From a father's heart! A newly turned stay-at-home dad speaks...
The New York Times says that it "benefits to fathers when they are positively engaged in their children’s lives. Being a dad enriches them, reminds them of what is really important, diminishes their self-absorption, and fills their lives with humor, imagination, enthusiasm, a willingness to make mistakes, and a sense of wonder" Meet Sumeet Popli a civil engineer by qualification and a hands-on dad by choice. Over the last 14 years, he has worked in diverse roles in building and infrastructure project management services across Asia. In his most recent role, he led the programme and project management practice at Mott MacDonald, India. He holds a Masters degree in Project Management from the National University of Singapore, and a B.E. from the Delhi College of Engineering. Sumeet loves to sleep, and when not doing that, he enjoys sports, travelling and being outdoors. He has recently turned a stay-at-home dad. Read what he says about it all.
It's been three months since we moved to Pune and three months since I've been a stay-at-home dad. 2018 started with a bit of a bang for us. We were soon going to move to Pune from Noida. Amrita was taking up a new job, and I was going to leave mine. Oh, and I missed mentioning that our son, Kabir, had recently turned 2. He had started talking, walking, and was full of energy. Clearly, the busiest person in the household, Kabir thrived in his everyday routine and was surrounded by the nurturing environs of friends and family, particularly his grandparents.
We imagined that moving to Pune would offer new challenges for us first-time parents. Until now, when we worked, Kabir had always been at home, in the care and company of his grandparents and nanny. He had never been to a play school or daycare, and we were nervous about how we were going to manage. Then came a brainwave that I would take a break to stay at home, to take care of and hang out with Kabir, while Amrita settles into her new job. I had been toying with the idea of taking a break ever since Kabir was born (I even daydreamed about opening a daycare), and the circumstances presented the perfect opportunity to execute this; I would get my break, and we would be at peace about Kabir’s care. And thus began my adventure of being a full-time parent.
Amrita started her job soon after we moved and began a hectic initial period as she settled in. She would leave for work before Kabir, and I woke up on most days, and return in the evenings, leaving me parenting for 8-10 hours a day (with some part-time help: a cook, and a multi-tasking lady who would be around for about 3 of those hours). As we close in on three months, the daily routine has been fairly regularized. In the morning, I cook breakfast for Kabir, after which we read and play. Post-lunch, I put him down for his afternoon nap, and take him to play/swim in the evenings. Stay at home parenting is a 24/7 job – what to offer for food, when to give a bath, when to change diapers, managing household help – being responsible for making these everyday decisions is overwhelming at times.
One of the benefits of being a stay at home dad has been that most of the neighbourhood kids know me, and we hang out with kids of all ages; they call me “Kabir uncle”! The other stay at home parents (all of whom are mommies in our neighbourhood), the grannies and the nannies have all been impressed with my parenting and what I'm doing, which encourages me to go on, and has been a validation of my parenting. On the other hand, there is no dearth of people among my friends, family, neighbours and acquaintances who are puzzled by my decision to stay at home with my child.
The most important thing I've practised about parenting is to follow the child’s cues; this requires an epitome of patience and lose that I-know-it-all, I'm-a-big-person, adult ego. One thing I'm particularly proud of is not having succumbed to the convenience of offering him a screen to find some ‘me time’. This has meant reading to him regularly, having other kids over at our home or going to their homes to play, having engaging toys (lots of books, wooden stacking toys, puzzles and what not) – basically letting him decide what he wants to do at any point in time; take him for a walk even if it's not what I’m keen on doing. Life is much easier when you let the child make decisions about everyday life. Music and dancing come in handy to take away that ever so often crankiness. However, one exception to this is when it comes to sleep time. I am very strict about standardised nap times and nap durations. Which brings me to my best friend in my parenting journey; I've used a baby carrier as my crutch to help to put him to sleep, and I encourage all my other dad friends and acquaintances to use one. Not only does it make it super easy to put him to sleep, but it also brings dad-child closer with a lot of body touch and intimacy, which a father doesn't get much of. Mothers are lucky in that sense; they can connect to the child at a level that fathers can't - they breastfeed. One of my biggest complaints (if I may call it that) of being a dad is the fact that men can't breastfeed. I'm quite simply jealous of Amrita as a parent and women in general as they can offer him the comfort and nutrition that comes with breastfeeding; this is something that I cannot do. Amrita continues to breastfeed him at the age of 31 months, and he looks forward to mommy’s return in the evenings to have his “Dudu”. I feel betrayed at times due to his preference for Dudu over Daddy.
Kabir starts playschool later this week, and I’ll be back in the world of work soon. I think I’ll feel a little lost when he starts – a void when he’s away for those few hours in a day. However, as I reflect on these three amazing months that we have had together in a new home in a new city, I am so glad for the privilege and opportunity of spending so much time with my child. Of course, he's gotten hurt and injured in the process, but those are part and parcel of growing up.
My parenting journey has been one of the most satisfying experiences of my life and the last few months have been the icing on the cake. I've been at peace with myself and my parenting and doing what I thought I'd be good at. It has been beautiful to engage with Kabir and see him grow up and be fully engaged with what he does, something I encourage every parent (other fathers, especially) to do more and experience parenting first hand. It is extremely unfortunate that stereotypes in our societies don't encourage men staying at home to bring up kids and is believed that men aren't significant enough in their children's everyday lives and growing up years, but then, up until very recently, we all knew the earth was flat, and the sun went around us every day.
While my unique personal situation allowed for this unconventional childcare arrangement, I wish such opportunities were structurally embedded at work, and everyday life, so that more men can experience the joy of caring for small children, and we as a society can move faster towards gender equality.
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