No one is ever prepared for parenthood. No one. So to keep harping on a maternal instinct is inane, and just hampers us from having an open mind! Parenting is the one “career” that no education, skill or training can ever make you completely adept for. You just learn the ropes as you go! I don’t think it’s any different whether you’re a man or a woman. It’s just (here we go again!) that we women are so prepped to, one day, bear a child, give up our own existence to raise it, and so on and so forth, that it’s become automatic to define the word “instinct”, as residing with the word “maternal”. There has to be a paternal instinct too, then, because how do you explain father-child bonding?! The only thing you do have, in your favour, while bringing up baby, is time, and given that newborns sleep A LOT ( in my experience, at least!!). However, that time gets fast consumed with loads of things to do while the cherub is asleep.
There is a phenomenon that’s trending now, some will defend it and say that it’s not just a “now” thing, that it’s been there for a while… that of the father taking a hiatus from work (or stopping it altogether) to be full-time house husbands ( and dads). The people that say this has prevailed, also explain that’s in the open now, as society is more “ready” to accept it than before. There are several reasons why men and women are changing roles, and each one is unique….it could be unemployment, or monetary (especially if the wife has more earning potential) , or health-related. Many times, it may be the only option available. This is not just India-related, but is very prevalent all over the world. In the US, the Pew Research Center has put together data about stay-at-home dads, area-wise and the number, as well as how support systems have worked . In India, there is no such data available, though this is (albeit slowly) on the rise here too. Many people, it’s assumed, in India, must’ve thought about it, but were too afraid to take the plunge, for its not the “done thing”. India is still a male-dominated country and though called a developing nation, it’s anybody’s guess, when attitudes will develop in tandem with all the trappings of a technology-oriented society. We are quick to change with the times as far as our use of devices go, but are selective about changing thoughts that hamper true positive development of the cerebral kind! Here, no gender is spared from the critical glare of patriarchy. Gender bias let’s down women, but it also pushes men down, who are adversely affected by stereotypes and “expected” behavioural norms, codes of conduct and familial standards. We know this – males are told to “man up” and be the provider – being a stay-home husband (let alone dad) is riddled with stigma.
Stay-home husbands, and/or dads, may work from home, but yet, this is looked upon with disdain. One stay-home dad, and a father of a toddler, reports that, while men found it strange, rolled their eyes, and made jokes, the women were quite happy. People would ask, ‘Are you honestly okay with doing the cleaning and keeping house?’ ‘How will you know how to bring up a baby?’ ‘How will you handle the help?’ And so on and so forth. Sometimes, families are supportive, and this is a boon. Most times, they are not. One man, a qualified architect, who gave up a promising career in a leading firm, dropped it all to facilitate his wife’s even more promising career as a chartered accountant, when she got a transfer to another city. The man’s parents saw this move as ‘rash’, expecting his wife to give up her career. The couple had just had a baby a few years prior, and took this decision, with the husband deciding to stay at home and take up freelance projects. The parents didn’t communicate with their son for the next few years, lamenting that his education was ‘for nothing’ and that he’d thrown away his career.
Most people automatically assume people who ‘stay at home’ have a lot of time on their hands, even if you’re raising a child. One man was asked, ‘How will you fill up your day? Won’t you get bored?’ Most stay-home dads have discovered that you really don’t have any time at all, and being a house husband is a full time job! But convincing people, who don’t know better, is no cakewalk either! Sometimes, the house help poses so many questions…..they can’t fathom a man at home, and a bulk of queries becomes habitual….one dad reports that the bai asked his wife, in hushed tones, whether or not saab was ill, or whether memsaab could fully trust saab with raising a child. When this same dad took his son to the park, other mothers stared and whispered, while they huddled in groups, gossiping away! Men can feel a sense of isolation and anxiety…. It all depends, and each individual and context is distinctive. One dad was asked, ‘Where do you work? What’s your profession?’ He answered that it was at home and his job was being a full-time father. He also added that it was the hardest job in the world.
Many dads, like many mums, find it hard to return to professional life, but most dads, the few who’ve taken decisions to be at home with kids during their formative years, say they wouldn’t change a thing. They say that raising a whole new person to become a good human being, while trying to keep your mental faculties intact, is a very gratifying thing indeed! Bearing a child may be a feminine physiological responsibility, but bringing up a child certainly isn’t ….Regardless of gender, there are relaxed times and weary ones…my parents have often reminded me that it’s no picnic, this child-rearing business! It’s an overwhelming, over worked career option, with no perks whatsoever!
By Scherezade Mansukhani
Scherezade is a Clinical Child Psychologist, Part-time mother, blogger, French teacher and IATA teacher. She has worked with the differently abled, and now works on and off as a teacher.