Any woman can tell you that as a feminist, your morals and boundaries are constantly being challenged, and none more so than when you are both desi and feminist. As with any culture, our traditions come laden with sexist traditions and customs, and if they are ones that we grew up with, it can make the lines between passing things onto our own children, or not, all the more blurred.
As a Bangladeshi feminist working wife and mother, I have more than my share of explaining why I am raising my daughter to be an independent young woman instead of one who studies Bollywood movies for moral direction. Being a brown feminist mom is a daily battle, but more so with others than myself.
Below are the top 5 lessons I have learned about being an empowered Desi mother.
- Do YOU
After you have a baby, everybody in your life becomes a childcare expert or pediatrician, or so they think. As a new mom, no emotion is more anxiety-inducing than feeling like everyone else knows more about what is best for your baby than you do. Don’t fall into this trap! Define & set boundaries between you and well-wishing family members early on, so they do not end up all over your life. What’s the best way to do that, you ask? You can be polite, and nod while pretending to listen to all this pro-bono advice. Or you can be blunt- “Please let me figure out what is best for me & my family on our own, thank you.”
• Breast is not always best
One of the greatest pressures I felt after my daughter was born was to breastfeed her. Although I had no issue with milk supply, or Ava latching on, I developed major thyroid issues. Month to month my medicine doses only increased. After three months, my doctors told me to switch exclusively to formula for my baby’s health.
The news of me giving my newborn only formula instead only breast was the end of the world according to many in my extended family. People could not believe I would “pump my baby with chemicals.”
A lot of family members also thought formula was totally unsafe altogether, and just out of the question. I listened to my doctor. Though I understood concerns family could have had about formula, they had had their kids in the 1950s. We were in the new millennium now. Formula let me get sleep, let my husband bottle feed, and I got to go back to work as soon as my leave ended. Biggest bonus? My baby was super-healthy, and I would do it all again.
• Go back to work
Even though it is 2014, I believe secretly more women experience ‘bad-mommy’ guilt for continuing to work, regardless of their financial situations. I can’t tell you how many times throughout my pregnancy people asked me if I was going to stop working, while not once did my husband get that question. Whenever my facial expression dropped to my “why the hell would I ever stop working?” face, I almost always was made to feel like a selfish mother.
Aside from letting me continue to build my career, going back to work gave me sanity. As hard as it was in the beginning, I was quick to see the benefits of having a job after becoming a new mother. And I believe it’s just as beneficial for your baby.
• A Nanny Can Be a God-sent
If you come from a brown family, chances are they’re going to want family as childcare, but that’s exactly where many problems with your extended family can start. I count my lucky stars looking back that I stuck to my guns about hiring outside paid help.
Whomever looks after your kids while you are away has to listen to the mother, and with family you are not always heard. My nanny became my second-wife, and was an excellent partner to both my husband and myself. She was instrumental in making us stronger together as parents.
• Be a ‘Princess Police’
I write a lot about the long-term harmful effects of princess culture on our daughters, and it remains an issue I am fascinated by. When I discourage princess gifts and toys for Ava to family and friends, people think I am ruining all the fun. But I stick to my beliefs. As a feminist, I just cannot watch others label my daughter, and subconsciously encourage her to grow up to be a woman who dreams of being saved by a man. People will tell me to relax my feminist policing, but I stick up for teaching my daughter that life is about being able to 100% rely on yourself.
Anushay Hossain is a Bangladeshi journalist, writer & editor based in Washington, DC. She launched Anushay’s Point in 2009, and her work is regularly featured in Forbes Woman, Huffington Post, The Shriver Report, and The Daily Beast. She is also the online editor for ClickIttefaq.com, the English-web version of Bangladesh’s oldest national newspaper, the iconic Daily Ittefaq.
Anushay spent a decade as a feminist policy analyst on Capitol Hill before going full-time with her writing in 2013. She has appeared on BBC Radio, National Public Radio (NPR), Sirius XM radio, Canada’s CBC, Russia Today (RT), Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), and guest-hosted “The Stream” on Al-Jazeera English (AJE) from 2012-2013.
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