In the post-Covid world, raising kids and parenting them has been the most difficult and exhausting task, especially when the little ones bring up horrific subjects during bedtime conversations. As a parent of two, I think it is imperative to put things in perspective. I find it extremely impossible to put into words violence, racism, grief, intolerance, drugs, sexual abuse, divorce and other heavy topics – or anything that makes them acutely aware of any changes around them, which may be new or anything that has ceased to be. In this digital age, our children are being constantly bombarded with lots of information and serious stories. Addressing these issues in a world full of unprecedented times with people experiencing problems that they never have had to face can be less-than-ideal.
I came across a recent release, Unparenting: Sharing Awkward Truths with Curious Kids, authored by Reema Ahmad, which seemed to have sparked my interest. Ahmad began her career as a child sexual abuse awareness educator and went on to specialize as a sexuality educator. She then co-founded Candidly, a forum to explore issues of gender, sexuality and media in 2017.
As a confused, unprepared parent herself, Reema has relayed her experiences as a single mother of a son, who has endless questions about anything and everything, with brutal honesty. The awkward conversations, the innocent hope, and unnecessary bitterness, the book has it all in broad perspective. It explains how to talk to kids about the most difficult and pressing issues. Of course there no one ‘right’ way to deal with your kids. But this book will tell you how to meet these challenges head-on and have the difficult conversations that you have been dreading. This will not only make your kids feel safer but they will grow into critical thinkers and it will also help to strengthen the bond.
The chapters on bullying, single parents and mental health were some of my favourites. It shows that although most of the journey as parents is about conversing with children, we don’t need to be, and we cannot always treat them as friends and confidants. But what we must do is always try to answer their questions and ease their worries by sharing thoughts with appropriate truths. This may not quench their natural curiosity but it will provide some clarity as they learn to observe and absorb. Yes, parents falter. They worry. They don’t know if they are right. But as parents, and subsequently as individuals, they are erring, and evolving, and becoming.
It is important to note that the book also encompasses topics that are unspoken and unthinkable for societies like Pakistan that is riddled with stigmas and taboos. Talking about the challenges she faced while writing the book, Ahmad reminisces, “One of the biggest challenges while writing this book was to realise how flawed I am as a parent. Especially during the pandemic, when everything fell apart, I felt awful about myself as a mother. I still do. It made me question myself so much. I also honestly didn’t think I had any skill as a writer. Everything I wrote felt like rubbish to me. Writing this book has been one huge exercise in realising how less I think of myself.”
She mentioned that her journey towards writing this book was endless. “I signed the book in December 2017 and finished it in March 2022. I didn’t write at all for close to two years in the middle. But the making of everything in the book is lifelong, I suppose. All of it comes from my lived experience as a child or as mother.”
This brings us to another dilemma: the unspoken issues of parenting. Talking about the importance of the chapters ‘Body Safety and Abuse Awareness’ and ‘Bodily Curiosity and Discovery’, Reema discourses, “We enter puberty and teenage, not knowing much about our bodies. And that lack of awareness can be so dangerous. At least it was for me. I faced sexual abuse as a child and married the first man I experienced desire for, not knowing how abusive that relationship was. There was no dialogue around these things for me. It led to so much pain. Part of why I wrote this book was for that – I want parents to be able to tell their children about their bodies, how to keep them safe, how to recognise abuse and toxicity, how to know the difference between desire and love or at least to know enough to wait till they’re older. When I became a mum, I didn’t want my son to suffer. I think I can say that for all children.”
Although authored by a single parent, the book does not only address them. The way all parents steer their interactions and distinctive challenges does have an impact on their children, and pretty much paves the path for their journey as human beings. It is the go-to read for all parents and it only made me wish that this book had released sooner, at least before I had become a parent. It prepares you for a lot, and not in a preachy way!