Shared Parenting: A new approach for the 21st century

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The traditional role of mother as a nurturer and father as a provider has changed. Mothers also work long hours and contribute to the household expenses. Men have stepped in and the father-child bonding has become much stronger

Neena Jacob

I had kids when the role of the ‘modern dad’ was still evolving. I worked but still the food department was mine. The minister of supplies enjoyed his weekly chore of shopping and taking my older one along. I remember the time he came home and when we were sorting out the purchases he was amazed to see two crabs which he didn’t remember buying. After a while my three-year-old came in and said: “Mama, make crabs I brought some home!”

As time went by I got added responsibilities and the ‘man’ of the house took on ‘womanly’ chores taking the kids for music class, washing their shoes and often taking them out for fun things without me. His cooking was not to their liking but any food garnished with dollops of butter and mountains of cheese always tasted delicious.

Nowadays, the traditional role of mother as a nurturer and father as a provider has changed. Mothers also work long hours and contribute to the household expenses. Men have stepped in and the father-child bonding has become much stronger. The media has been responsible for this too, highlighting the changes and the serials have welcomed these new roles for the soap dads. Also with the rising nuclear families the onus is on both parents to work as a team to raise caring kids. Now paternity leave has also started reflecting this changing mind set.

So here is how we can do this effectively.

Spend time with your child in turns to play games, read to them, look at albums and tell them stories, and exercise with them. Let it not be just a drive to school or class or doing homework.

Do not contradict each other. Remember you are a team and children are masters of manipulation. I remember my kids were such crooks. It was, “Hey Ma, I want to go out I think Appa will say yes.” Appa had no idea. Also there was the usual drama when one of us said no, the other was approached with teary eyes and trembling lips and though the heart was mush we said: “Ask him/her again.”

Learn to listen. As parents, we never listen as we are so busy dispensing wisdom. My son was all of two years and I took him to see a friend who was going home for her delivery. Her tummy was huge and I said: “Aunty has her baby in her tummy.” The whole day the little fellow followed me and kept asking, “Do you love me mama?” This happened several times and I always hugged and said the usual “Of course I do”. At night he was unusually clingy and asked again, “Mama do you really really love me?” I answered as usual but I asked him “Why are you asking me so many times?” Then the punch line – “Then you won’t eat me like Aunty ate her baby.” Poor fellow if I had only asked I would have saved a day of anxiety, but then I wouldn’t have this story to share with you!

Very often what they feel is not verbalised but evident through their behaviour and attitude.

Being indulgent is definitely not needed but neither is being unreasonably strict. Mum and dad take turns in disciplining your child and try not to give a double dose of correction. One can lend a sympathetic ear and gently guide the child to reason.

Be someone your child wants to become. The way we talk to others and the values we practice are observed and emulated. Even the way you treat each other teaches them about respect and humility.

Discuss important topics like the need for social distancing. Appeal to their logic and address their concerns.

There is a lovely book making the rounds, ‘The Story of the Oyster and the Butterfly,’ by Ana M Gomez. It deals with issues due to the lockdown and tells children about the power they have to overcome and to get in touch with their feelings.

Lastly, research has shown that involvement of a father is associated with several positive characteristics in children such as increased empathy, self-esteem, self-control, confidence, psychological well-being, social competence, life skills, educational success, and a reduction in gender-stereo typed beliefs.

Happy Shared Parenting.

(Writer is a volunteer in local schools and a trustee with Sethu)