An edited version of this article has been published in thealternative.in
Disha came into the house, running, completely drenched in water. She was upset that her friends were saying-” Shame, shame”. She wailed-” But I am wearing clothes!” All I could think of is – is there shame when you do not wear clothes? Shame in the nakedness of the body?
In our house we have tried to never use shame or fear to convey that something needs to be done. Yes, we all wear clothes for whatever reasons, but never to cover our bodies out of shame of exposure. No one should be ashamed of their bodies, not adults, not children.
This time, Karthik told her that there is no shame in playing with water or getting one’s clothes wet. Shame is in the way people think or talk about it. And next time, if someone were to tell you shame, shame, you can tell them that there is no shame in what you did.
By shaming children, we only reinforce the conditioning most of us are subjected to. To not trust our feelings about our bodies or ourselves. And children in turn carry on shaming themselves and others children. We do not want our children to grow up feeling disgusted about their bodies, their sizes or shapes. We should celebrate our bodies for the wonderful life they are and our minds for their capacity to expand into multiple horizons.
As parents and care givers of young humans, we of course have a responsibility to them, especially if they or others are in danger, someone is being hurt or harmed. But in most situations, it is our preconceived notions of right and wrong, of how society looks at and wants someone to behave, our conditioning about gender and sexuality, our need to conform to majority of the people around us, we end up shaming children into doing something, even if they are uncomfortable or conflicted about it.
Shame is a natural human emotion and all of us are bound to feel it at one time or another. But using shame to manipulate someone to get the ‘desired’ behavior is not acceptable and should not be tolerated.
Disha and I continue sharing our nursing bond. It has nurtured us over the years and our family is thankful that it exists even today after more than four years. It is our personal choice to continue until Disha feels ready to move on. Our society today, is generally not very accepting or supportive of nursing couples older than a year or two. Although I have tried my best to keep Disha from sensing this, it was inevitable that she got the vibes of discomfort, animosity and judgement as she grew older. Once she understood what was being said in our spoken languages by various people-family, friends and strangers, she slowly started thinking that nursing should be done behind closed doors, hidden away. It affected her the most when someone close to her ‘shamed’ her for nursing. People sometimes say-” you are a big girl now, you should eat real food” (Duh! breastmilk is as real as any wholesome food can get!), “what! you are still nursing?” or the most dreaded (by me), “shame on you! you still are stuck to your mother”.
Both Karthik and I have always countered, stood up for ourselves and especially for her at these times. We usually say the same thing- that it is our personal decision, we are not disturbing anyone, we are not disrupting anything and there is no shame in wanting to satisfy our personal needs. Shame is quite often in the eyes of the beholder and when you are doing something you so strongly think is right for you, there is no question of shame! I have had multiple nursing sessions with a hurt, bewildered, sad child, who is full of shame for continuing to feel the need to nurse. I have told her we can nurse in a closed room if either of us want some quiet time with ourselves, but it always not needed. Especially if we are in the middle of something interesting. It does not matter what other people feel or say, but what matters is what she wants to do at that moment. She has thankfully accepted my reasoning.
There have been so many other instances where Disha was judged and shamed. She likes wearing the boys’ school uniform and has been teased for it. She has been told-” shame, you are crying like a small baby”. She has been told that it is shameful to talk to someone or in a certain way. Our reactions to all of them have been similar, to reassure her that she is doing no harm or wrong, that if it works for her, it does not matter what other people say. To be happy and proud of who you are and continue being that same person.
Growing up, she may be faced with the relentless instances of shaming and being judged. We may not always be around. But we hope that setting examples for standing up for one’s self will set a cascade of building self-condifidence, love for your own body and trust in yourself.