Sunday, January 18, 2009

Work from Home Fathers

While Vicky's not the first nor even the best to be doing this, the fact remains he's still quite a rarity in our social circles. Actually, I cannot think of another father I know who works from home while managing a child on his own, while his wife works in an office all day.

He (and Rahul and I) have variously been pitied, stared and laughed at. I don't understand these reactions and I'm not amused. Should I be? It was just the other day that it struck me that we only know one other couple who are bringing up their child on their own i.e. they do everything for the child themselves and have always done so. Everybody else we know have ayahs. Now, I myself had an ayah as a kid, each of us Roy grandchildren did, and I assumed I would want one too, when I had children. Then I discovered that I was one of those jealous control freaks that mothers occasionally turn out to be and that no ayah had a hope of measuring up to my standards. So, OK, we manage without. It reassured me that Vicky didn't want an ayah either, although we got a good one last year, if only because we as a family like our privacy in our own home.

I wondered if the decision was still valid all of last month as we struggled to make sense of work timings, hospital visit hours and an increasingly insecure and clingy little boy. But you know, the basic sentiment remains the same -- if my son neeeds his parents, I don't want a maid soothing him, be she never so clean and pleasant and acceptable. If he can't have us, he'll have his grandparents. Or we will move heaven and earth to somehow work out a way to be with him. It's the least we could do, given the stress we put him under. It's also a personal sentiment, one that Vicky and I restrict to ourselves. Most of our friends use ayahs and it's not an issue with us.

Anyway, so I just finished reading the Burma Chronicles and I found myself really appreciating Delisle's annoyance at having his profession -- drawing comics -- seen merely as a diverting hobby. Now, Vicky as a graphic designer has comparitively a more conventional profession but as a work from home father he needs to structure his time very differently from the 'normal' workday his clients follow. He needs to take time out to feed, bathe and play with his son. He needs a little time off now and then to recover from a toddler in the house. Little bits of time, you understand, that I in an office give myself from time to time. When I wander off to read the newspapers and clear my head. My colleagues go for smoking breaks. People wander around chatting of random things. You know what I mean.

When I worked from home or even when I was a part-timer at Call Cutta all of last year, it was not uncommon for people trying to call me to hear me tell them that I'd call them back in a bit because I was busy with the household. My callers, people from both genders and all ages, accepted this in the spirit it was meant and usually chuckled at my son's misdeeds and asked after him when I returned the call at last. When Vicky makes the same request for time though, many people consider it unprofessional.

It's discrimination, whichever way you look at it. Men make more and pay more.

17 comments:

D said...

I agree with an absolute hundred percent. But it's refreshing to see a couple break out of the mould and do what they think is best for their child as also for themselves.

Mamma mia! Me a mamma? said...

I started off by writing a comment, bu it was turning into a mini-post, so I blogged about it instead since the ayah-issue is an issue I feel very, VERY strongly about.

http://mammamiameamamma.blogspot.com/2009/01/ayah-to-have-or-not-to.html

As for V staying at home, while society might scoff and the 'progressives' might hail this as path-breaking, I simply find it mature and wonderful. You are doing what is right for your family...why other people should have their say is beyond me!

noon said...

It is incredible Sue - to have that option available to you and yet not use it. Most people would just take the easier way out. Hire and ayah, sit back, relax and enjoy the baby but have the maid do all the tedious work. I can totally understand how hard it must be on you guys - in terms of reactions from people - to have Vicky stay home. Even in the US that would be the case...there is just no equality. It's OK, even expected for a woman to stay home with her child but for a father to do that - it puts a lot of added strain on the man just handling society!

Ritu said...

This post is amazing. It has truly made me think. Yes, its a different perspective to it all.

http://www.phoenixritu.com/

hack said...

I like the second last and last but one paragraphs.

brundha said...

Yeah that's true and I love the way u both co-ordinate to have such beautiful moments with the toddler. These are the days which u can never get back, how much ever u try. Keep going.

Rimi said...

If people think Vicky is unprofessional for putting the needs (or indeed misdeeds :D) of a toddler first, then they are inconsiderate close-minded fools of the first water, and I am not prepared to be tactful about it.

I grew up around a very affectionate father who left home for office hours after my mother left for the morning session of the school she taught in. So while my mother (and later the domestic help) prepared breakfast, it was Daddy who bathed, fed, and dressed little infant me, checked the bag my mother had packed for me for omissions, and then cuddle and croon at me till I was safely ensconed at my grandparents' place. And Daddy tells me no one had *ever* questioned his decision to come to work a little late because he had a baby daughter to take care of. Perhaps we are developing a slightly conservative/gender-differentiated way of looking at the world even as we become more "progressive", Sunny. Moving the US only reinforces this belief.

Think about it.

Pixie said...

Don't worry Sue... you guys are not the only ones... my close frn's husband is a stay-at-home dad and he has been working from home for a very long time now...
He goes in once in 15 days to the office for a status meeting with his superiors and on those days, the baby is either left at another frn's palce or my frn stays home.
His status calls are always at a time when the kid's sleeping! :)
And his team/superiors have now come to terms with it and no longer scoff at him or consider it unprofessional...

Mama - Mia said...

i think its awesome Sue! let people think whatever they want. i am sure its not easy, but what are norms today also started as exceptions some place! so you the pioneers!

recently M had mailed me a link about SAHF as well. And though a rarity, its happening which is a good sign!

just yesterday, we were at M's cousin's palce and M cleaned Cubby's potty. they all made fun about how well i had trained him n BS like that! M hopefully is beyond caring and is a brilliant father, but people can make it uncomfy!

big hugs for you guys for being such a rocking family!

cheers!

abha

Sue said...

D -- Why, thank you!

M4 -- It comes in insidious ways, this criticism. A client being grumpy because Vicky couldn't take a call. A friend raising eyebrows at the idea of me leaving the household and child to the husband all day.

Noon -- For us, it was not the easier option, you see. It was too stressful running after an ayah all day and obviously, no ayah can work to my standards, so it was just easier doing it myself!

Ritu -- Why, do you know/judge somebody who's doing something similar? Do share, I collect stories.

Hack -- And I like the last line.

Brundha -- Thanks. :) It's the thought of never being at this stage of our lives ever again that makes us do these things, true.

Rimi -- Oh I agree with you entirely. A lot of things which were greeted indulgently by the older generation are severely criticised by ours. I suppose us laissez-faire people need to speak louder and drown them out!

Pixie -- Where do these friends of yours stay? Thanks for sharing. Maybe it will get easier as people get used to our setup. I do tend to expect perfectly sorted out scenarios from the word go.

Abha -- Oh I do hope you told M how much he reminded me of V and in the best possible sense too. Vicky (and I) got a lot of that 'ragging' too but our friends have finally stopped. Especially since they see that Vicky and I take pride in our equal abilities.

Rahi said...

wow a work from home father. seldom heard off. so hows ur child taking to father doing up things for him during the day and mom doing them in the night. what questions does he ask? does he understand ur situation?

Monika,Ansh said...

As you rightly pointed out about the Ayah issue-there can be no right or wrong thing. Each individual & each mother is different & it is no business of anyone to judge her about the choices she makes.
I completely understand your feeling abt "Ayahs" & I was also sailing in the same boat.

Subhashree said...

Agree to what you say... Vicky has company, Guru works most of the days from home so that I can go to office and we try to juggle our work and getting the kids from school, feeding etc. It is hard sometimes, but mostly we try to manage between ourselves and the beautiful part is somehow at least one of us manage to be there with the kids.

I don't think an ayah would help because of the kind of setup at my place. Like you guys, we value our privacy a lot. And somehow the idea of having a maid seemed to increase our workload. Isn't it?

Sue said...

Rahi -- Rahul has always been used to his father being around doing things for him because Vicky has been working from home since Rahul was a month old. That way, it's cool. What happens is that they both miss having me around the house, but they have got used to it and it's less upsetting. Or so I hope.

Monika -- Really? Do post your story. Let me know and I'll link up.

Subha -- Yes, of course you guys are doing it too. That's the thing, I don't diss ayahs as an institution but I do think they are redundant in my home. Especially now that the boy is old enough to play on his own. And yes, supervising a maid and rectifying her careless mistakes is a lot of hard work too!

Mark said...

There are great options for fathers who would like to work from home. Even those employed can if they can find spare time could work at home and earn money online.

miracle said...

baby sitting by older women of your family can help.

Sue said...

Miracle -- It can and it does, thanks. We have lot of relatives nearby and Rahul is always welcome in these homes.