(First published in YourStory)
He changes diapers. He wakes up in the middle of the night to soothe the crying baby. He reads bed time stories, drops kids to the bus stop and gets their homework done. He takes time out for a weekend swim or outing with the kids. He even multitasks and juggles work-home duties.
Yes, he’s the New-Age, Modern-Day dad!
Men in the average urban, nuclear family these days no longer want to be seen the traditional ’breadwinner cum disciplinarian cum full-of-expectations’ type of fathers. They have evolved and, in fact, make a conscious attempt to take on many duties inside the house, just as their wives have taken on roles outside the house.
But, here’s the thing –
These fathers feel their job is exhausting, feel a lot of guilt, and feel unappreciated as they believe that whatever they do they just can’t seem to do enough!
A “State of the World’s Fathers report” had showed 85% of fathers say that “they would be willing to do anything to be very involved in the early weeks and months of caring for their newly born or adopted child”. Similar insights were gathered from a survey we conducted at Ellenomics of urban Indian working fathers– men feel they spend much more quality time with their kids than their own fathers did with them, yet almost 70 percent of them feel very guilty about not spending enough time with kids. A majority of dads feel they want to do a lot more than they are able to. On the other hand, more than 50% also feel guilty about not being able to provide the best possible lifestyle for their families. And nearly 40% fathers felt that their contribution at home is not appreciated as much as they would have liked!
It is evident that working dads also feel pressurised and face a lot of similar challenges that working mothers do. But they usually don’t have a choice because being the family’s breadwinner is their identity that they don’t want to lose – s0 they can’t really give up. Also, the prevailing social norms as well as the existing public policy and infrastructure support structure prevent men from undertaking greater amount of care work. The graver problem is that this change in mindsets is still visible only in a small section of society and mostly in larger cities. It is for these reasons that Indian men still perform less than 15% of the amount of care work and domestic chores as women do.
Therefore, addressing the challenges of working fathers and facilitating them to become better caregivers might just be the key to empowering mothers! Otherwise, it has been estimated that at the current rate of change, the world would take at least 92 years to achieve equality in unpaid care work between men and women.
Enabling fathers would require a joint effort by the whole ecosystem including governments, workplaces, media, educational institutions, influencers and women themselves.
Following is a list of actions that each one of these ecosystem players can take –
Government and policymakers
The biggest enablers for fathers can be large scale, policy level actions that have the ability to break long-standing gender norms and change patriarchal mindsets around caregiving. These could include-
- Legislating paid paternity or family leave – without paternity leave, fathers are not only unable to “be there” to care for the new-borns and the new mother, but juggling work and home during the period ends up in them getting highly stressed and burnt out. Therefore, it is vital to have in place fully paid, guaranteed paternity or even parental leave that is mandatory for all employers to provide to all full time or part time employees.
- National level care policies – A National level caregiving policy is needed to not only recognize and reduce the unpaid care burden on women but also to redistribute care work equally between men and women. Such a policy should support all caregivers by providing access to community-based and affordable resources and professional caregiving support. It would also be useful to set a national target date for achieving equality in women and men’s participation in unpaid care work.
- Large scale community engagement and public campaigns – To shift existing norms, campaigns, ideally helmed by political influencers, are needed to encourage and support active engagement of men in care work.
- Public infrastructure and services can be tweaked to enable men to partake in caregiving – diaper change facilities within the men’s washrooms or having “family restrooms” are needed as much as lactation rooms for women in public spaces like airports and malls. Operating hours of healthcare service providers and hospitals can be extended to accommodate time related challenges of working professionals.
Organisations need to build a culture where all employees are accepted and appreciated for the multiple roles they play not just at work but also beyond work, and care-giving is valued and supported for all workers. Such a culture would ensure that men don’t feel “torn” between the twin roles of provider and parent. To build such a culture, organisations can consider providing the following –
- and remote working options (if possible), for all employees and not just women, are a necessity for every organisation. Such policies would mean that any man can take time off for pre-natal doctor visits or to look after a sick child or attend an Annual function, without the fear of being judged
- Paid paternity and parental leave with options of unpaid extensions
- Childcare benefits, like access to onsite creche facility or subsidised childcare, must be extended to both men and women
- Parenting support networks can be created within the organisations, where both mothers and fathers can discuss issues and support each other
- Mental health support must be provided to all employees where even men can express their feelings of guilt or discuss family pressures or seek solutions to find work-home balance
- The organisation’s male Leaders must role model their care-giving roles and actively avail of the flexible options and parental leaves to make all employees feel comfortable about doing so themselves
Media and influencers
Media has a huge role to play in shifting norms and changing mindsets. Advertisements for baby products like diapers must feature both mothers and fathers. Influential personalities must show their vulnerable side and their parenting/caregiving roles.
The content and delivery of school education must be designed to ensure that children grow up with the belief that care-giving is a gender-neutral activity, and both girls and boys should be trained to take on equal share of household responsibilities.
Women also have to play their part in “empowering” their husbands. This would mean that women should ask for specific help, allow the men to do things their own way, stop judging but assisting them to learn housework, and criticise less but appreciate their effort more.
Implementing these measures would help build an ecosystem where men will be enabled to become equally competent and comfortable caregivers, which in turn will reduce unpaid care burden on women.