Disclaimer: This is a personal piece written by an imperfect feminist who is grateful that her stay-at-home mom didn’t focus on what her daughter should be, but more on what she shouldn’t be.
Mine is a classic case of a feminist raised by a feminist.
When I was about thirteen, my mom asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I didn’t have an answer then (heck, I still don’t have one). She giggled and said: “No matter what you become, don’t become me.” It sounded absurd to me because to me, she was the coolest person I ever knew. She continued – “I love your Dad but I don’t like being dependent on him. I just got lucky with my arranged marriage. This isn’t always the case. You need to be independent because if it goes south, you should be able to pack up and leave without thinking twice about how you’ll sustain yourself.”
I didn’t respond to what she said, but I never forgot that conversation. I finally knew what I actually felt about this conversation only last year, which I’ll leave for the end of this blog.
Ironically, neither my feminist stay-at-home mom nor I knew what feminism was when I was growing up. My mother comes from a conservative household and grew up with six siblings, observing a clear difference in how her brothers and sisters were raised. She is now a stay-at-home mother who worked really hard all these years to ensure that my home was completely different from hers.
A few years down the line, I realised that feminist mothering involved a lot of unlearning, which is never easy, especially for moms at home.
I am still trying to figure out what or who inspired her to break the generational trend of unintentional sexism at home.
Sadly, even today, our society fails to acknowledge the challenges stay at home parents face and how they are shaping the future of our generation, one child at a time. That isn’t any different than a full-time job, except that there are no days off.
That said, here are 5 things I learnt about feminism from my stay-at-home mom who showcased her feminism in the joys of motherhood:
1. Ask for it
She always knew what she deserved and asked for it. Of course, none of these things was materialistic because, moms.
I was as scared as a chicken to ask my father’s permission for my first ever Manali trip with my friends. She said, “Just ask and tell him why you want to go. That’s all you can do.” It took me two days to finally gather the courage, but she had already convinced him to say yes. Later on, she said –
“If you never ask, you might even miss out on opportunities that were going to come to you eventually. Asking will just make them come to you sooner. You wasted two days kha-ma-kha.”
I’m sure she doesn’t even know that I still remember this vividly and apply it to my professional life every single day. Whenever I ask for something at work, I make myself feel better by thinking that maybe someone has already laid the groundwork for me. Sounds too ambitious, but believe me, it has happened twice before.
2. Speak up. Fight unapologetically
My family loves to fight.
I think of it as a healthy, cathartic experience that shows that we care enough to fix things instead of turning a blind eye to them. My mom is the first one to show her support and speak up for people who can’t speak for themselves. She’s selfless; almost too selfless at times.
I, however, try to balance it out and believe in pointing out the wrong immediately. It is obviously easier said than done, but it’s better to be uncomfortable for a minute than being uncomfortable for a long period of time. I keep this mind at work as well, and it has only done me good.
3. It’s okay to love money
I’m aware of how materialistic this sounds. But to someone who doesn’t come from a strong financial background, money can be a game-changer. More money equals more opportunities. For those of us who are not born with a silver spoon in our mouths, we have to work twice as hard for things that others are just handed. Now, this is not a rant about economic disparity.
My mother pushed me to dream about lavish vacations she never could take and say yes to opportunities she never had. She wants everything to be accessible to me, but she never fails to remind me that my biggest wealth is my family and health. The rest can be figured out.
The biggest joy for me now is going shopping - she doesn’t feel the need to take her wallet out, because she knows that I’ve got it covered.
4. Both partners can wear the pants in a relationship
The concept of the ‘alpha male’ is alien to me.
Though my father has always been the sole earner in my family, my stay-at-home mom managed the money for all three of us. To put it more clearly, she took all the major decisions and my father always trusted her judgement. She knew when it was time for us to buy our first car or re-build our old home, and my dad supported her through all her decisions.
I’ve never seen any other couple around them collaborate so well. Seeing them planning, arguing, listening, and eventually coming to an agreement really helped me communicate my needs better and not be afraid to take charge of things. She made him see a more progressive way of life, and that opened a lot of doors for me.
5. Only you decide what you want
My mother wasn’t given a choice, but she made sure to fight for what she wanted. Not getting a college education was, sadly, not her choice. So, getting a good education was the only non-negotiable for me. The field I pick, the career path I take, the people I am friends with, the cities I live in, and the partner I choose are never influenced by my parents’ needs. Whenever I have a choice to make, I try my best to make choices that she’ll be proud of.
These were a few of the many things I learned from Pooja Dutta. I had to mention her name because she’s more than a stay-at-home mom, a wife, and a daughter. She taught me to be giving and not be afraid to take either. My mom is a feminist and even I took it upon myself to introduce and define feminism to my younger cousins and grown-up relatives like my mother did with me, unintentionally.
Finally, the response I gave her to the “don’t be like me” conversation was – “I’d be lucky to be like you. I am, in fact, working hard to be like you every single day, because you are not what happened to you, but how you made the best out of a situation.
I am humble, confident, and fearless to take what’s mine in the world, and there’s nothing stopping me. Thanks to you, the path ahead seems easier because you spent your time clearing my way when I wasn’t looking. Just like when you convinced Dad to let me go on the trip even before I actually asked him.”
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