How Involved Are Indian Dads When It Comes To Parenting?

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We often debate the role of a mother in shaping the character and life of children since they spend maximum time with her. But, do we talk enough about the impact of a father’s presence in children’s lives? Traditionally, fathers are touted to be the sole bread-winners of a family. A father has little or nothing to do with parenting of the child which is largely considered a mother’s responsibility. But times have changed and so have the gender dynamics in our society. As mothers today step out to work, contributing to the family income, dads have their back by helping out in household chores and taking up parenting duties.

A research revealed that fathers today have a better understanding of the importance of parenting and are actively taking part in it. They are spending three times as much time with their children as men did two generations ago. Besides, only three percent of fathers have never changed the diapers of their children. The research adds that fathers who spend time with their children, bathe and dress them, cook food for them and talk to them have a great bond with them.

To further understand how much do these findings apply to the Indian fathers, SheThePeople.TV approached some dads who their insights on parenting.

Fathers want to be equal parents and spend more time with their kids

The research says that fathers today spend thirty minutes more with their kids compared to their own fathers. This helps them build a close and strong bond with their kids.

Gaurav Jain, a content strategist for Star TV India says, “I strongly agree that dads today assist with household chores as well as help with the kids than some older generations. This is something I have noticed not just for myself but for several friends and colleagues as well.”

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Anaggh Desai, Founder AD Consults and Business Coach agrees, adding that how dads spend their time with their children depends on their age. “Whilst the younger dads who married late and are hands-on for other reasons, older dads are looking at taking holidays, learning different things, cooking with their child and it would definitely be more than 30 minutes.”

An author, editor and screenwriter Neil D’Silva, on the other hand, is a dad who works from home. Sharing his experience of being a stay at home father he says, “My situation is quite special—I work from home while my wife goes out to work. It’s my responsibility to take care of our younger kid in the mornings, right up to the afternoon when her school bus arrives. My daily chores include preparing the breakfast, serving it, washing the dishes, serving lunch, packing her school tiffin, and then dropping her to the school bus. Apart from that, Sundays are ‘Papa Pasta’ days in our house, where both our kids look forward to the pasta I prepare for them. To be honest, I have never thought of these as things that only mothers must do; I derive special pleasure from the time I spend with my children.”

How involved are Indian dads in changing the diapers of their kids? Does it strengthen father-child bond?

All the three fathers reveal that they have changed diapers and dressed up their kids and that helped them in building a strong relationship. Gaurav Jain says, “I have never shied away from changing the diapers or bathing my kid. The quality (and not quantity) of the time you spend with your child is what strengthens the relationship and it is an ongoing process. Presently, every single day, I wake up my daughter and give her a bath and dress her for school. This is the time we spend together; we chat, connect and commiserate about any and everything. Regardless of the other things we do throughout the day, this is how we consistently connect with each other on a daily basis and it creates the foundation of our relationship.”

I have never shied away from changing the diapers or bathing my kid. The quality (and not quantity) of the time you spend with your child is what strengthens the relationship and it is an ongoing process.- Gaurav Jain

While Neil D’Silva explains how do these small “uncomfortable” tasks strengthen the relationship. He said, “let’s use diaper-changing as a synecdoche for all the uncomfortable tasks that the child needs to be done. Like taking the child to the doctor, or when they break into boils or rashes, or when they need a wound to be washed, etc. These happen in their later years, and this is the time when the child understands care much better. In such situations, I have always been hands-on, and that’s something both my children cherish. In fact, they will sometimes reminisce fondly, “Papa, do you remember that time when I had a boil and you cleaned it up?” Children remember such incidents; they become part of their nostalgia, and they love the people who are involved in those memories they carry on for life.”

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What is the major change that has made fathers embrace parenting responsibilities?

Certainly, it can be agreed that fathers are increasingly realizing the need to strengthen their bond with their kids which is possible by spending more time with them. But what specifically has normalised this for dads today, in contrast to the older generations?

Effect of new ideas, books and social media:

Jain points out the effect of the new generation engaging with new ideas through media and books that have opened up new possibilities. He says, “Books, television and media at large have cast fathers in the role of equal contributors to parenting and household responsibilities. This has educated people and normalized their participation.”

The changing gender roles and women empowerment

One of the major reasons behind this shift in the parenthood is the fact that women are no more confined within homes as full-time mothers. Highlighting on this perspective of breaking the stereotypical gender roles, Neil says, “That distinction we used to see in school textbooks, where the father was supposed to come back from office with a briefcase in hand and the mother would bring him a cup of hot tea, is gradually diminishing. The urban schools don’t stereotype these roles anymore. It is the culmination of these two factors—both parents needing to work for money and the shift in education patterns—that is leading to fathers becoming more involved at home.”

Gaurav Jain further adds to this, “Women today are highly educated and successful professionally. They have more agency over their decision making than they ever did before. They are less likely to choose or indulge a partner who does not pull his weight.”

Both father and mother as the bread-winners

The stark difference in the parenting role between mother and father is based on the idea that the latter alone carries the financial responsibility of the family. But today with the changed lifestyle and choices, financial responsibility is too much for a single person to take care of the whole family. Subsequently, both the father and mother are sharing the responsibilities, whether it is finances or parenting.

It is the culmination of these two factors—both parents needing to work for money and the shift in education patterns—that is leading to fathers becoming more involved at home. – Neil D’Silva

As Neil puts it, “We live in difficult times. Our families are no longer joint families, and there’s no concept of ancestral wealth anymore. Both partners have to work to make ends meet. In fact, I know only a few couples where the wives are solely homemakers. This is slowly creating a situation where both father and mother are arriving at a common level, professionally.”

He further adds that any child—male or female—needs values from both father and mother to grow up well. “Fathers who are only focusing on their work are depriving their children of that part of parenting. The children might grow up with suppressed emotions, fear, or even resentment against their father and men in general. It is unhealthy,” says he.

Further stressing on the family structure, Anaggh Desai says, “Couples today desire to live alone and not in a joint family. This leaves very little choice of not accepting the responsibility. And in many ways, it is a positive change.”

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Dad’s Guilt

The research says that though a lot of fathers want to take the responsibilities of the household parenting, they are pushed back by “dad’s guilt”. It is the guilt that fathers who spend more time with their children and families at home suffer from, of less “manly”, as compared to the fathers of the older generations. Do Indian dads also have dad’s guilt?

Neil D’Silva says, “I agree that in our previous generations, men were brought up in a particular way. The ‘mard ko dard nahin hota’ machismo is still so ingrained in our culture that it is difficult to take it out easily. Then there is the frequent name-calling in schools, where boys who are not macho according to other’s standards are labelled with various feminine nicknames, all in the pejorative sense. The notion that men are superior and women are somehow inferior and the insulting nicknames further fosters this sense of entitlement.

Adding further on the traditional patriarchal structure of Indian families, Anaggh Desai says, “As much as we say, shout we are still a Patriarchal family at heart. And this has been brought about by mothers of the past. Unless they change and force the dad’s change, it would still remain the same.”

How can a father get rid of this guilt and do what they really want?

Since the guilt is deeply rooted in the patriarchal ideologies, change can be brought about by removing the influence of patriarchy on families, restructuring education and upbringing of children who become the harbingers of an inclusive society.

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Neil says he has ensured that his son performs several household duties. “Preparing evening tea is his responsibility. He is fourteen now. I also have him tidy up his room, his mother makes him wash the dishes at times, and we both send him to buy groceries and stuff. We can better the next generation, and in that, the present-day fathers must take the lead. Boys obey their mothers but they love and respect the instructions that come from their fathers. To all fathers: Please ask your sons to perform household chores. You will raise a much better son that way.”

According to Gaurav Jain there are fathers who are probably torn between what they think is the right thing to do and what their family and their peers find acceptable. In these cases, it really is up to the father to do what they think is right. Says he, “I believe it is not about 50:50 between parental contributions, in fact, I don’t believe it can ever be 50:50. One parent will always contribute more at one time/activity/aspect and it is important to understand that is okay. It just shouldn’t be the same parent always doing the heavy lifting.”

Corporate Responsibilities does not provide space to the fathers

The research has also revealed that even though fathers want to spend more time with their family and kids, the work responsibilities and social institutions do not provide them with that space. If fathers were a part of the organisations that had cultures and policies of family involvement, they could be emotional and nurturing co-parents. Besides, the social institutions still follow the stereotype of fathers going out for work and mothers at home nurturing the kids. Because fathers are not seen as “nurturing and emotional” parents, they are expected to be at work as much as possible.  How true is this with Indian dads?

 Couples today desire to live alone and not in a joint family. This leaves very little choice of not accepting the responsibility. And in many ways, it is a positive change. – Anaggh Desai

As per Gaurav Jain, this certainly is true. He explains, ” The work culture in India stresses on working longer, harder and work-life balance is considered a foreign concept. This is true for both corporate and entrepreneurial enterprises. Socially, it is mostly the casting of genders where males are breadwinners and females are homemakers. This conditions families and societal units to have certain expectations and they then react to them accordingly.” Anaggh Desai adds to this, “Whilst HR, MNCs, and others keep talking about equality, the men working in these companies do not understand, agree or practice; Locker room talk still centres around how XYZ controls the wife etc and this clearly represents the social ideologies too.

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Talking about the social and work expectations from fathers, Neil D’Silva says, “I don’t care about that expectation, even if that exists. People that I know in fact appreciate the fact that I work from home and am able to spend so much time with my children. We are also both breadwinners in the family, so it’s not much of an issue.”

Adding further about maintaining the work-life balance to give time to parenting, he says, “The crux of the matter is, work-life balance cannot be struck by an individual—father or mother—unless the contribution is from both partners. The mother contributes to the father’s work-life balance and vice-versa. And there is no standard way to go about it. Parenting is something you learn on the job, every day of your life.

What changes do the workplaces need?

Gaurav Jain emphasises that parental involvement can come through the availability of time. “The best thing workplaces can do is give people the breathing room they need and establish boundaries between work and personal time. Also, a lot of workplaces today give paternal leave, which is a positive step forward. Not only does it give them much needed time to spend with a young family but it also establishes that their role in the process is important and predicated on the contribution of effort.”

Anaggh Desai adds, “Employability, equal number of project heads and work equality in offices need to be consistent agendas and not knee-jerk reaction.”

Picture Credit: New York Times

Rudrani Kumari is an intern with SheThePeople.TV.