Sharanya Misra

Parenting is about shared family time, fun in togetherness, combined decisions – a project in partnership. And when the father is around, he needs to be an active partner, not a silent one.     

(This post is part of my Mommy Moments series.)

It was about 3 months into my journey of motherhood that I came across a video of Sadguru on “Motherhood and Career”. In it, although making some very pertinent points about stay-at-home-mothers being undervalued, he makes a statement that struck me as dangerous for setting incorrect standards. He said, “How the world will be tomorrow will be determined by what kind of mothers you have today”. Mothers. Not parents.

I wondered then, is the upbringing of a child the sole responsibility of a mother?

Indian society, for some reason, tags parenting as a “mother’s job”. The child is unwell? Fetch the mother. The child is hungry? Where’s the mother. The child needs a diaper change? What a careless mother. The child is naughty? Clearly, blame the mother. I simply fail to understand this phenomenon. How exactly does fatherhood entail just one bit – bringing food to the table – while motherhood must cater to satisfying all of the child’s physical and emotional needs?? “A child needs the mother” is tossed about as a universal, all encompassing truth, sometimes well into the child’s adult life. Well yeah, for something like breastfeeding, that biologically cannot be fulfilled by a man. But for all else, I find fathers quite capable of nurturing too. Exempting a father from having any impact on a child’s personality and future and narrowing his contribution down to being simply the financial provider is a dangerous and regressive trend.

When I came across the video initially, I wondered if my thoughts were simply my disillusionment. Afterall, how much of parenting had I seen? But 15 months of “mothering” and 30 years of daughterhood later, I know today that I wasn’t wrong.

Everything about parenting has to be a shared process. I remember my struggles during the early days, and in fact, all through the first year of my child’s life. Most of my nights were sleepless and my days full of fatigue. I cannot imagine having been able to do it without my partner playing an equal figure as a parent. If I sat up dozing all night with my baby on my lap, it was because I knew that come morning my husband would take charge and I would get those 2 hours of uninterrupted sleep. If I slogged the whole day as a SAHM, skipping meals and dedicating myself entirely to my baby, it was with the knowledge that upon his return from office, my husband would immediately sit down to be the parent-in-charge while I took time out for a bath and hot meal. He massaged her, bathed her, fed her, just as I did. And why not, afterall, he is as much a parent as I am!

Be it changing diapers, putting a child to sleep, waking up with them all night long, spending hours playing with them, cooking for them, paying attention to their mental and physical well being, their upbringing, being their emotional anchor as they grow up – nearly every aspect of parenting could very well be as much a Father’s area of expertise as a Mother’s. Parenting is so much more than just bringing food to the table. Its about shared family time, about fun in togetherness, about combined decisions taken, values taught and the time invested in moulding young minds… In short, parenting, in all of its 360° glory, is a project in partnership. And when the father is around, he needs to be an active partner, not a silent one.

Growing up, I do not remember ever thinking that my mother was the only active parent. As a 4 year old I remember my Dad getting me ready for school – be it my uniform, hair or shoes. I remember him being present in EVERY single parent teacher meet or function at school. We sisters took part in innumerable cultural programmaes at school and I remember him staying up late into the night helping us prepare for our speeches and debates. Even today, my mom often says that as babies, it was always my Dad who would calm us down when we cried. I remember sleeping only to his lullabies well into high school. He cooked for us, shopped with us, took us on vacations….He was a present Dad. He was a very busy dad (still is) but I never found wanting for his time growing up. Somehow amidst the huge pile of files he would bring home each day from work, he still managed to be the father we needed. And today, when I am a parent, I see my husband doing the same for our child, or maybe even more. He is a hands-on father and that is, frankly, how it should be.

There are indeed many such examples around me of parenting done right. But that isn’t always the norm. Even today, parenting in many families is a very lopsided affair. Mothers are expected to suddenly prioritise their babies over all else, even quit their jobs if need be at the drop of a hat. This, while many fathers do not even try to get their paternity leaves extended to provide support at home. Health or emotional issues in children are directly blamed on the mother. SAHMs struggle to single handedly manage the kitchen, the home and the children because husbands refuse to contribute in what they feel are women’s territories. A friend of mine recently struggled to make it to a very significant meeting while working from home, because she found herself with 2 bawling children while her husband conveniently locked himself in for his call, leaving her to fend for herself. This is not what parenting is.

Issues like these are, unfortunately, not occassional. They exist, deep rooted in our culture. Why don’t we hold fathers accountable for the child from the moment of birth? Why is a father changing a diaper applause worthy but a mother doing the same is just doing her job?? So many women head over to their parents’ homes for their delivery and the early months post partum. Yet it astonishes me that fathers, sometimes in the same cities, fail to accompany them, and for no good reason. A mother struggles with the newness of a child’s arrival, while the father is back to ‘normal’ with the end of his week-long paternity leave. Why is the concept of shared parental leave not prevalent in India? It irks me even today that people assume it has to be the mother who must quit her job for the baby’s sake. It irks me that during conversations, questions about my kid are directed to me instead of us. And it also irks me that even credit for my child’s upbringing is ladled out only to me.

Motherhood in our society is elevated to such super-stardom levels that most people mistake parenting for it. A “good mother” must cook for the child, pack lunch, get the homework done, keep the house clean, emotionally anchor the child, keep him/her healthy. No matter if the mother has a job to handle too outside the home or a ton of other tasks to cater to within. A good mother must excel and is not allowed to falter. A bit too much to ask of one single individual, no? Most new mothers even suffer from Post Partum Depression and are often simply overwhelmed by the enormity of the change . And yet, amidst all the talks about super-mommies, such real concerns get brushed under the carpet. I cannot understand though, why mommies must be doing it all. And to top it all, what is the father’s role here? Why are all of society’s expectations directed at the mother?

Parenting is hard. And challenging. But if this challenge seems to be impacting just one parent’s life, something is not right. If it’s just one parent repeatedly making sacrifices while the other’s life is uninterrupted, the equation is clearly skewed. And unfair. It is important that when both parents are physically present around the child, both of them participate. And that means the difficult dirty bits alongside the fun bonding bits. Children learn what they see. A child raised by equal parents will in turn be a contributing parent and a considerate spouse tomorrow. So let’s think about it. We have a whole new generation to mould, let’s give them an equal world at home to look up to. The world tomorrow, will be determined by the kind of parents we have today. Parents.

Click here for my previous post “Parenting Support Groups on Facebook” in the Mommy Moments series.

Mommy Moment with my daughter.

**This article brings to the fore my thoughts on parenting in heterosexual couples, primarily because I feel ill-equipped to comment about the equation among LGBT parents. I am hopeful of being able to overcome this ignorance some day in the near future. For now though, I am sincerely apologetic about it, and wish to clarify that I believe in the many other forms of parenting apart from the kind mentioned above.

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