Somewhere in a deep cavern, hidden in the darkest corners of our world, exists a mysterious species. A species that over time has both adapted and evolved. They live among us and look a lot like us, going about their daily chores. You might spot them at the playground, at school drops, even mid-morning at the supermarket. With a reported number of two million members and growing (in the US alone), this mysterious species might even be considered trend-setters. But the frank reality is that they are just doing, with a few tweaks, what their better halves have been doing for thousands of years. And just like their other halves, this species too neither requires nor requests accolades or awards. All they need is some respect and to not to be judged.
Today, I wish to confess. I too am a member of that species. I am a work-at-home dad.
You see, unlike the majority of my species who are residents of the more open and perhaps less intrusive Western society, I have the joyful opportunity of being part of a culture where tolerance and acceptance are words that are often missing from the unwritten guidebook for social interaction.
"We are not, nor will ever be, replacement moms. We are dads and as good as (if not better than) some of the dads who are primary breadwinners..."
During a recent conversation with a friend, something she mentioned caught my attention. She said that the factor that probably contributes the most to stereotyping is ignorance. We live in a society where it is drummed into our heads that the man must be the primary breadwinner of the family and the woman the primary caregiver. We still seem to be unwilling to accept the fact that times are changing and that most men and fathers are happy to do whatever it is they need to do to ensure the proper functioning of the family. Ever since I joined the club, I've started to notice that my species has to contend with certain stereotypes. Today, I'd just like to bust a few of those.
1. We are not Mr Moms
We are not, nor will ever be, replacement moms. We are dads and as good as (if not better than) some of the dads who are primary breadwinners of their family. So do not call us Mr Mom or a House Husband. We do our best at being a dad. And then the moms take over.
2. We know what we're doing
We are not all confused, bumbling idiots who can't differentiate between the front and back of a diaper or gauge if the milk is at the right temperature for the baby. Well, most of the time anyway. Yes, we do have our doltish moments. But I assure you that they are far and few in between.
3. Our life is not a vacation
No, the main reason behind us taking over the role of a primary caregiver is not because we aren't capable of getting a job or cannot hold one long enough. As any mother worth her salt can vouch, taking care of a kid (or kids -- gulp!) is hard work. Yes, much harder than playing around with those excel sheets or trying to find a bug in your code. I know, because I was once one of those "professionals". Oh, while we are on that subject, no, we aren't all sitting happily at home watching TV all day. We do try and do some work which will help with the bills in between all the madness. And yes, do spare us all (both fathers and mothers) the "stay-at-home" dialogue. Regardless of whoever is the primary caregiver, we are in it as a family.
"We are just trying to build an alternative home where each set of parent can bring something unique to the table."
4. We have our own style of parenting
The idea behind most of us fathers wanting to take on a role reversal is not that difficult to comprehend. We are just trying to build an alternative home where each set of parent can bring something unique to the table. As fathers, we tend to promote the more outdoorsy and playful side of life, we believe in teaching and learning from experiences. We are also not very schedule oriented and prefer to go with the flow. We cannot replace a mom and vice versa. Of course, there are single parents who can do it all. To them, I raise my virtual glass of ridiculously expensive champagne as a toast. I seriously do not know how you do it and each of you deserve a pedestal.
5. We love what we do
Living in a society that believes in judging people based on your response to the question of "What do you do?" hasn't been easy. It is sometimes difficult to not pay heed to the condescending glances that you get when you say that you aren't the main breadwinner for your family. But, honestly, the most positive thing for me has been finding plenty of new friends, especially other women and mothers who have got my back and support fathers like me. Never once during my present journey as a work-from-home dad have I regretted my decision. Yes, sometimes it is a lot more difficult than I anticipated it to be, but open channels of communication and ego clashes nipped in the bud make it work. Sometimes I do wonder how different things would have been if both of us worked outside the home. But personally, I love what I have going and wouldn't change a thing. Well, except wish my toddler was a little less naughty and a lot less adventurous. But that's a topic for another day.
So I suppose it is safe to say that for the foreseeable future, whenever the wall clock chimes half-past six in the evening, my little one and I will continue to throw furtive glances at the door waiting for mummy to come home. For completely different reasons of course -- him for some mummy love; me for a beer and some well-deserved TV time.
A version of this blog was previously published on IndianMomsConnect.com