Mothers commonly agonise over going back to work. Those who can afford not to go back (mentally and financially) often don't. The Stay At Home Mom vs. the Working Mom is a long and diverse debate. Those who do work talk about the guilt as well as the depression arising out of wasting away those years invested in a good education and a solid career. Those who return after an extended sabbatical have to bury their egos and return to jobs which their once-peers now lord over.
Mostly though, those who stay away or have stayed away from their careers to spend time with their children justify it to themselves by saying that they will never get this time back. Careers come and go while their children (and they) are only young once. I fully agree with this philosophy myself; and I add: fathers need this time too.
Vicky left his job to go into full-time freelance work when Rahul was a month old. His boss, mindful of the requirements of a household with a newborn in it and also unwilling to lose him, tried to talk him out of it but I stood by his decision and I think I'll always be glad of that. The freelance work came in slow, required mad hours some times and often cut in on our evenings out. But it did allow him to watch his son grow. To be the one who bathed him and thus be the proud recipient of Rahul's first word. To be the person towards whom Rahul took his first steps. To have the privilege of teaching him to ride a cycle and pedal a car. To know his little body and its workings as only I do. To watch his busy little mind constantly at work, trying to make sense of the world it was born into. To play silly games with, to make faces at, to fight with.
These things matter. These are the reasons why I only worked part-time for so long. And however jealous I get on the days when all Vicky sees is his son, I have never been able to regret that I shared all this with him. I was told off by ever so many people, mainly relatives, when I insisted that Vicky change the diapers or when I washed my hands off father and son at gatherings and sat down and enjoyed a meal I hadn't had to cook. But it wasn't just laziness, nor was it a lack of motherliness. It was, if you need me to define it, rather a respect for fatherliness, for the place that Vicky has in our son's life.
It hasn't always been easy, actually, walking away. I'm the control freak who doesn't even let her parents or parents-in-law tell her what to do with her precious boy. But I let somebody as careless as Vicky take charge of him for hours at a stretch. It wasn't easy when he forgot to change diapers and Rahul developed a rash that lasted weeks. It wasn't easy when V couldn't be bothered to heat the food I'd cooked for him and fed him Cerelac instead. And it was the hardest to hear Rahul cry when I first started working and to call hours later only to hear Vicky tell me that he never stopped crying.
But I told myself that I'd made pretty big mistakes too. That neither of us knew anything about parenting to start with. That he'd learn. That I needed to not let myself become obsessively possessive.
It's paid off extremely well. This is a post I wanted to write before Rahul's second birthday, when everybody began congratulating us on our second anniversary of becoming parents. I wanted to write of how there is nothing much that I can do for Rahul now that Vicky can't and doesn't. I know I keep saying this but really, I watch other fathers and I think of my own father who was so busy at work when we were small and I especially think of Barry, posted on the LoC and missing his daughter's infancy and I am grateful that Vicky has been able to be around, all this time. Our parenting methods differ and Rahul knows that he has to switch tactics when the parent-in-charge change shifts. But by and large he is every bit as well cared for when I am not around as he is when I am. When I know that a mere man can do so much, how can I not want him to share this time with me?
Rahul is at a particularly engaging age. Yes, we've already discovered the frustrating aspects of the Terrible Twos but nothing prepared me for a child who is as much fun as an adult any day. He is talking in Bengali, a lot, now, although it's still words and not phrases -- he's spending time over puzzles -- he sings to himself all day -- he makes up his own games -- he takes his books and 'reads' to himself or repeats the names of the things that he can identify -- there is so much that he does and that Vicky misses by being away and that I miss by being away at the other times. And then I know it was the right decision to go slow on our careers and not hire a maid. Because all this is not for a maid to savour, it's ours, Vicky's and mine, and I think it's only fair that he gets his share too. So I work. Yes, I mainly work to keep myself from rusting, and largely so as to have an independent source of income. But also in part to ensure that Vicky can take some time off now and then without worrying about how to pay the next bill. As the woman in this marriage I'm afraid I take the part about being housed, clothed and fed for granted. I cannot give him such a luxury but yeah, I can and am trying to ensure that he doesn't feel the entire weight of our finances.
Because the fathers also have a right to watch their babies grow. Because, as Dipali said, these days one bharatiya nari is not enough in each dampatti and all bharatiya naris should be treated equally.