Baby steps

Baby steps

Parental love should be non-negotiable but the huge sexist gap in our policies leaves much to be desired, writes Paarth Singh

Women today, have scaled great heights, shattered glass ceilings and are masters of their game. They are heading large corporates while also keeping an account of the groceries at home and there’s no doubting their capabilities as they can operate an AK47 rifle with as much ease as doling out a round chapati with a rolling pin. But having said that, when it comes to pregnancy, as much as we boast about being a liberated society, a majority still believes that by nature, the man is supposed to be the breadwinner while the woman has to don the role of homemaker. Well, as much as a role reversal is tough, men are upping their game to stay home when their better half needs them most.

While an addition in the family always brings joy, the fact is that it is only the woman who undergoes the physical process of delivering the child and nourishing the newborn. The last mile can be a testing time as an expectant mother faces mood swings or craves for unusual food and that too at odd hours. This is where the hopeful fathers are expected to provide the much needed emotional and physical support but are constrained by either cultural norms or the employers’ not granting paid leaves.

While the policies of maternity leave are pretty much in place with a working woman entitled to a minimum of 26 weeks of paid leave, the concept of paternity leave is fairly nascent in India.

Following a Government Order, Central Government employees can avail up to 15 days of paternity leave, provided it is availed within six months from the birth of the child. However, employees of the private sector are at the mercy of their employers. Realising that the family life of an employee has a direct impact on his output, a few companies are leading the way in introducing the paternity leave policy, although they are not legally bound to do so.

An equal opportunity

Indian cricket team captain Virat Kohli got back by the side of his wife Anushka Sharma soon after the first Test, midway through the on-going series against Australia. The star couple are expecting their first offspring in January. The World No.1 batsman has been given a leave of absence by BCCI president Sourav Ganguly, who probably realised the agony of missing the magic moments after he himself was on National duty when his kid was born. Although Virat has been criticised for abandoning an important series, the fact is that if we want the father to be an equal parent, the father should be given an equal opportunity to parent, especially in the early days.

“I was lucky in some way as our son was born during the festive season in October and hence I didn’t have to apply for leave. My wife Simi went to her mom’s place in Jamshedpur well in advance and I used to fly on the weekends until Aryan was born. Soon after they came back, in February, we went into a lockdown and thus it was a blessing in disguise for us,” says Sharad Gupta who is the CMO of a leading MNC while adding, “If at all there was a need, I would have surely applied for paternity leave.”

Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg had taken two months off when his daughter Max was born in 2015 and another two months intermittently when his wife Priscilla gave birth to their second daughter in August 2017. He had then quoted on Facebook: “We offer four months of maternity and paternity leave because studies show that when working parents take time to be with their newborns, it’s good for the entire family.”

Impacts divorce rates

In fact, in a study conducted in Sweden, it was revealed that the divorce rates had come down after it allowed a two-month paternity leave, underlining the fact that parenting together makes the couple understand each other’s problems much better. Currently, Zomato and Novartis are the only two companies in India which offer a 26-week paternity leave in India.

“My career was on a high with one of the most renowned Indian conglomerates when I had my only child. But yet, I had to deliberate a lot, hit depression before I took the plunge and decided to give up on my fancy title and soaring career to settle into a job with clipped wings and a huge pay-cut that gave me flexible work hours, just to take care of my child. If only I had a support system, I could have avoided the parenting blues as well as saved my career,” rues Sudeshna Ghosh, who has single-handedly raised her son.

The current situation where work from home has become a new normal, the working hours have only increased. Women, who are about to step into parenthood, are often seen as a liability by many companies who are sceptical to hire them. Some of them find it difficult to adjust to their working environment post the maternity leave. In such a scenario where a woman has to juggle between work and taking care of the child, it is time that legal policies with regards to paternity leave are put in place to drive away the societal biases and achieve the right balance.