fresh air on the balcony.
Gouri Dange is the author of The ABCs of Parenting.
Write to Gouri at email@example.com