BY SAMIRA SOOD
When we talk about babies and parenting, we often slip into easy stereotypes of momspeak, let’s talk to mothers, mommy bloggers, ma ke haath ka khaana, and so on. We don’t even consider a father’s involvement in parenting or his role in the family. Some of that is understandable, given simple biological facts about childbirth and how child-rearing has traditionally happened. But some of it is conditioning, and that takes decades, even centuries, to grow out of.
The fact is that fathers today are far more actively involved in parenting than they were even a few decades ago. Laws have also changed to some extent, to keep up with changing social norms and increasing conversation around gender equality and equal parenting.
You can see it in advertising, from Flipkart’s Penguin Dad video to Lifebuoy’s Gondappa commercial. You see it in mainstream Hindi movies like Piku, which spotlights a strong father-daughter bond. You even see it in Bollywood stars’ own lives, with actor Tusshar Kapoor and director Karan Johar choosing to be single fathers, and sharing adorable photos of their little ones on social media.
But even if we forget about glam ’grammers – just look around you. So many fathers now want to be the first choice for PTA meetings, bedtime story sessions, and chaperoning playdates – and they make it a point to be present for all of them, regardless of whether the mother is available or not. Clearly, the way we view the responsibilities of a father – in fact, the way fathers view their own responsibilities in the family – is changing. No longer is he just the breadwinner – he is expected to be an equal parent emotionally, and in many cases, he wants to be.
Goa-based author and TV show anchor Mayur Sharma believes that how you parent is a direct result of how you were raised. “When I was growing up, I saw my dad helping out with everything around the house, and my mum was a working mum. So they shared duties,” he says. He credits this upbringing for how he and his wife, Michelle, parent their children now.
Sometimes, it can work in the opposite way, too. Vikram, a techie in Pune, explains that actually, seeing how his mother dealt with most of the household work and parenting duties made him want to be different when it came to his own son. “I did miss my dad, and I actually saw one or two other classmates whose fathers were quite involved in their day-to-day lives. They would come to school and one of them even cooked at their house a lot. I kind of liked that, and wanted to be like that.”
But he and Delhi-based Parth Gupta also found that their equal parenting didn’t find favour with their own parents, who believed that the father’s role in the family should be limited to providing financially, while the mother took care of the child’s social and emotional needs. Both men recall that in the early days, their working wives were criticised for not being around enough, forcing their husbands to take on more household and childcare work. “But they also see a change happening around them now, so they have slowly accepted it as well,” says Gupta. His wife, Anjana, shrugs it off as something she had anticipated anyway. She’s happy that the times are changing, and simply says, “Changing a mindset takes time.”
And in recent years, the greatest catalyst in changing that mindset has been the Covid-19 pandemic. With both parents working from home in the lockdown and several continuing to do so, many children have had the advantage of seeing both parents for equal amounts of time. The bonding that many lucky parents and children have been able to enjoy has been well documented, but that apart, the pandemic has also been a time for children to unlearn gendered social norms and parenting roles. Whether it’s taking turns to cook and clean and do other household chores or just fathers being a lot more present in their kids’ lives, the pandemic has had a huge impact on this front.
As Mayur says, “Very often when you’re travelling, when you’re fulfilling your responsibilities as one half of a marriage, it is really hard, despite the best intentions, to understand everything that your partner is contributing. Child-rearing, being responsible for the kids – not just keeping them alive but catering to their physical, social, emotional needs – is very very important, and when both parents contribute, it makes for a much more balanced and well-developed child.”