My own mother was a working woman who first introduced me to the concept of the “superwoman” who could balance both home and work with elan. As such, my childhood consisted of letting myself into an empty home after school, making myself a snack and finishing homework while waiting for Mum.
There was no doubt in my mind that my adulthood would be the same: an independent woman with a job and, perhaps, a child who learns from that lifestyle.
To say that life didn’t play out that way would be putting it mildly.
While I grew up in small-town India, my daughter is growing up in glitzy Singapore – probably with the notion that her mother spends her day on the couch, watching television, taking naps and occasionally baking cookies. As a freelance journalist and writer who works from home, it is not easy to prove to an 8-year-old that I do, in fact, work. Especially when her picture of a working father is of someone poring over PowerPoint presentations and Excel sheets, and attending endless conference calls.
On the face of it, moving to Singapore had its many advantages. Being one of the safest cities in the world, I wouldn’t have to worry about the safety of my child; with an international population and mindset, she probably wouldn’t be as bombarded with long-established gender stereotypes as she would’ve back home.
But what I hadn’t foreseen was how I may not become the role model I had hoped to be. The image of the independent woman faded the moment I was handed a dependent’s visa, which all trailing spouses soon come to realise makes you more dependent than you had anticipated.
When I started co-authoring a book on expat life, Dear Ms Expat, a year ago with an old friend and colleague, I felt like it was my chance to show my daughter what I do.
So, I took her along for interviews, showed her my notes and told her about my meetings with the publisher. At the launch, I had her by my side, listening to people talk about the book and watching me sign copies of it.
The way I see it, when your mini-me partakes in your achievements, it lays the foundation for his or her aspirations.
And this is especially important for girls who grow up with taunts like “girls can’t do that” – it gives confidence; it empowers.
In a country like this one with its rich mix of races, languages and cultures, you get a bit of everything. I’ve had my daughter return from school with questions like “Is soccer only for boys?” and “Are only boys supposed to have short hair?” But she also doesn’t bat an eyelid when she sees a female bus captain, which, back home, is still a novelty.
That’s why I grab every opportunity to point out that we all have the freedom to choose our passions and our professions, regardless of gender; that clothes and the length of our hair do not define what we can or can't achieve. I question every gender-based stereotype I see, just so that my child knows it is alright to raise those questions, too.
By Savitha Venugopal, The Finder Kids (Vol. 20), September 2017
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