Should A Non-Working Partner Shoulder All Parenting Duties?
I still remember the last mail I wrote to my gynaec in Vienna who had helped us through the initial stages of my pregnancy before I moved back to India. When I informed him that we have been blessed with a baby girl, he told me that our lives are never going to be the same again. Parenting changes your lifestyle, it changes your worldview, your priorities, and it even changes your marriage. On becoming parents, a couple transforms into a tag team, tapping in and out of the ring that is childcare. This is especially true for urban working couples living in a nuclear set-up. But what if say a new mom takes a break from work to raise her child, something which a majority of us do? Or what if she is a housewife? Is it unfair for a non-working parent (mostly moms) to ask for help from their working partners, who are also earning the bread and butter for the family, and commuting to and from work?
- Often the burden of parenting falls on the partner who stays at home and doesn’t work, mostly she is the mom.
- Early motherhood is exhausting physically and mentally, and women need their partners to step in as and when they can.
- However, giving the working partner a free pass shows how society still doesn’t understand the struggles of early parenthood much.
A lot of Indian marriages, even among most modern couples, go back to the orthodox template of matrimony once there is a child in the picture. Moms shoulder most of the childcare, especially in the initial few months after the delivery, while dads go back to work. In such situations the understanding boils down to this – one who stays at home will tend to the kid, and the one stepping out will earn a paycheck, buy groceries, and pay the bills. I have known several stay-at-home mothers who take care of their children on their own. He is too tired after he gets back from work, he is so stressed, he just doesn’t have time, I often get to hear. Even when their partner is eager to help out, the mom is shamed by the family or near ones for “bothering” the poor husband. This shows how we still do not see the challenges of childcare in the early years and the sheer toll it takes on newborn a new mom’s mental and physical well-being.
A lot of Indian marriages, even among most modern couples, go back to the orthodox template of matrimony once there is a child in the picture. Moms shoulder most of the childcare, especially in the initial few months after the delivery, while dads go back to work.
A stay-at-home mom doesn’t lounge around in her pyjamas watching television and relaxing day and night. Those who think all a young child needs is to be fed, cleaned and put to sleep have clearly never been around infants, or have never helped out in caring for one. Feeding a child, burping them, cleaning them, changing diapers, putting them to sleep, pacifying them when they cry, ensuring they are not too cold or too hot, on the loop is absolutely exhausting. Women do all this while still recovering from the ordeal that is pregnancy and childbirth. If we could have it our way, most new moms would indeed sleep, at least for eight hours and that too undisturbed. But what most of us get is barely two hours of uninterrupted sleep at a stretch. This new lifestyle, along with the household duties that have to be taken care of, is a backbreaking and new moms certainly need help from their partners.
Mothers shouldn’t hesitate in demanding that their partners help out with childcare, and guess what, most partners will do it. It was my husband’s duty to put our daughter to sleep at night, to change nappies after he got home from work, and to keep the baby engaged so that I could eat my meal. There were times when I would get to comb my hair at ten in the night when he was back from work and took over his parenting duties. If our daughter was asleep, he would help out with household chores like putting out the clothes to dry, fold up the sky-high pile of nappies, burping cloths and bibs, sterilizing the bottle for her feed and keeping a track of all the necessary supplies in the household. He did all this and more without ever complaining or saying that I was slacking off and deflecting my childcare duties towards him. And many dads do the same.
Feeding a child, burping them, cleaning them, changing diapers, putting them to sleep, ensuring they are not too cold or too hot, on the loop is absolutely exhausting. Women do all this while still recovering from the ordeal that is pregnancy and childbirth.
Gradually, the number of hands-on dads, who have no qualms in sharing the childcare load with their partner once they are back from work, is going up. But the true challenge that Indian couples face is the social gaze that refuses to change. Moms who ask their partners to help with the baby are shamed or reprimanded. Dads who do so are told that they are already doing their duty towards the family, by going to work. It is this gaze that needs to change, so that more and more fathers help with parenting duties. For that to happen our society first needs to acknowledge that motherhood, especially caring for a newborn is difficult, draining and not a one (wo)man job. This is a job for two people and staying at home to care for a baby is as exhaustive (often more) as going out to earn money.
Picture Credit: ABC
Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.