Our complex has 9 blocks, all spaciously surrounded by landscaped gardens. Recently I was taking my daughter to the 6th block for her dance class in the evening. She was wearing tights and a T-shirt. What I didn’t realize was that the pair of tights were loose around her waist. As we walked through the complex, I noticed that my daughter would often fall back and then after a few minutes come running to keep pace with me. After the third time, I turned to see her picking up her T-shirt and trying to pull up her tights because they were slowly slipping down. I asked her what she was doing and she tried to explain. I asked her not to do it till we reached the 6th block where I would fix it for her. But she continued to say that her tights were loose and kept pulling them up. I told her sternly that there were buildings all around and people could see her. It didn’t look nice and she shouldn’t raise her T-shirt in public.
It soon became an argument till I held her, turned her around and in a very angry voice told her that I was only telling her not to do it now in public where everyone could see her! Then ignoring her protests, I held her hand firmly and made her walk with me.
When we reached the 6th block lift corridor (where it was private) I lifted her T-shirt and fixed her pants while continuously explaining that I didn’t ever want her to fix or re-arrange her clothes when she was in public.
Long story short, she attended her class and then went to the park to play before heading home. Both of us forgot about the incident that had happened earlier.
She met her friends and was running around, having fun when suddenly I heard a loud thud. I turned to see her flat on the ground where she had banged her head on the concrete floor. Before I could react, she quickly picked herself up and came running to me. She became teary-eyed but didn’t cry. I held her, consoled her and then using a handkerchief wiped her face, her arms and then used it to give warm compress on her forehead. She insisted she was fine and refused to go home. I told her how proud I was that she was being so brave.
Later that evening after we had returned home, she asked me if I was proud of her because she didn’t cry. I hugged her saying ‘of course I was.’ And then the bomb dropped. She asked, ‘Ma who all saw me when I fell?’
I was taken aback by her question when she asked again, ‘did anyone else see?’
That’s when it suddenly dawned on me that only a short while ago I had told her that people from the surrounding buildings could see her pulling up her tights. So, in her understanding, she assumed that when she fell, people from the neighbouring buildings could see her. I felt really miserable and wanted to kick myself. The consequence of a single reaction from me seemed to have had such a deeper impact on her. Instead of crying out in pain (a natural response) she actually first thought about how others would see her! I cringed within, had I just inadvertently seeded the fear of “what will people say” in her head?
I tried to tell myself that when she fell her ego was bruised because her friends were around and perhaps that’s why she didn’t cry. But deep down I knew that wasn’t the case. So, I comforted her saying that she needn’t worry. When in pain, she should express herself without thinking about others.
To an extent being a girl child, I want to protect her, make her understand that she should be careful and take care of herself. I fear the world we live in and that fear drives me to become so hyper-vigilant, even for small things. But it’s never been my intention to teach her that being a girl, she has to worry about people and their reactions.
I hugged her tight and in that moment felt that parenting was such a shitty job and I sucked at it!
(Did I just seed the fear of ‘what will people say’ in my daughter was first published in Momspresso (formerly mycity4kids) on November 5, 2017)