In our various workshops and courses, we have dads in attendance almost every time. They may be fewer in number than the mothers attending, but we always hugely appreciate the perspective they bring to the table.
Societal expectations and family roles
Then, there is an unspoken assumption that the father should be the main income provider of the family and must continue to be irrespective of circumstances. It may well be that both partners are earning around the same amount but, only due to the societal belief, the father may feel pressured to continue as the breadwinner, while the mother may step in to play the role of primary caregiver for the child.
A very close couple friend of ours seriously contemplated how it would be for the mother to return to work full time, while the father looked after the child as a stay at home dad, after the birth of their first child. He was very keen to take on that responsibility, but, due to the huge difference in their incomes, which would have put tremendous pressure on them financially, they chose not to do it. Yet, when they had their second child, the wife went back to work and they were financially more secure, the husband took a year long career break so he could spend time with his children.
Now, this is not a decision that may be feasible for many families, but my learning from this was that it is important for a couple to sit down and discuss each other’s wishes, and how they want to shoulder the parenting responsibilities as it may be very different from what society often dictates.
Speaking to this friend midway through his career break really humbled me. He spoke with such joy about getting his kids ready for school, how he has learned to braid his daughter’s hair, how he can make their after-school snacks, how much he enjoys going to their after school activities, meeting their friends and generally spending time with his children. These were day-to-day tasks I took for granted as a mother, and at times even found inane and arduous. But, due to his previous travelling job, it was only now that this father was experiencing the connection and deep bonding with his children that he had so long been missing.
I am certain there are many dads out there who want to be more involved in their child’s day as possible yet, work and time constraints often mean that they miss out on this connection. But when they do get it, it does wonders for the father, the child and their relationship, Research also indicates that children who have an engaged father figure in their lives do better socially and academically and are more resilient than children who do not. Fathers engaging in their child’s life also positively impact the marital relationship, as it can be immensely rewarding for the mother to have a partner who really shares the responsibility and enjoys it.
A new way forward
Overall, with the framework of families slowly changing, can we as a community start to allow for change and individual choice with parental roles also? Could we begin by redefining the abilities and functions of mothers and fathers? Dads today want to be part of their child’s lives in as many ways as possible, and it is our collective responsibility as a society to allow them this opportunity. Let us appreciate the effort they are willing to put in, and acknowledge that they want to share in this beautiful journey too.
— Seemanthini Iyer is a certified parent educator with Parenting Matters, an organization which empowers parents to build deeper connection in families. To know more, look us up on www.parentingmatters.in