Barefoot parenting: This Mumbai couple is giving their son a gender neutral, gadget-free childhood

'Neo is completely a gadget-free child. We do not even have a television at home!'

The journey of parenting is unique, and no two experiences have ever been exactly the same. As they go along, parents learn new things about their children, and about themselves, and figure out ways and methods that suit them the most. As such, it becomes important to understand that something that works for one parent, may not serve another.

Mumbai-based couple Anamika Sengupta and Biplab Dutta, for instance, have been taking the ‘barefoot’ approach to parenting — something that is quite unheard of. Their six-year-old son Neo, is being raised in a gender-neutral and natural way. He spends his time actively engaging in planting, nurturing and harvesting of an edible garden, carpentry, and living in complete harmony with nature, while enjoying a gadget-free childhood.

In an email interaction with Express Parenting, the couple — who founded Almitra Sustainables, a lifestyle brand that provides eco-friendly alternatives to everyday plastic products — spoke about their parenting style, the challenges they face, the need to have a gender-neutral approach to parenting, among other things.

Excerpts:

What does the barefoot approach to parenting mean?

Barefoot parenting is another term for ‘natural parenting’. It involves understanding the natural cues of raising a child and going with the flow. It also means learning from nature to care and raise a child.

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What made you take the barefoot approach?

As someone already seeking ways to stay connected to nature, we found parenthood to be the perfect opportunity for us to go back to our basics. When your child is born, they do not have any conditioning; it is the only opportunity life grants for us to go back to our natural self and learn from our natural cues.

#Packedwithlove . We have been working from home and Neo has been always wanted to help, he loves what he is doing and always wants to be a part of it, so if your packets may not look that neatly packed don't worry as it carries a lot of love from a six year old #ecowarrior !! . #IAmEarthConscious #LittleHelpingHands

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You have been raising your child in a sustainable and natural way. What made you think of taking this route?

It was a challenge at first, with so much of cosmetic energies around to raise a child in the natural way. But, we were keenly looking for most natural alternatives for him. So when my child got his first tooth, we started making our first bamboo toothbrushes, because the mere thought of introducing plastic in his mouth as the first thing in the morning was something which was very disturbing for us. Harming nature is harming oneself and vice versa!

Your son engages in planting and harvesting. How important do you think it is for kids to stay close to nature?

It is extremely important! And it is a pity that their connection with nature is diminishing day by day as we raise them in closed, concrete walls. The higher our skyscrapers, the more we are losing touch with the soil. Neo, my son, does a lot of farming and we do not term it as an activity, but a natural day-to-day life skill – to grow your own food.

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Is he enjoying this gadget-free experience? Have you ever experienced any kind of challenge of raising a child in a technology-dependent world?

Neo is completely a gadget-free child. We do not even have a television at home. We do, however, have a concern that in his later life, he may become too attracted to gadgets. We have an open, healthy discussion with him from time to time, explaining to him the drawbacks of gadgets and the need to use them only under specific circumstances. He is an immensely mature child for his age, and his level of understanding often inspires us. He is also an active child who loves to be outdoors, and makes the most of his time in nature.

But, there are times when I do personally fear he will probably not be able to adjust well in the outside world — or if he goes to a friend’s place to play and they have a TV etc., he might want to watch it. But to our pleasant surprise, he seems to be managing it well. He has been known to request them to switch off the TV! By now, everyone around us knows about it, and we are lucky that most of his friends and their families willingly support Neo’s decision. So if you see it in an objective manner, it is more of an informed choice he is making at such a young age, than just blindly following an imposed rule.

#IAmEarthConscious . The thing we most miss is the energy that surrounds us when we we are at a farmers market or a sustainable market. It has always been a give and take of energies which kept us going. . And it wouldn't be remotely possible without you! You who feel the need for sustainability, You who wants better for themselves and this planet equally, you who wish for a better future of their kids, you who want better health, you who are so attuned to nature that anything unnatural is just not welcome! . Its all of you out there who are doing what they can, we thank you for it & we hope to meet again soon to catch up on all your new endeavours on sustainablility.

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For any parent, how important is the gender-neutral approach to parenting? And how do you go about it?

Gender neutral parenting is not an approach, but a part of the natural way of parenting. Gender stereotypes are an outcome of a man-made system and not nature. We start with empathy and respect. In our house, we all are equal partners in raising Neo. Me, Biplab and my sister-in-law have raised him equally, and we do not follow stereotypical roles. In fact my husband was the one changing cloth diapers and also baby-wearing Neo while I was breastfeeding. So the key is to judge your natural instincts rather than the pointers thrown from the system. My son said ‘baba’ first and then ‘mumma’, which doesn’t make me lesser happy.

Do other parents ever make you feel that your approach to parenting is unconventional?

Yes, they do feel it is unconventional, but also inspirational. We have always had an inclusive approach towards life, which helps you to not alienate from others, in spite of choosing an unconventional path. This inclusivity helps us to work collectively towards a more natural environment for our children, which also teaches them holistic and inclusive values.

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What about kids who are of your son’s age, and have been introduced to gadgets? Is there any kind of pressure you feel as parents to explain to your child the importance of barefoot and sustainable parenting?

Barefoot parenting is a way of living naturally, and what is natural takes its course without much intervention. This is the belief that has helped us in this scenario. His friends who enjoy their gadgets, do not force Neo to use them. Sustainable living is something that Neo values on his own, having seen it around him being practised at home. He has come to enjoy it and also talks to his friends about sustainable way of living.

#ZerowasteBathroom . Have you ever had that feeling where you felt uncomfortable or gross after seeing all the plastic and chemicals that your bathroom holds? . Don't dismiss it, let that feeling drive you to discover natural and mindful alternatives. Start with one, engage, take it all in and slowly it starts getting better! . We have got some minimal and natural personal essentials for you which are made from Bamboo, Neem , Copper to name a few which are known for their anti-microbial & therapeutic values. . Sustainable Personal Care – Link in bio . #IAmEarthConscious

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Can you tell us how your brands came into being?

Almitra Tattva came into existence soon after Neo was born. We imported our first baby carrying wrap from the US, which left us wondering why there is no Indian brand offering baby wearing wraps, when this is traditionally an Indian concept. Around the same time, when I resumed my corporate job after my maternity leave, the company I was working with asked me to leave. This corporate sexist behaviour deeply impacted me and I decided to create my own company and work in my own space, which is more inclusive, especially for women.

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Clubbing the need for Indian baby-wearing wraps and my need to create an inclusive and empathetic work space, was how Almitra Tattva was born. In a short span of its existence, it was getting recognised globally and today we are present in 54 countries across the globe. Almitra Sustainables was born when I was raising Neo in a natural manner and we realised there were limited alternatives to everyday plastic products. We were keen on a no-plastic environment and that’s when we decided to create a range of earth-friendly products for daily living, under Almitra Sustainables. Both these brands have been growing along with my son.

Any message or advice for other parents?

While I do not feel that I am the right person to judge or advice on any parenting style, I would still like to sensitise other parents to learn from the natural cues of their children and allow them to experience the teachings of nature.

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