Girls’ Toys?

I read this article a few days ago and forwarded it to P.  The gist of the original article was:

Barbie should be put back in her box to make way for more “creative” toys such as Lego and Meccano that are traditionally given to boys, one of Britain’s top women scientists says.

I know P has some very strong opinions on this subject – way stronger than mine. Even so her reply was much more emphatic than I expected. So I knew I had to post it for you guys. Let me know what you think!

Before we get P’s opinion, an obligatory pic of the toys Chotu never plays with.

Makes a nice Thumbnail if you share this post on Facebook!

I think this is a sort of reverse-conditioning that is being imposed on girls. In getting rid of one stereotype, why are we creating another? Why are we giving the girls who do actually want to play with Barbies and cooking-sets a complex? At the end of the day, the kid must have the choice of picking up whatever toy it is he or she wants to play with!

There is such a thing as nature as well, it’s not all nurture. How is this any worse than those parents who “urge” their child to write with their right hand, and not with the left? So yes, I think the child must be given a choice, but this “urging” is bad, one way or another.

On a personal note, my favorite toy was a cute girl with blue-eyes, curly hair and a green dress – I had her with me for the longest time until she was in absolute tatters! I used to love to play with a metal kitchen set my dad got for me and my sis ( yes, my physicist dad, who also taught us quite a bit of physics later on in life!) . And believe it or not, our favorite game was “playing house” 😀

Clearly, none of this reflects on the way me or my sister turned out eventually, except perhaps my fondness for babies 🙂 Conversely, it is not as if all boys who play with Lego sets end up becoming engineers or rocket-scientists!

Actually I find some of the ideas expressed here objectionable and downright condescending. Sample this: “Girls toys are typically liable to lead to passivity – combing the hair of Barbie, for instance – not building, imagining or being creative with Lego or Meccano” . Why is hair-dressing not a creative activity?! How can she say it doesn’t encourage imagination?!

Again, on a personal note, it’s true that I never had any interest in Legos or building stuff, and that I did love to read and do math, and these were perhaps early signs of what I eventually ended up doing. But the fact that I was playing with dolls and kitchen sets didn’t turn me away from science or math, and neither did it dampen my creativity (or so I’d like to think!) . As for internships and such, I know that G served as a bar-tender for a while during his undergraduate days, and then went on to do a math-CS PhD; I think he would have been a disaster at any local garage 😉

It’s not that I’m not admitting that there is a problem : the fraction of women in the so-called STEM fields (even at the entry level) is abysmally small. But I think the approach suggested here is catching the wrong end of the stick. My theory is that it is during the high-school-to-college transition that a lot of girls move away from STEM. A few of them continue on to biology, primarily because of the “scope” of doing medicine later on. Actually if you look at the list of high school toppers in India, whether in CBSE or State-Board, there’s a larger fraction of girls than boys. But when it comes to going into college, they are encouraged to be “practical” and choose fields where there’s a scope of getting a job soon after finishing college.
Long years of societal conditioning makes girls believe that the purpose of a college degree is to get a job, then get married and start a family; that choosing to pursue a research career in science or math or engineering at this stage might entail long years of waiting before the job-marriage-child matrix happens. Most girls give in to social pressure at this stage and choose the more “practical” option…I think *this* is where the problem lies! This is where the societal pressures have to ease and girls should be encouraged to pursue what they are interested in…I don’t think something as simple as replacing the Barbies with Legos will help!

And there we have it, if not from  one of India’s most eminent female scientists (though I’m betting she will count among them soon) then at least from a female scientist who is none the worse from having grown up playing with a blue eyed doll.

It’s a bit of a continuation on yesterday’s theme, I suppose. After all, it’s just another magic wand for parenting. Whatever happened to understanding the child’s temperament and needs and responding to those? Sigh!

Mommy Guilt – The every single minute is sooooo important fallacy

I usually try to keep my parenting posts gender neutral because I know we have a lot of hands-on dads out there who’re as involved, if not more, than moms. This one issue seems more mommy specific, though. If this sentiment sounds familiar to you, please raise your hand!

If I’m spending time away from my child, it has to be 100% productive.

This is the fundamental reason I switched jobs a while ago. It’s also the reason I came close to quitting my current job a few months ago. I felt that the work I was doing at office did not justify the time I was spending away from my child. I was not willing to wait out a lean period or a bad patch until better opportunities came through.

This guilt is also the reason I hate making time for something I classify as a luxury. For instance, I’ll step out on weekends to meet a friend for coffee when Chotu’s napping but if coffee spills over to lunch or lunch to shopping, the guilt starts ticking like a bomb getting louder each second. If I spend some time to get my eyebrows threaded or get a wax done, that’s ok because it’s basic grooming, right? But I haven’t had a pedicure since Chotu was born.

The worst part is that this whole guilt is entirely self-imposed. The stress invisibly builds minute by minute, day by day. I’m judging myself by the worst standards possible, refusing to let myself be human, not tolerating the mistakes of others around me, not letting myself take a minute or two in the car just to breathe at the end of a 45 minute drive in maddening traffic (on the occasions I do drive to work), fighting battles to get to work from the moment I wake up, feeling as though I’ve accomplished nothing at the end of the day. I drove myself to the point of exhaustion doing nothing but worry. For two years I didn’t question this guilt. I figured it’s just part of being a mom. Over my break, though, I had to reset and rethink. I can’t do this for the next 16 years till Chotu leaves for college. It’s insane! I had to make peace with two things.

First, I cannot achieve as much at work as the men whose wives are homemakers. I cannot do as much for my child as women who are stay-home moms.

Second, where does this ideal that moms should spend every moment with their kids come from? I can remember a time in joint families when the older kids babysat the younger ones. There was always a granny or an aunt or even an older cousin who would keep an eye on the kids and the kids pretty much engaged themselves. Even when nuclear families became fairly common in urban areas, neighbours were often a proxy joint family. My mom remembers me playing for hours in my neighbour’s house. Well-off families had “ayahs”. This “OMG! My kid doesn’t leave me time to shower!” state of mind seems to be a more recent phenomenon. When did it become so important to account for every single waking minute to a child (and then co-sleep with them at night)? Whoever came up with it, it certainly wasn’t my child.

So if it’s not my child who’s asking for my every single waking moment and it’s never been the norm anyway, why am I so darn upset about it? Am I trying to prove something? Why? To whom? To what end?

You thought I had answers, didn’t you? I tried, but they were so intensely personal that to put them here would end up sounding incredibly self righteous… I’ll do a separate post if you’d like to know! 🙂



I have weekday mommy guilt all worked out. The Hero and I have wourked out a morning routine, I have started cooking for Chotu and I have set expectations at office so that I get about 3 hours of very quality time with Chotu each morning. I also come home in time to play with him for a little while and then snuggle and tell stories with the lights out. This system works (frantically knocks on wood). What I haven’t worked out yet, however, is weekend guilt. Hoo boy! That is some guilt.

Take a look at what’s on the ol’ todo list on weekends:

  • Grocery shopping
  • Vegetable shopping
  • Deep cleaning
  • Laundry
  • Tracking down the ironing guy
  • Miscellaneous tasks ranging from getting the water tank cleaned to heading to the RTO because our car loan’s paid up
  • Exercise
  • And so on…

However, Chotu tops the list and we end up postponing most chores until his nap time or until after he sleeps. That’s a terrible strategy because the only couple time we get is on weekends after Chotu sleeps. However, there are so many listicles out there telling you you’re never going to regret the state of your closet when you die* that you end up sorta, kinda, maybe believing them a little and feeling guilty you’re not out doing more awesome things.

Someone has to do it so I’m going to call bullshit. Sure, it’s possibly overkill to organize spoons by size when you have a toddler in the house (or even otherwise) but there is a bare minimum that has to be done, no? So we do the best we can.

Some of my friends do fit in their chores during nap times or they work out some sort of childcare/timeshare agreement with their spouses. Another friend occasionally drops off her child at daycare for a couple of hours. Some end up becoming supermoms who multi-task even more during the week and keep their weekends free. It’s madness!

Why do we go to such lengths to keep our kids away from the grocery shopping and ironing and tidying up? I don’t just mean taking them along to the store and teaching them (or bribing them) to behave. I mean engaging them in the tasks we are doing. Do you do that? That has got to be the only solution to this weekend scheduling guilt problem, right?

How much do you teach your kids about cleaning up and putting away clothes and buying vegetables and that sort of thing? Do you count that as quality time spent with your child? How old do you think a kid needs to be before they can put away their toys once they’re done? What do you do about the unending stream of housework?

* Conveniently overlooking the fact that you do care all those years you’re alive