Maybe it is time to break stereotypes like “a mother knows what’s best for the child” and that Dad cannot be a good parent.
“I don’t trust my husband with childcare responsibilities!” proclaimed a friend as we watched over her three-year-old daughter. On probing, she elaborated, “He can’t handle her tantrums and allows her to eat junk food. He doesn’t care if her clothes are clean or if she has taken her water bottle along. She gets into poor routines and bad habits with him. I know he loves her, makes an effort, tries his best, and all of that, but I think a child needs a mother. Whatever the world says about gender equality, childcare is a mother’s domain!”
I went home feeling rather restless that evening. My friend’s declaration unsettled me in unexpected ways; not because it stirred the feminist in me, but it questioned my growth as a person and woman. “Did I not turn out alright? Could I have been better if was raised by a woman? Am I not adequate?” I questioned myself over and over that night.
I was eight years old when my mother’s sudden demise left me with a father and two teenage brothers. Although quite young at that time, I still recall the discomfort and anxiety of that period. Suddenly we were on our own, grieving and grappling with our new reality. I now relied on my father to braid my hair, help me with school work, commute, and understand my emotional needs. Would he be able to comprehend what’s in my heart, I often wondered?
My father had an unusual parenting style. He never checked if I wore clean clothes or ate a nutritious lunch. He rarely asked me about my exam scores. My father insisted I make my decisions which convinced me that I wasn’t one of his own. I was sent off to trips and adventure camps to harden up and understand the realities of life outside my cushy home; as an introvert and shy child, it was tough!
Tactics such as crying and feeling sorry for myself didn’t work with him. Life skills such as driving, travelling alone, cooking weren’t an ‘option’ for me. Regardless of my career choice, I was told that financial independence was a necessity irrespective of gender.
He played a significant role in my life which moulded me into the woman I am today. His outspoken nature encouraged me to express myself fearlessly. He never equated my gender with my abilities. His insistence on self-respect laid the foundation for my positive self-esteem. I learned to take ownership of my decisions as well as their consequences. But above all, the experience taught me to view people for who they are, regardless of gender or relationship labels.
He perhaps didn’t aspire to a fill maternal void in my life, but he nurtured me in his unique way. There was a method to his madness; sometimes flawed but mostly effective. Together, we got through it, and I can confidently say that I’ve evolved as a fine human being.
I hope my story, even in a small way, challenges the stereotypes we build around genders and their roles. I hope it encourages us to move past the rigidity of gender roles and love without boundaries or labels. Men can be as victimised by cultural norms and societal pressure as women. Consider examples such as “men don’t cry” or “nursing or teaching aren’t career options for men” or even “boys don’t wear pink”.
If feminism is all about equality, shouldn’t men have an equal and unbiased opportunity too? Let’s applaud fathers who choose to be stay-at-home-dads with the same gusto as we would for a woman cracking business deals. In fact, the more men participate in childcare and home duties, the more time will women have to explore lives outside their families and homes.
The situation is challenging, and it may even take more than a lifetime to create a gender-neutral culture. However, every change begins with a shift in mindset and a leap of faith. Ladies, now is the time to break the stereotypes around gender roles and create a gender-neutral society. Let’s do this, for us, for our children, and for many generations to come.
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