"He doesn’t do diapers," says a friend of mine who has just given birth, as her husband hastily leaves the room to avoid the apparently too-hideous-to-be-borne sight of baby poop. “I am a New Age man, but diapers are strictly her job,” he says, laughing, almost proud of his ineptitude.
He’s not alone. As a recent Times of India survey confirms, 86 percent of Indian men, new age or not, think changing diapers, bathing kids and even feeding the children is a woman’s job. But did we really need a survey to tell us this? Indian men, and often women, still think that the gruesome bits of parenting can only be done by women, or that women have some special gene that helps them to handle baby poop and sick kids.
Well, here's a news flash: women don’t enjoy cleaning poop or wiping snot either. Nobody does. We just grit our teeth and get on with it.
Most mothers-in-law (not mine) if confronted with the sight of a man changing a diaper, insist on changing the child themselves. “He’s a man, of course he doesn’t know how to do it!"
I have lost count of the number of women friends who have cancelled on me because you they just can’t find a babysitter. What about your husband, I ask? “Oh.....” they giggle sheepishly, “He can’t be trusted with them for more than an hour. And what if they do potty or throw up?”
So a man can handle business operations for the whole Asia Pacific region, he can drive across the country, he can understand complicated tax laws, but he can’t get two children to sleep or wipe their bums? Sorry, no.
We women are often to blame, as well. Many of us mothers have this overwhelming desire to control the way our children are parented, and tell our men what to do, how to do it, when to do it and so on. We are control freaks who can’t let go. That way madness lies. Invariably, we drive men crazy, and they end up making our behaviour an excuse to avoid the hard stuff. “Hey, I can’t clean bottoms like she can, so I don’t do it at all.”
If you want your husband to parent, you need to let him do it his way. If this means returning to a messy house, where your kids have eaten more chocolate than is wise, and gone to sleep in their school clothes, does it matter? Men often have different priorities than women, sometimes preferring to do the fun stuff rather than clean up the puddles. But as long as the kids are safe and happy, it really doesn’t matter that they have eaten a whole bar of Dairy Milk. Women need to get over this idea that we are indispensable and that we know best. We are not, and we don’t.
We also assume the worst of men: that they don’t enjoy taking care of their kids. Many of my male friends take their kids out for a morning in the park or on daddy-kiddy trips alone. Most of them actually relish it, finding it a way to relax and take time out from the office. But, if they dare to admit it, the immediate response is murmurs of sympathy and quips about henpecked husbands, from both men and women: “Oh, wifey made you do it, huh?” Why is it assumed that women enjoy all aspects of child rearing and men hate all of it? The truth is surely somewhere in the middle.
When men do step up to take care of their own children, mind you, they are treated as if they just discovered a cure for cancer. When I took my first long trip away from home, and both of my children fell ill, my husband took them to the doctor. Six months later, my (female) doctor couldn’t stop talking about how wonderful he was, and how lucky I was to have him.
And so we continue to perpetuate the stereotype: women nurture, men pay the bills. Except that world doesn’t exist any more. Women too are paying the bills now, and men now have to nurture, as well. Parents need to bring up their children to do both kinds of work, teaching them how to lay the table and write a cheque. This is simply common sense. With both husbands and wives now working outside the house — and no support from the joint family — it makes sense for both parents to learn to play different roles. And what if one parent is travelling, falls ill, or to take the grimmest view: dies?
Besides, men will surely learn to appreciate having a savvy wife who can handle financial investments and pay the bills, just as women can appreciate a man who can clean up baby vomit and bathe the kids.
Let’s help each other out here; it’s not rocket science. Bearing a child and breastfeeding may still be women’s work. Everything else isn’t.