Still not a concept many Indians are familiar with, in fact most will unabashadly frown at being told that a man has willingly given up his full-time job to take care of his child – a stay-at-home dad is rare. This father’s day, while we are celebrating the oft neglected relationship of our lives, I decided to speak to fathers who are fulfilling the same role, albeit differently.
An engineer by education, telecommunication professional Sidharth Balachandran decided to be a stay-at-home father to their then one-year-old son, four years ago. More commonly known as Sid, he is widely known as @iwrotethose on twitter. Four years ago, Sidharth and his wife had decided to relocate to India and the question of who will take care of their son, popped. Till then, his wife was on an extended maternity leave which the UK offered.
“It was, what I would call, an consensual decision. When we decided to relocate to India, we were both doing well career-wise. We discussed it and decided that we would both apply for roles in India and then figure out an option that best suited us as a family. We were certain about one thing – that one of us would need to be flexible enough to either stay at home or work from home for a couple of years because we wanted our son to grow up with one parent around. Fortunately for us, my wife got a promotional transfer within her firm and I naturally took over the role of the ‘other’ parent. I don’t think it was that difficult for us to make the decision – and to be honest, I struggled a little bit as any parent would have. But our final decision was based on what was best for our family, and gender never really came into the equation,” Sidharth said when I asked how did they come to the decision of taking up the role of the SAHD (stay-at-home dad).
Of course, the transition from having job and reporting to a boss, to your baby being your boss must have been rocky and even a learning experience as all of parenting itself is. So does Sidharth miss his old life? He was pretty clear about this, “Yes and no. I think the ‘break’ sort of came at the right time. And who says ‘parenting’ little kids isn’t a full-time job? 😛 I miss the camaraderie of the people at work. I still do some freelance work, so really, missing work isn’t that big a deal. Of course, the regular income would probably help. But in some ways, it’s worked out best for us.”
While we women wish more men would be comfortable being SAHDs, but as one, I wondered if Sidharth thinks it is every man’s cup of tea or requires a different kind of mental seasoning to get into one? Sidharth honestly thinks every father can be a SAHD or primary caregiver. “As I’ve always said, gender may decide your ability to give birth, but does not decide your nurturing skills. But yes, the fact that a lot of men and fathers don’t easily slip into a fully time SAHD or take a lot of responsibility as parents is probably because of the conditioning factor. Our society has this deep-rooted ideology that men have derived their sense of identity from the ability to provide and protect their families, and women from their domestic prowess and ability to nurture. Things are certainly changing and today, I see more fathers take on the hands-on approach towards nurturing their kids. But I think the way society views people who tend to tread these off-beaten tracks and break gender stereotypes, does affect the way lot of people view parenting and caregiving.”
Sidharth’s typical day is as obvious, scheduled around his son. However, since the child is now five and doesn’t need a lot of things to be done to him, Sid says that things can get dull specially during the hours he is a school. “When he was younger, it was quite an interesting mix though. During the first few months after I took over the role, my wife would do everything she could to make sure my son and I had a real smooth transition, such as making sure his food was ready, etc. Gradually, I started learning and within 6 months or so, I am proud to say I could manage almost everything. In general, when he’s home, we spend time doing some activities that he likes – reading, dancing (don’t ask! I have two left feet, but it’s great to join in), racing cars and all that. And there is great truth to this statement that we say ‘monkey see, monkey do’. ”
So far in my conversation with Sid, and from his online tales of his son’s activities, I have gathered that the child is getting a more positive example of life than many other kids his age. This was confirmed when Sidharth said, “Because both my wife and I cook, and do chores around the house, my son has also picked it up. He play-cooks, helps me with the laundry, putting clothes out to dry, washing vessels etc. Of course, it’s a different matter that we end up messing the place more; but hey, it is the intent that counts, right? At the risk of sounding cliched, I would say that he is on his way to growing up to realise that when it comes to family and doing things around the house, gender is not a deciding factor in any way.”
This, if you ask me, the biggest takeaway for children who grow up with SAHDs.
The other side to a man being a SAHD and a darned good one too, is how was it for his wife. “I think it’s been a really hard decision for her to make. But at the same time, she is also an ambitious person and a thorough career professional. In the last 4 years, she has had 4 promotions, and is now the Country Head of her firm. So, that should show her dedication towards her career. At the same time, she has never shied away from taking on any responsibility that she needed to as a parent or as a partner. So, I’m sure it was a difficult task for her. But at the same time, I am grateful that she felt confident enough to leave a 1 year old in my care. I don’t think I have always been ‘this’ responsible – a lot of the credit goes to my toddler for teaching me things like patience, learning to smile in the face of adversity and all that. Probably things that I may not have learnt if I had not become a primary caregiver. ” This is so remarkable. Support a woman and let her follow her dreams, and see how she goes in an unending spree of accomplishing everything that comes her way!
I ended the interview asking something I am very curious about. Children are closer to the parent they spend more time with, right? How is it in the Balachandran household? “I wouldn’t say that. Yes, in some ways he is used to seeing his mom leave home in the morning and come back in the evening, and is sort of used to me being around all the time. He needs me for some things but prefers his mom for others. But yes, as the stay-at-home parent, I think I may have a slight edge. Shh..don’t tell my wife I said that :P”