‘And what does she do?’ I was once asked, by a middle-class Indian mother, as we waited to see our paediatrician at Jehangir Hospital in Pune. I knew the type – competitive mothers keen to display how ‘advanced’ their children were because they could do all sorts of things yours could not. I refused to engage in the competition.
‘She breathes,’ I answered with a smile. ‘And that’s enough.’
Because, really and truly, it was. My daughter, then aged 6 months, had been born 10 weeks early, and had not been expected to survive. All I wanted was for her to breathe and to keep breathing.
Since then, I have been acutely aware of the expectations parents have for their children. I have always maintained that I have no expectations for my children – and have been happy to tell myself exactly that. Until this week.
I expect them to stay in school until they are at least 18. I expect them to choose some form of tertiary education. I expect them to continue travelling and exploring new countries and cultures. I expect them to always have enough to eat. I expect them to always have enough weather-appropriate clothes. I expect them to always have a roof over their heads. I expect them to express their opinions and to be heard expressing those opinions. I expect them to choose when – and if, and whom – they marry. In their relationships, I expect them to be treated as equals. I expect them to do their best to be fair to themselves, to each other and to everyone they meet. I expect them to decide whether or not they want children. I expect them to choose when and where and with whom they birth those children. I expect my daughters to choose careers that satisfy them on many levels; whether that’s working in a shop or finding a cure for AIDS.
I expect them not to have to even think about these decisions when they are 12. In global terms, that already marks my children out as ‘privileged’ and among the minority of 12 year old girl-children. Yes, that’s right – the minority.
In global terms, I expect a lot for my daughters. In global terms, more mothers should be in a position to have the same expectations. Together, let’s work to make that happen.