Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Daily Parent

I’ve been writing this post in my head for the last few weeks months so it’s about time I spat it out. The starting point was an article I read in the weekend edition of Hindustan Times some time ago. The focus of the article was on emergence of this new phenomenon called weekend parenting. I can’t find the link to the article anywhere in the online edition so I am going to try and summarise what it said.

It started off talking about double-income families where the parents both have hectic jobs and therefore, they do not get to spend quality time with their kids during the week. So they squeeze parenting into the weekend.

Digression: The lady who wrote this article had contacted me and asked if I would be open to being interviewed for this article and when I explained my approach to being a working parent, we quickly realised that I was not a fit for the theme she was trying to establish. In fact, I wondered whether she would find parents who not only see their parental roles in this fashion but are also comfortable enough to talk about this in public… but apparently, it did not turn out to be hard as it seemed. End of digression.

Anyway, getting back to the article, I found the approach of these parents hard to understand on many levels. Firstly, there was the fact that they considered it okay that parenting and quality time was something that was alright to squeeze into two days every week.

To start with, I completely and violently disagree with this concept of ‘weekend parenting’. Parenting, in my humble opinion, is not just about hanging out with the kids and having a great time – that is what they have friends for. And I am of the firm view that I am not interested in being Ayaan’s friend (atleast not until he has become an adult in every sense of the word) – my job is to be his mother.

And to me, the daily and mundane tasks of parenting are as critical as any weekend fun that we might choose to have with Ayaan. Many of the mothers I know, working moms and SAHMs likewise, delegate all the daily feeding and grooming activities to their maids. I personally don’t agree with this approach and feel that parents must participate in the physical care of their kids. If I were a SAHM, it is very unlikely that I would have hired a full-time nanny at all.

I think the difference is that I don’t see my role as just being emotionally available to my son while the maid takes care of all the ‘work’ that goes into tending to his needs. For me, these are tasks that I am unwilling to delegate (except to Jai) when I am around. I get up with him in the morning, give him his milk, bathe and dress him for school and give him his breakfast. Once I am back in the evening too, I do everything for him including feeding him dinner, brushing his teeth and putting him to bed. To me, this is time well spent and definitely adds up to quality time.

But more than the time (quality or otherwise) aspect, the physical parenting approach is a very important part of my parenting philosophy because it keeps me involved with the nitty-gritty of my child’s life and has some very clear advantages for me:

  • Bathing, brushing, bum cleaning – these may seem like pointless, mudane tasks to some, but I think they are essential to keep me in tune with Ayaan's physical wellbeing. Every small wound is noticed and investigated, teeth are inspected daily for any sign of cavities/ decay, nose is blown to evaluate whether adenoids are getting more acute than usual, an inadequately cleaned bum is immediately picked up and pointed out to the maid before lazy cleaning mushrooms into a rash, potty consistency is duly noted as a cue to healthy stomach, and so on and so forth.
  • While I know my maid feels a lot of affection for Ayaan, she also does see stuff like bathing and feeding as tasks that have to be completed and goes at them with the energy that I apply (on most days) to my to-do list at work. So a bath with her is just a bath – water, soap, rinse, wipe, done. But a bath can also be such a great opportunity for Ayaan and me to have fun together (school mornings not included, for my own sanity’s sake) – measuring water from the big mug to the small mug, pouring it down the drain and watching the circles it makes on its way out, filling up the rubber ducky with water and making it ‘pee’, and blowing soap bubbles are just some of the ways in which we enjoy bath time.
  • Another victim of the maid’s task-oriented approach is Ayaan learning to do stuff on his own. An example of this is meal times when her focus is to get the meal over with. With me, Ayaan takes twice the amount of time because he wants to serve himself, break bits of the chapatti and feed himself, ask questions about what we are eating, and generally chatter away about this, that and the other. Just like his bath, when he picks up the soap and lathers it onto himself or at brushing time when he wants to brush his teeth on his own once I am done {just in case I missed a spot ;-)} or washing his hands by himself rather than having them washed for him quickly and efficiently.
  • Also, it gives me satisfaction of doing something for him because these are the nuts and bolts of parenting that I can hold onto and know that I am doing my job. It’s so much harder to measure the other fuzzy stuff that makes up ‘quality time’ but here atleast I can measure my presence in his life by the more material and mundane tasks and activities we do together on a daily basis.

And all these things I can only do if I see my parental role as a daily responsibility rather than something that I can fulfil at the weekends.

This article also talked about this concept of a ‘weekly’ boarding school. The way it works is that the school is on the outskirts of the city and therefore is huge, has international standards, world-class facilities and all that jazz. And here’s the thing: your kid gets picked up on Monday morning, stays at the school through the week and then on Friday evening, is deposited back to your home… this really bothers me. I mean, we went to boarding schools for a few years but that was because my parents were posted to places where there were no decent schools. Not because out parents were too busy to spare some time for us during the week!

The third strain in the article that bothered me was the expression that this ‘weekend parenting’ took across all three sets of parents featured in the article. They all considered a weekend well-spent as one spent in the mall. If this is the only time you are going to spend with your kid, I don’t understand how this counts for quality time. Whether you are collectively zoned out at the movie theatre, playing games (mostly individually) at the playzone, eating unhealthy stuff at the food court or assuaging your guilt by swiping your card at the shops, what I find completely lacking is the time spent in one-on-one face time with your child.

For me, weekends are an extension of the weekdays. I don’t see why I have to make a big song-and-dance about them. We spend most of our time at home reading, playing and lazing around together. Outings include regular stuff like grocery shopping with us (where he loves to help with the baskets), trips to the park and maybe a visit to a friend (who may or may not have a kid). And it’s fun. And atleast for us, it works better than spending the day in the mall. We do that too once in a while but I still prefer the quieter weekends where it’s just us…

Anyway, that’s my two-bits on this new-age concept of ‘weekend parenting’.

SAHM – Stay At Home Mom
Chapatti – Indian bread

29 comments:

  1. Anonymous6:54 pm

    Rohini-

    Almost a year ago I had written to you on how your post on your support structure had finally made me realize that I can't do it all and yet excel at everything.. and I had decided to get a full time nanny. I am happy to report that things worked out great.. and today I feel your post once again struck a chord. (Just like you) I work very hard balancing a full time job (in CPG mktg) and home. But surprisingly weekend parenting has never occured to me.. sounds a little sick. I am constantly worried about what would happen if I got any busier at work or had to travel a lot.. When I see a temper tantrum in my 17 mth old I try to pin it to my not being around (as much as I'd like to) but never acknowledge myself when she says 'Please' or brings her favorite books to me to read.. Your post made me realize that it could be a lot worse.. weekend parenting!

    -S

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  2. This post made so much sense.Very clearly and beautifully written.

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  3. Bulls eye Ro. You hit a bulls eye. The concept is laughable? How do you stop being a parent on the weekdays? You will be a busy parent, a harried parent, but still a parent. I enjoy doing mundane tasks for Chip too excatly for the reasons you mentioned. Even when I had a full time nanny, I would run home from work to feed Chip his afternoon snack. Not that the nanny would wait for me, but because I loved to. kids learn a lot at mealtimes and bathtime just by watching you. This post resonated on so many levels!

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  4. As a teacher of pre-schoolers, I am so glad there are young women who think like you still around. Yes, quality time can come at the most unexpected times, like when you are cooking in the kitchen and your child is helping you, or at the grocery shop as you mention.
    But about week boarding--if you are a mother who's hassled through the week and can't find some relaxed time for your children--obviously above the age of 5--it's better for them to be at the boarding school rather than in a stressed household. (my view)

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  5. Who says weekend parenting is the domain of working mothers only? I know of many SHAMs who are so less involved in their kids lives, just as I know of working mothers who raise really wonderful children.

    In a slightly unrelated topic,there was this article yesterday on CNN about working mothers which expressed a view that if you are financially well off, then the automatic decision should be to stay with your kid at home. The article continues to say that women who choose otherwise are usually craving for attention and status. Dads, of course, are excused from such discussions.

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  6. Once a parent, always a parent. No demarkation between weekdays and weekends. One just does their duty and enjoys it to the core, all the while teaching the kid new things. I really don't see how a person can acquire two different faces in the span of a week (which includes the week days and week ends). And as you said, making it up by buying them expensive stuff, only leads to a much larger issue later in life.

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  7. Hi, Rohini! Great post! My comment was too long, so I put it on my own blog. :-)

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  8. Very well expressed.

    And this is coming from a guy!

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  9. Absolutely agree with your thoughts. All of the interesting questions asked and disussions we've had have invariably happened during meal/bath and similarly mundane times. I've been told to hire a nanny now that I'm in India so that I can have more 'me time'. And miss all the fun? I'd rather do it myself, thank you very much.

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  10. Nicely put, Rohini !weekend parenting at the mall ? You have to be kidding !!!Who in their right minds would want to be driven up the wall in a mall ?!!!

    the only way to balance is to prioritize things in your life. As it stands, I don't have much of a social life and my life juggles between my son,taking care of home and work. And I like it this way !!So one may never see me in the sand pit with my son except on weekends and would immediately judge me to be a weekend parent. But they wouldn't know that I wake up at 5 AM on weekdays just so I am done with cooking and other chores and can be available to spend the rest of the morning with my son.

    Similarly, I used to be quick to judge parents who I see going out without the kids on weekends. But I wouldn't know that they spent an exhausting week shuttling between home,school and classes and they deserve their time together alone.

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  11. This made wonderful reading. As working moms, we are always surrounded by guilt of leaving kids in daycare/with nannies. Recently, I read your post on working moms vs SAHM's and you echo your voices so effectively. My girl's sweet smile takes all my tiredness away at the end of the day and we love to dance with her or take her on a horse ride. Me thinks its the week days we put more effort to spend with her than weeekends...

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  12. [S] Hi! Great to hear from you again. I am glad the nanny scene worked out for you. And easier said but done, but stop blaming the tantrums on your being away. I know kids of SAHMs who throw tantrums that make my hyperactive brat look like a saint - which is really saying something... there are no easy co-relations in parenting

    [Dipali/ Talena/ Varun] :-)

    [Dottie] Was actually thinking about you when I wrote the post ;-)

    [Hillgrandmom] As always, the balanced point of view comes from you :-) My only counterpoint is that most of these schools are international schools and cost a bomb so it is hardly the case of an impoverished family where the mom has to work those hours to make ends meet...

    [Cluelessness] Bah! Don't even get me started on that. I think working mothers can raise wonderful kids {me being the shining example ;-)} and even if people believe that full-time parenting is a must, it gets my goat that they automatically assume that it is the mother who must provide it...

    [Shobana] Amen!

    [Choxbox] Like I said, unlikely I'd have kept a nanny if I wasn't working...

    [Minka] Totally agree! Last weekend, I went out with some pals for an extended outing (lunch + movie + shopping + coffee) and left the son in the care of the husband. In isolation, it may look bad but had spent the last 8 days being a single parent (husband was traveling) and the downtime was less of a luxury and more essential to preserving my sanity!

    [Aditi's Album] I know. On weekends I just do my stuff and let him tag along like a happy puppy. It's on the weekdays that all my time at home is really Ayaan-time...

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  13. This is an amazing post that I have bookmarked. I plan on going back to work fulltime eventually and with or without a nanny or childminder I will cherish those mundane tasks. Such a lucid post - you should consider making this into an article and trying to sell it to a newspaper or (parenting?) magazine.

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  14. Very nicely written Rohini. Honestly I am hearing this terminology for the very first time. Am sure shocked.

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  15. Lovely post, Ro. Read it last night and been thinking about since ever since. You have put forward every point with so much clarity and lucidity - and like you said, unless it's hands-on mundane-task-related parenting 24x7, it's no parenting at all. Couldn't agree with you more.

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  16. Lovely post Ro, and ditto ditto ditto. Which is why also I am the social outcaste with no maid for my child, but let me not even go there. I know enough and more mothers who dont work and dont do anything for their kids apart from kiss them good morning. I know of a child whose mother has such a hectic social life that the child only talks to the mother on the phone. Shes a SAHM apparently. And another who has one maid for each kid. Also a SAHM. Oh god, am shutting up now, or will go on forever. I can only say these mothers and fathers dont know of the simple joys of just being with the child. Thats to me, the biggest reward life can ever give one.

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  17. And yes, the brat does spend an hour at a mall playzone maybe once a week. But mamma is hovering around, outside the playpen, outside the jungle gym. Or maybe a kiddy movie he's wanted to see. Or a regular fun movie. And then we're off home, no shopping sessions happening with him in tow. An impossibility anyway!

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  18. Lovely piece, I can imagine why tat journo would not have wanted you to be on the article. Everything you said is so true, I cant imagine who those people are who actively proclaim that they are weekend parents. ugh!

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  19. Weekend parenting, what a great idea!

    I think I'll suggest it to V: he does the weekday parenting and I'll do the two weekend days. Man owes me a month plus the entire pregnancy weeks worth of babysitting anyway.

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  20. very well written post- echoed all my sentiments and msot fo what we do with anush- add some more painting and singing

    parenting is all pervasive- even when u r not physically present it occupies you- does it not?

    and sharing small routine activities are what provide some sense of having done something for the child or at least with the child

    weekend parenting sounds like a really absurd concept or maybe these parents are super duper achievers??

    except that the boarding school may be a better alternative to neglect or rather hesitantly spending time during a week day

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  21. [Planethalder] Thanks *blushes*

    [DDmom] Imagine my shock when the journo wanted to talk to me – because obviously since I am a working mother, I have only time to spare for my kid on the weekends...

    [Mystic] Er… not quite 24X7 in my case but I do believe some daily involvement is essential. On the flip side of the coin, I also don’t believe that one has to be there each and every moment of day – I am more or less at peace with the balance I have managed to strike.

    [Kiran] So totally don’t get SAHMs who are absentee mothers. Waste of space, if you ask me. And when I wrote the mall bit, I thought about it twice because I knew it would bother you but you know what I mean don’t you? Your trips to the mall don’t count since it’s only one tiny bit of the time you spend with and on the brat...

    [Poppins] Yup, that’s the big shocker. If I was a weekend parent, I’d want it to remain my dirty little secret...

    [Sue] Shoo! That doesn’t count. Just in case you have forgotten, V’s a parent too!

    [Art] I know. Atleast the routine activities give me a yardstick to measure my parenting. Everything else is so fuzzy!

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  22. Well said Rohini. We need to be parents first to our kids and not friends. This weekend parenting concept is difficult to digest.
    I too prefer that my daughter tags along with me for grocery shopping and stuff like that rather than take her to the mall on a weekend. She obviously enjoys the little trips that she makes with me and I get a lot of work done :)

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  23. Good post, Ro! First time I heard this term and am amazed that such a concept even exists. I wouldn't know how to switch my parenting on or off from weeks to weekends. Kids are not weekend assignments!

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  24. yaay!! ro for aptly putting it for all us obsessive moms!! bum inspection is my career too! wud give th maids hell if i found it unclean on a surprise bum inspection.

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  25. Entirely agree. My weekday time with the VSP is quality time - from massage and wake-up call through bath to dropping off to school, and songs and reading and stories at bed-time. And cuddles throughout. Wouldn't miss it for the world.

    J.A.P.

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  26. weekend mommy! i would expire from the sheer guilt of it!

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  27. read this te other day on my reader and couldn't comment...

    i moved here from delhi where the norm was 2-3 maids for the kids and even an outing to teh sports complex would see perfectly turned out parents ...

    and perhaps i looked like teh maid playing ball with my two kids and doing most things myself...:)

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  28. well written as ever. i have no understanding of the concept and i have nothing to say to those who are willng to even admit to it.

    let alone ur weekday hostel - i recently read about this woman who has sent her son off to live with her parents since he was 1 year old. because she wanted to work and didnt want to leave with daycare or maid. she's okay with meeting him once in a couple of months...

    what kind of term covers that situation?!

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  29. Very well put. Just can't get my head around the concept of weekend parenting - why bother? Just rent kids or babysit for other parents who are juggling to fit it all in. In fact, I really enjoy it when my dom help takes the day off - nice to be on our own.

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