Gender Parity, Up Close and Personal
“Why does this not worry you???” I ask exasperated. “Do you not care which school your son goes to?”
My husband shrugs casually, “Okay, so what school do you want for him?”
“Does it matter? He probably won’t get into it anyway! We really won’t have a choice in the matter…”
This discussion went nowhere. For one thing, we weren’t talking about anything immediate. But more importantly, the point of the conversation was really something else — how my husband could get away without worrying about something so important as school admission. Why did he not care? How could he be so unbothered about what would happen?
And ultimately, this would be on me — the run around, the seeking of favours, the awful interviews, dealing with rejections.
“Men are like that!” say many of my friends.
But that wasn’t my husband, surely. We were equal partners in life — we strove to be. We respected each other’s agency. Our home did not conform to the gender norms of our parents’ relationships, or even many of our peers’. Early in our marriage, we did much of our housework ourselves. We divided up work mostly on the basis of what we each liked or were particular about, or conversely avoided doing what we each didn’t care about. In time, as our jobs got demanding, we got additional help at home, for cooking, cleaning, caring for the dogs, and we each supervised what had become our domain.
However, work didn’t always get split equally. Sometimes I carried more of the burden and sometimes my husband did. We squabbled about it, but the imbalance never felt related to gender.
Even my decision to not go back to work after our child was born was not really about my son needing his mother or about the woman’s role in childcare. We had excellent caregivers and a wonderful support system. I didn’t go back because I didn’t want to. I wanted to give more time to the business the two of us had started together.
While our motives were egalitarian, the implications of my working from home, and of my being around my son a lot more than my husband, have been far reaching.
Parenting, like marriage, was supposed to be an equal partnership. But it isn’t anymore.
My son and I are more familiar with each other. He is better managed and more comforted by me. I am around to see the phases he is going through, to know what to expect and what techniques work with him. Because my schedule is flexible, I am also the person who takes him for both his wellness and emergency visits to the doctor. I know when he is cranky because he is bored, so I know to arrange activities for him, to take him on play dates.
And when I do that, I end up spending time with other mothers. Being a part of the mothers’ network means I learn about things, like which is the best playschool in the area, who the good teachers are. And inevitably, the responsibility of checking out the school, getting him admitted, buying the paraphernelia, and getting him settled in the school fell on me. It is, after all, more efficient that I, who know more about it, should be the one working on it.
And finally, because I know that in the absence of the nanny, the complete responsibility of managing my son will be on me, I am also more concerned about how to make him more independent, so I teach him to eat on his own and sleep on his own, on time, and through the night.
It is a self-perpetuating cycle that alienates my husband from childcare. I want to believe that it is this alienation that keeps my husband from making that extra effort to be involved in something substantial. It is also perhaps that social structures come in the way of the fathers being involved. The teachers at my son’s playschool were polite but circumspect with my husband on the days he accompanied my son. It didn’t help that my son, too, was sullen and uncooperative on those days, so my husband came back less than enthused with his experience.
I often think about the counterfactual life — where I would be out of the home — and I wonder if I would be, if not as engaged, at least involved enough to look for information, guide the caregivers, take decisions. Or would I be like my husband is right now, comfortable enough in the knowledge that my son is well taken care of to remain a little removed from it all? But I can’t know, because I am in the thick of it and I can’t imagine it any other way. But it is also true that, having been in the thick of it, I will probably not remove myself completely ever, even if I go back to work.
Here’s what I probably should do — drag my husband into the thick of it, let him flail, let him get uncomfortable, worried, and eventually care enough to get involved, and then extend a hand to help, and hopefully, that would put us on the path to an equal partnership.
Perhaps the quagmire that is Delhi nursery school admission would be a good place to start. It may not be urgent, but the work needs to start now — starting with poring through pages and pages of government notifications and supreme court rulings.
Happy reading, my dear husband!