By Ananya Saha:
A bundle of newborn joy is also a bundle of hard work. Any new mother, especially a working mother in this day and age would tend to agree upon this. And given that a proper maternity leave is not a homogenous concept and practice in the Indian working culture till date makes it even harder. Most workspaces, whether public or private do not have a nursing/daycare/feeding area which can be a feasible alternative to the lack of maternity leave. Hence the point is moot. But herein, I do not wish to talk only about ‘infrastructures’ and ‘policies’. Those are big words. Let us look at it from a rudimentary perspective.
Like fatherhood, motherhood too, is a practice. It is not divinely anointed the moment the cord is snipped. The stereotypes of straight-jacketing the woman in the role of the inherent ‘care-giver’ often leads to such misconceptions and unnecessary admonishments. It is often not a big deal when a new father cannot hold the baby properly in his arms, especially if he has not been a ‘children person’ to begin with. We take it for granted that he will grow into the role. But she is also allowed to make mistakes, be frustrated with her non-existent sleep cycles while handing her novel status of motherhood. It does not mean she loves her child any less. Add to that, the looming pressure of returning to work or losing pay. It is also not uncommon for a woman to have lost her job when she conceives as the enterprise would be unable to provide her with the due maternity leave. Not many are bothered about it as many families expect the mother to quit work once she has had a child. That is wherein the idea of paternity leave comes into play.
Paternity leave as a concept is even more alien in the Indian cultural context. It is still naturally assumed that it is a ‘female job’ to rear the child. Many would argue that it is biologically essential as she would breastfeed the infant. But wherein we stand today, that would be myopic determinism. With maternity devices such as breast pumps, the mother does not have to glued to the child all the time once s/he is some weeks old. They would still bond all the same. If the father is there at home to help out, she can take a break. God knows she needs it after those arduous nine months.
As she need not be over-estimated, he should not be underestimated either. It is a learning curve for both and they would handle it together. According to G.Sampath’s article from August 9, 2015 in The Hindu, empathetic and (sensi)ble/tive fathers often get the ‘eyebrow raise’ or ‘the look’ from the boss when they ask for an extended leave to help out their partners. He refers to the ‘Mencare’s State of the World Father’s Report 2015’ wherein it shows that the Indian father, on an average, spends 52 minutes per day on domestic and ‘unpaid care work’ while women do ten times more than that. Now, for the male partner, that can be both voluntary and involuntary. But one way or the other, it is rooted in the centuries old social prejudices that need a complete overhaul. Add to that the stress of being laid off from work on her. It really does not help the scenario.
Parental leave, especially in case of both parents would ensure that the mother is not overburdened. It is not her sole responsibility. She can want go out and catch up with friends one evening as the father babysits without tongues wagging in the family or the neighborhood locale; ‘Oh God! She is a mother. How can she leave her child so heartlessly and go frolicking?’ That happens, unfortunately. She is a mom and it is hard enough already. Congratulate her. Judgement is not what she needs.