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It is common knowledge to those of us who have brought a newborn home that it is a ‘get one – take one’ offer. Get a baby and take some mommy guilt free.
What is annoying however is that this offer does not seem to extend to fathers.
Rarely do you hear fathers being questioned about their decision to take just a week’s worth of paternity leave. Or clucked at, for taking a boy’s night out. Or judged for leaving on a business trip.
Why are only mothers put on trial? And while putting mothers on trial, aren’t we insulting dads by telling them that nobody expects anything from them as a parent? Don’t dads feel the searing pangs of mommy guilt?
Sagar Rajgopal is the Senior Vice President of a global contact centre. He has two children – a four year old daughter and an eleven month old son. He stays in the same city as his children and travels infrequently for work. But when he does, it is for weeks at a time. Full disclosure, he is also my husband. Sagar says, “that there is less pressure generally on fathers because of ingrained ideas around a father’s role. So while there have been times I have felt guilty about not being as present as I would have liked to be in my children’s lives, it’s largely internal and not something brought about due to general expectations around the role of a father.”
He also agrees that moms struggle a lot more with the angst of missing out on a child’s childhood and the phenomenon of mommy guilt.
“I think that mothers have a higher bar set for them where they are expected to not just invest significant, if not a major portion of their time to their children, in addition to the usual expectations around setting the right values, character building etc.
I still see raised eyebrows at the thought of a father leading the home front while a mother is a primary breadwinner. While there is a small subset of parents attempting a more equitable distribution of responsibilities, in most cases fathers do have it easier and seem to be held to a different standard,” he says.
Rohit Kunnath Menon, a dentist based in Hong Kong agrees. He is the father to a three and a half year old daughter. While he is an involved and hands-on parent just like his dentist wife, conferences and work visits take him away for two weeks to a month, at a time. He had this to say about the harsh double standards of society as far as mommy guilt is concerned.
“Contrary to what we project in a social setting, I think we still do a lot to reinforce guilt in moms for a lot of decisions including career choices. I am in California right now for a month, for a work visit and it is assumed ‘normal’. It would be very interesting to see the reactions when this happens the other way around, which, I think will happen soon.
Further, my wife Divya had to leave for India for a week recently and I received a lot of compliments and appreciation from family and friends for ‘taking care of the kid alone’, and I thought that it was kind of odd that you get appreciated for a week’s work while others (read women) don’t for a lifetime’s.”
Rohit feels that it is high time parents took responsibility of the situation.
“My take is, make your home an example. Action speaks louder than words. The fundamental idea that the ‘Dad has to do this’ and ‘Mom has to do this’ is flawed. In a relationship, all of us have unique situations. If one of the spouses is busier with work, the other has to balance the home angle a bit more. The most important part is that this decision should be taken with mutual respect to each other’s choices. Ideally, we have to choose a career where both of us work equally and take care of stuff at home equally.”
What makes this even harder is when a dad stays far away from his family, as in the case of Rajeev Ramani. Rajeev handles Sales Engineering for a firm in Sydney, Australia whereas his wife and two kids aged ten years and seven years stay in Bengaluru. He admits to feeling guilty about not being there as much as he would like to be.
“When our first child was born, I was around and helped out. I hated leaving the child at home and going to work too. There was different guilt, the guilt that my wife Jaya had to give up her career where she was doing exceedingly well, even though we discussed an option where I could do the looking after. In my current situation, the guilt is more intense. I live far away, and I can’t help Jaya with her day-to-day responsibilities with the kids. I am not there for most of their essential functions. So, yes I do live with the guilt that I am missing out on a lot and not contributing enough.”
Rajeev feels that the phenomenon of mommy guilt is not really specific to mothers, as there are a lot of fathers who would empathize with him. Yet, he believes that society does play an integral role in reinforcing mommy guilt in mothers.
“When I tell people, I live in a different city. I get an ‘oh that must be really hard for you’. I have a colleague who is in exactly the opposite situation. She is a mother and moved to Sydney initially leaving her husband and daughter. She tells me she gets questions like, ‘how did your husband allow you?’ Or ‘how is your husband managing?’”
Questions that betray exactly why mothers feel mommy guilt at every sans-offspring step they take, designed to shame moms into feeling like they are being bad moms. Questions that will only stop in a future where parents irrespective of gender are held to the same standards by society.
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Shweta Ganesh Kumar is a Writer and Travel columnist.
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