Welcome to Millennial Motherhood
After eight years of being an active mother – and by active, I mean one who is hands-on and heavily engaged in the everyday life of my daughter – I have finally come to terms with acknowledging the identity of motherhood. Until someone pointed out that I was irrefutably a "millennial mother" – a title that comes with its own nuances, just like the stretch marks that paradoxically best represent this role.
Being a millennial mother means that I am open, cool, suave and, of course, tech-savvy. But being the mother of an eight-year-old, who was born after the Gen-Z generation – a generation not yet named – means that all my progressive thoughts that I took pride in are now obsolete, extinct even.
So, this generation – let's call them "Generation Unlabelled" – does not partake in human conversation. After all, why waste breath talking to someone face-to-face when you can send them a message or email them? However, every member of Generation Unlabelled has a YouTube account, through which you get to know about all the recent tricks they have mastered – be it baking, singing or even washing their hands for two minutes straight. Let's not forget: Google actually opened up Gmail for those under 13 years of age for the first time ever as a result of the global pandemic and the Generation Unlabelled having to do school from home. So what's a mere YouTube channel, if not a walk in the park? Except, oh wait, they don't like walking in the park; it is but too mainstream. This generation can put the keyboard warriors of our generation to shame!
Even though I feel like a dinosaur most days, I can't be too critical of "Gen-Unlab," for I, too, have had to question my millennial instincts from time to time since becoming a mother. My daughter wanted to join a cooking club in school, among the many other options present, which included dance, art, chess, karate, etc. The feminist in me could not help myself but stop her from doing so, because after all, aren't those the exact stereotypes my comrades and I have been trying to break for women and girls for eternity? And here was my own flesh and blood wanting to join a cooking class! I thought about this later, and it certainly wasn't very wise – as the woke mother that I present myself to be – to limit my own daughter's choices, and with it her agency. So we settled on the dance club.
A friend of mine once told me, "No matter how progressive you think you are, your children will always do something to surprise you. It will be above and beyond what you imagined they are capable of doing. So, draw the bar a little lower, let her know that it is not okay, even though it may be okay to you. And so, when she crosses that bar, it won't actually be much of a surprise." I thought it was good advice, and took it. But what I wasn't prepared for was the zillion life lessons I would end up getting from my daughter, when in fact I always thought it ought to be the other way around. After all, aren't I the parent?
A few days ago, my daughter and I were having a conversation where I ended with a speech saying something along the lines of, "This is what mothers do. Mothers are meant to discipline, and scold you when you are wrong." To this, she answered, "Then why do you think daughters should continue to love their mothers?" I was, as they say, bowled out. Another time, I asked her if she's afraid that I would be old soon and be bed-ridden. What I actually meant, and did not ask, was if she was afraid of being in the world without me, and wanted her to say that she was, and that she would miss me terribly if I were not by her side. She, on the other hand, instantly answered, "What is there to be afraid about? Everyone is going to get old one day; I am, too." Did I mention that she is eight?
So, all my progressiveness and liberalness have been flung out of the uncanny window by this one; all the wise words I say to others around me on a daily basis, my daughter brushes off with a mere shrug and a gesture of her hands. However, one thing that is probably different about our generation of parents is that we want to challenge what parenting means and shake things up a little. One thing I keep mentioning to her, and hope she remembers, is that I am her safe space, that there is nothing, no slip-up grave enough that she shouldn't be able to come and talk to me about, and I will help her through it. I will always trust her, and trust in her; that is what I believe every child needs to hear – Gen-Unlab and the ones after them.
Syeda Samara Mortada, a feminist activist, is a coordinator at Bonhishikha, a feminist organisation working to unlearn gender and create a platform for youth to share their gender-based experiences.