Many years ago in the sweltering chennai heat, I read this book called “Daddy” by Danielle Steele. Although the book offers a neutral treatment of how the life of either parent pans out, how the mother’s life took turns really baffled me at first; later it intrigued me and probably now after so many years when I am a mother myself, I completely empathize with her; infact to me she is hero of the book! It takes a lot more courage for a mother to peel oneself away from familial duties than to dive into it. And the earlier we realise that the better!
Few months back, I had decided to get back on the workout wagon with a vengeance. After many failed attempts at PIIT28 and other Do-it-yourself-at-home workouts, I had come to the conclusion that I had to leave the house and stop being a parent, if I needed that one hour to myself. And in the end I had taken an approach very much like how Sarah had in “Daddy”. I had decided that my family was going to work together to figure how they would do it without me. I chose to be an early riser, leave the house and complete my workout before they woke up. Whether the kids woke up before or after i got home; I wouldnt be the one handling their morning ablutions. I had made that unwritten pact. And had completely washed myself off that responsibility and decided i was going to let my family figure out their morning routine without me.
It was very much like what indra nooyi had said in her interview about “seamless parenting”. If you don’t let your extended family (in this case the family) do things their way to help you, you will continue to guilt trip yourself and never cope. Because let me restate that little well known secret. Men have been doing it forever!
Before you jump on me to quote all the great fathers, single dads and partners out there who do their part well; I am not talking about fathers not doing their part — I am talking about the fact that men are okay to not be their child’s primary parent. They are okay if they can’t make it in time on one out of hundred times to pick up the child and ask their partner to do it. They are okay if they can’t make it home in time after the pick up and the kids have to eat pizza and fries on a Wednesday night. They are okay to leave a sick child for half day at day care after giving him a dose of tylenol.
This and hundreds of instances like these, you wouldn’t see a dad brooding and telling his friends in a whatsapp group “I feel soo bad… dropped a sick child to day care! breaks my heart” blah blah. Whereas for every one of those instances, I bet almost every mother out there would have felt guilty at some point or the other in her life.
That guilt combined with the effervescent feeling that we are the primary parent of the child is a combination of doom. And it makes most mothers get caught in this web so intertwined we have created for ourselves, that we find it hard to break out. Yes! I already hear many of you thinking — men can’t breastfeed nor carry a child in their womb. But that’s it. Everything else they are physically and mentally capable of doing for the child. EVERYTHING. I will give you a moment for that to sink in.
Because changing a diaper is as new to the mother as to the dad. So don’t let anyone guilt trip you into thinking “I am a mom. I should be born knowing this.” or “I am the mom. I should be the one cooking fresh meals for my family.”.. Its never ending.
Our partnership lines are getting blurry. With two working parents being the new norm and steps towards gender equality and pay gaps, what better place to bring it into practice than at home? And most of us are “lucky” and “blessed” ( I feel rather unfortunate to be using those words. But we only know too well how the world is turning into ), to have partners who are supportive and make great responsible parents. But mothers, if you truly want them to take on a huge piece of your mental load, you have to let it go.
Because this is where, I tell you another well-known little-acknowledged secret “Children adapt like a song. Parents take longer”. The more changes and decisions we make as mothers, founded by this expectation of being the primary parent; decisions that phase out our personal dreams and goals little by little; it gets harder and harder to break out. And the most important change that is actually happening during this time is that you are also closing the doors for your partner who may be very much willing to take on more load, also falling into a cushiony complacency. Which if you try to rectify years later will be a battle I shudder to imagine.
I understand if you are dealing with a different scenario where the partner is not willing to even begin to take on the load; then whatever I just said makes no sense. I am purely talking about the scenario where mothers often find themselves at the shorter end of the stick, where they constantly feel they are taking on more mental load, they are trying to communicate it, they are trying to wing it all and partners who are capable to doing more, are not doing enough or dont do it by their own volition. If you find yourself in this never ending cycle. Step back and analyze, if you are doing enough to let it go.
So you have an important customer meeting on wednesdays and you want the dad to pick up the kids and handle everything for them on wednesday nights. Probably the first two times they may eat pizza and all go to bed without brushing their teeth. May be even the first 10 times. and may be by the 30th wednesday, they no longer find it odd that mom wont be around and they fall into a routine. Some wednesdays they may even make Dosas for dinner ready for you. And by the 50th wednesday, they are eating good meals, doing their homework, bath, brush their teeth, read books and are fast asleep before you get home and the dishwasher is also loaded!
I can hear many of you think “Ya right!” .Well I did too. But it will happen. Only if you dont allow your guilt to take over during the time you build that trust on your family to handle it without you. You have been “handling” it for them for so long. It will take them time! But you have to let them do it their own way, to ease yourself.
The same scenario above, lets say you spend most of wednesday worrying about how the kids will handle the evenings; Some wednesday mornings you stress out and end up cooking a dinner and freezing it. You get upset when they ordered takeout instead of what you cooked. You worry that the last parent teacher meeting they complained of behavioral issues and start to guilt trip yourself that it is probably because you are not around. You fight with your partner on that way the bath and brush routine is carried out. And finally after the 20th wednesday you decide to tell your manager (completely out of your own guilt of not doing primary parenting) that you can no longer do the wednesday meetings. It becomes a bad career move. You miss out on a promotion. But you tell yourself its a sacrifice you made for motherhood.
To me it looks like the hypothetical scenario above could have been made so much better by simply letting it go. I have been there. I have done similar things. So by now you know why I am writing this article! 🙂
So that brings me to what I said at the beginning of this post (thanks! if you stayed with me so far); that pulling oneself away from family duties and chores is harder than taking it on for many mothers. It took me over five years and two kids and after to get a full sense of it. And realize that I can’t expect my partner to switch, learn and unlearn when he is not used to doing for over 5 years ( not used to doing, only because I decided to not let it go), within a week. And unless i do things to help myself, my family is not going to magically understand my feelings and immediately help me through.
We have enough and more battles as women. Let us as a first step remember to let our near and dear ones work along with us and not for us. Only by doing that, we can shed the baggage we add on ourselves as mothers. All the expectations and judgement we pile on our shoulders and continue to make decisions which get incrementally hard to break away from. Let us help our partners help us. They are absolutely willing to and we know it. Lets begin by letting go!