A couple of weeks ago I was at the airport bookstore. Among the rows of bestsellers, autobiographies and romance novels, my eyes snagged on a new parenting book aimed at mothers. The title promised to tell me how I could have kids, a career and some semblance of sanity. I reached for it, ready to bill it and have someone else break down for me how to achieve the aforementioned. And then something stopped me. I felt a flash of annoyance and walked away.
I’ve read so many parenting books over the years. Books about what to expect, how to talk, how to listen, how to juggle, how to lean in, how to drop the ball and let your partner catch it, how to be happy, how to be conscious, how to get more done before breakfast, how to hold on and how to let go.
So why didn’t I buy that book? Why did I feel annoyed? I realised I was tired of women being told how they could hold it all together and still keep their Kegel muscles tight. How the onus was on us to manage this feat. Sure, many of these books (and I myself through this column) have said how we need to ask for help. We need to ask for flexible work hours. We need to tell partners to pitch in. The burden is still on us as mothers to ask, to do, to manage and to survive.
Do a quick search of books about motherhood. The titles have words and phrases like survival, winging it, taming, juggling, making it work. Contrast this to books about fatherhood. ‘Life’s greatest adventure.’ ‘The journey from Man to Dad.’ The message given to women is: you’re about to embark on a gruelling bootcamp. To men: let’s go on a lovely stroll of self-discovery through the mountains.If anything, reading books on motherhood and work leaves me feeling more anxious than I was before. There’s all this I have to do to even try and make things feel normal?
According to a study by the World Bank in collaboration with the National Sample Survey Organisation, 20 million Indian women quit jobs between 2004-12. Around 65-70% of women who quit never return to work at all. The reasons are varied, but for many, the sheer stress of ‘juggling’ things gets to be too much.
There are no easy fixes to this. Companies can and must attempt to address these issues with equal parental leave and childcare policies.
Though when Zomato recently announced six months of paid leave to all new parents, I came across a Twitter thread where someone had shared her female colleagues’ reaction to the idea of having fathers at home post partum. The gist was: they’ll sit around with their laptop watching TV and ask for chai at odd hours of the day. I know, I know #notallnewdads.
The way I see it, for my generation this is a lot. Juggling, asking and constantly feeling inadequate. But it doesn’t have to be that way for our daughters should they choose to have children.If you ask me, the answer lies in how we are raising our sons right now. For them to want to equally partake in parenting and managing work and home, without being asked and without expecting a medal. I’d read a book about that.
The writer’s philosophy is: if there’s no blood, don’t call me