“Appa, imagine if you were learning to drive a car, and your teacher kept scolding you for each mistake, how would you feel?”
This question, from my 5 year old son, left me utterly dumbfounded and speechless. During my annual holidays last year, one of the things I wanted to accomplish was to teach our son how to cycle without trainer wheels. He is a physically active child, but like many other children his age, sometimes lacks focus. On day one, he kept looking sideways, saying hi to people, instead of focusing on the path and holding steady. He, therefore, kept falling. Unfortunately, I lost patience and raised my voice. On day 2, when I asked him if we could practice again, he asked me not to scold him, with this excellent rationale.
This is relevant because we talk a lot about the hardships endured by parents when they raise a child. However, one aspect I’d like to share is how children are like mirrors that keep showing us the kind of people we are, every single day. They absorb our behavior, mannerisms, and value systems like a sponge. The way they snap, get angry, express love and kindness is a direct product of what parents inculcate in them. This was a good example of how our son showed the mirror to me.
Being an ‘evolving’ dad…
I am a scientist and perhaps like any other profession, it requires one to be curious and try new things. I like to make mistakes and learn from them. Without failing, it is hard to create new, exciting, never-done-before things. I naturally took that approach towards parenting as well. It was also a product of me reflecting on my own upbringing and realising what was done well and what could have been better (i.e) to balance the urge to protect (constantly warning the child against falling or failing) and letting the child be and explore (gain more confidence and be more independent). And thus, evolving as a parent.
Five years of parenting has been a humbling experience. Every day when I leave the office, I tell myself, 'someone is excited to see you, so put your best face forward', regardless of whether I got that bonus or if all the experiments I had planned, failed miserably. Compartmentalising work and life outside work can be challenging. And to not let stress at work spillover into your demeanour towards your child is even more challenging.
Additionally, in my case, my spouse’s work involves commuting 13 kms one way in Bangalore, and therefore, I end up being the primary cook in our household. Naturally for me, I have started involving our son in the kitchen from an early stage.
While at work, we are used to quantifying efforts, in parenting, efforts are hard to quantify. The mental labour is taxing and at the end of a long day when your partner asks, ‘what did you do today’, you just want to slide into a blanket and take a long nap. There is no energy to articulate, and to top it all, there is a lingering feeling of guilt. ‘Am I doing my best?’. ‘What if it is not enough?’
All this when, in the kitchen there was a battlefield-like experience. While it was heartwarming to watch him giggle as an egg breaks and plops into a bowl, it is breath-stopping when he climbs the kitchen counter and stands too close to the edge. Despite my protective instinct kicking in and having an urge to scream, I have to suppress it, lest he loses balance. During this time, the gravy has started to char slightly at the bottom and I have to add water to scrape it off the pan. Somehow, I manoeuvre both situations and save the child and the curry! Cutting a long story short, something like this keeps happening. Small things that snowball and give you your fix of cardio, HIIT, whatever workout you’re into, without going to Cult. But the end result is that your child has had an immersive experience and a lot of fun.
In conventional settings, women have for the most part, shouldered these responsibilities. 92% of women in India take part in unpaid domestic work, whereas the number is 27% for men. According to an NFHS survey, only 32% of married women in India work. And 15% out of those women are not paid for their work. About our approach towards parenting, here is what my partner says, ‘‘I think I'm relieved. I couldn't have done it alone. So, to have a partner who behaves like what a parent should, without conforming to any gender stereotypes and owns the process and the joys and tribulations of parenting has left me with immense peace of mind. There are certain ways I think boys should be brought up and watching my husband live that life is proving to be great role-modelling for our son. As part of the process, they are very close to each other, he loves him more at this stage or thinks he's a better parent and I'm all for it. Good for me, actually."
Parenting is all about continuous effort.
If this had happened at the office, one could have used phrases like, ‘thinking on the feet’, ‘talent catalyst’ or ‘multitasking'. While the concepts apply to daily parenting situations, they are tough to articulate and quantify. Most of the time goes into some form of firefighting. Being hands-on means being in the thick of things. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. It often comes at the expense of a high heart rate, but it has enabled the child to be more curious, creative, trusting and expressive.
Of all the things parenting throws at you, most of which is thankless grunt work, just having a smile at the end of the day and watching your kid grow with limitless curiosity and the faith that your child will have the freedom to explore, without inhibitions, makes all the effort worth it. Typically, mothers are involved from the early stages of development, starting with maternity leave. Likewise, for fathers, a good step forward would be to take that paternity leave! Invest in your child. Apart from physical efforts, a change in mindset is needed too. I am very clear that weekends are mine. To spend time with my family. I take our son to football, and sometimes, a breakfast date post that with my spouse. If it were a KPI at work, you would have slogged hard to achieve it and then some - parenting requires the same mindset. And today, employers are supporting that.
Many workplaces are increasing paternity leave to nearly a month instead of the usual 2 weeks, which is great. Trust me, this investment is totally worth it. In addition to bonding with your child, at a more basic level, it improves the overall wellbeing of your partner as well - regardless of an extended support system or not. It is a partnership, which means sharing successes and hardships equally. If work requires your effort, so does the most important partnership of your life.
Time to balance both equally!