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Indian moms are often the primary parent without a break. But stepping back can be advantageous – to women and their families.
By Charu Katira
In our society, a mother’s role is that of a primary parent – either by choice or through circumstances. I, for example, decided to stay at home with my first daughter for the first two years thinking that only I could provide her the highest level of care. There are other Indian moms who have had to make that choice either in the absence of good childcare options or because the father of their children is unable (or unwilling) to step in and shoulder the responsibilities equally.
For almost 6 years I was the primary parent for my first daughter. My husband and I had a convenient setup – I took all the decisions regarding our daughter’s care and he “filled in” for me occasionally so I could get some time off. I often got tired of being the primary decision maker all the time and tried to get him to be more involved but he always excused himself citing “mother knows best”. It frustrated me that he had a luxury which I didn’t – to take a day off.
It took me a long time to realize that I was the main reason my husband was not as involved a parent as I would have liked him to be. I was a perfectionist and a control-freak which probably scared him away. It still took a stressful year of infertility treatments and a hectic, tiring pregnancy for me to finally let go of the control and embrace shared parenting.
It frustrated me that he had a luxury which I didn’t – to take a day off.
Anyone who has ever been in this situation, with or without an obsession for perfection, must know the frustration that arises from the non-stop work. So why do we keep doing it? Some of us have no choice. Our spouse may have a job that doesn’t allow him to shoulder the parenting responsibilities equally. We could be unwilling to let go or we might have an uncooperative and unwilling spouse.
Even after I realized my mistake in tying myself to the role of being the primary care provider, it still took some effort to get my husband into the mode of being an equally responsible parent because he was so scared of failing my standards. Once I let go, I was pleasantly surprised to find that he was as good a parent as I was. Today, there is nothing which I do for our kids that he can’t do.
This has given me a chance to go on three trips to India alone without any guilt or worries. He has been to India twice, taking one of the girls with him. Parenting decisions are collaboratively made in our family. Who stays home with a sick child is decided based on factors like vacation time and flexible schedules. There is less conflict, more partnership, more bonding with the girls and a much better and stronger marriage. Parenting isn’t a burden anymore.
It can be very difficult giving up the role that fits us so snugly and for which we have been conditioned since childhood. Society’s expectations also make it tough to break through the stereotype but, believe it or not, there are advantages to it.
– It gives the father a chance to develop a bond with the children. There is nothing more precious than watching my husband roughhousing with my daughters or painting their nails.
– It gives Indian moms a chance to get some time for themselves. A happy mother is a better mother. Once my husband became a more involved parent, I was able to pursue some of my interests and also a career.
– It also helps make the couple’s relationship stronger because they see themselves as a team instead of a hierarchy. That has really happened for us. We work as a team and our bond has gotten stronger despite health problems, infertility and a crazy routine.
– It benefits the children who gain knowledge and experience, and get help from both parents instead of just one. Our older daughter can come to either one of us for homework help. I have seen a friend get frustrated because she couldn’t explain maths to her kids and her husband didn’t have the time to do it.
– It can even help nip discipline problems in the bud if both parents work as a team. Kids know that they cannot play the parents against each other.
– It frees up the mother to pursue her career. One friend said she had help, not only from her husband, but also from her mother-in-law, mother, older daughter and maids. It definitely helps when the village steps in.
Shared parenting where both parents act as primary parents is essential in today’s world. Being progressive and supportive enables either parent to take a step back and the other parent to take over smoothly when the need arises – without any worries.
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