The transition from young adulthood to parenthood had been difficult. Staying awake for hours at night, frequent doctor visits and the constant nagging question-am I doing enough for my little boy, coupled with the stress at the workplace was surely taking a toll on the couple. “Is everything alright? What did the doctor say”, was the panicked first sentence blurted out on the phone, the moment the team decided to take a break in between the long and tedious meeting. A train of thoughts ran through his mind as he patiently waited for a reply from his wife, who was at the other end of the call.
He wasn’t home to see his son take his first steps, utter his first words, and he knew he won’t be there in the future to send him off to school, or cheer him up as he performs on the stage for the very first time. He could live with that, he would think to himself. After all, this is not about him, it is about his son. His son needs his financial support. Besides, he consoled himself by saying that his wife will take an extended maternity leave. As a father, he would miss all of the beautiful moments of the present, to support his son’s future.
“It’s alright. It’s just viral fever. Can you come home a bit early today? He’s really cranky”, she asked. Partially expecting this question, he could feel the rush of guilt as he quietly replied, “I’m in a meeting. I don’t know if I can get out”. After a long pause, he heard his wife utter an almost inaudible ok. “I’m sorry” was all he could say in return. “Why don’t you ask your boss? It is just a matter of couple of hours” she continued. “I will let you know”, was all he could say.
He waited for the right opportunity to approach his boss in the break out room and after a lot of thought said he would like to be excused today since he isn’t feeling very well. “Yes sure. Take care. Hope to see you tomorrow”, his boss said with a reassuring smile. “How’s your wife and the kid doing? I heard she has taken a sabbatical” his boss remarked. “More like an extended maternity leave” he corrected. “Oh yes! It is difficult for a woman to balance things after childbirth, isn’t it? I think we should come up with more policies to support women returning from a maternity break” his boss said. “Absolutely sir”, he replied, while preparing to pack-up.
Finally on reaching home, he heaved a sigh of relief from the nagging guilt. He looked at his son peacefully sleeping and his wife ready with the meals. As he lovingly stroked him son’s forehead, the conversation with his boss kept interrupting his self-talk. He thought to himself ‘What is my little boy’s future in a world where he won’t be allowed to be a loving husband and a devoted father in the truest sense? What kind of a world did I create when I lied to my boss? Social norms are created not just through our actions, but our inactions as well’.
With a sense of determination he messaged his boss “Dear sir, I won’t be able to come tomorrow since my son is unwell”
It is difficult for a parent, and not just a woman to balance work and family, especially after childbirth. It is not just a woman’s thing. By creating inclusive workspaces, we encourage inclusive parenting, and thereby happy families.