Does liberation for women impact the quality of nurturing and care children receive?

Written by Kesang Menezes on Thursday, 09 July 2015.

This blog has been contributed by Kesang Menezes, Faciliator, Parenting Matters . Published on

I am currently deeply immersed in reading “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook). It’s a fabulous book in which each chapter is an eye opener about the conscious and not-so-conscious ways in which the world holds back women and how even women hold themselves back. The book inspires me to stand on the rooftops and cheer for women to lean in. Living in India, where the oppression of women is really not subtle at all, the book inspires me to fight hard for women to reach leadership positions, as it is obvious about how that would change the world. 

I totally share Sheryl’s dream of a world where “our sons and daughters could choose what to do with their lives without external or internal obstacles slowing down their choices”.  A world where men could be respected and supported if they choose to do the important work of raising children full time. And women could be respected and supported if they want to work full time outside the home.

Also Read: Mothers – Aim for the Moon!

My only issue with Sheryl’s worldview is the lack of importance given to the job of parenting. I am a parent educator and I feel very strongly about the fact that we as a society do not pay enough attention to what the task of raising children involves. Don’t we realise that it is the way we raise children which finally determines the kind of society we have tomorrow? And I believe that when children are brought up with immense sensitivity and compassion, when we deepen our awareness with regard to meeting their needs, when every child feels heard and understood and cared for, we will see a society which is just and compassionate.

This is not just my view but that of many leading economists who are now showing us how the quality of care that children receive in early childhood has a direct impact on many social and economic indicators.

Sheryl says that she used research to help her feel comfort in her decision to have other caregivers help her in caring for her children. She quotes research that concludes that “children who were cared for exclusively by their mothers did not develop differently than those who were also cared for by others”. I don’t have the details of the development outcomes and how they were measured, but I can only say from my own experience and my work with parents that it is very, very hard for any parent (man or woman) to do justice to a challenging, high-pressure job and be an effective parent at the same time. In my experience, these are for all practical purposes, irreconcilable. Indra Nooyi, CEO Pepsico, recently made headlines when she spoke publicly about how “We cannot do it all” (parenting and career achievements).

Let me assure you here that I am not joining the “us versus them crusade” as Sheryl calls it, where moms who work in the home judge moms who work outside, and vice versa. I am also definitely not suggesting that only women should bear the burden of being primary caregivers. I simply want to put forward the fact that this book left me confused because I feel there are some irreconcilable truths.

Also Read: When will the stay-at-home mom and fulltime working mom empathise with each other?

Truth 1: Every woman would want the choice to pursue her own interests and ambitions and reach for the stars, if she was assured that her children are being cared for in a way that enables them to thrive.

Truth 2: Not many women really want to be completely stay-at-home moms. No one enjoys being on call for a child 24×7. It’s not fun! A women most often makes this choice because she is not convinced that her child’s needs will be adequately met in other environments. Which means she is not convinced about how other caregivers (day care/ nanny) would work for her child. Or her spouse is not willing or not in a position to be the primary caregiver.

Truth 3: Raising children well takes enormous mindfulness. It is extremely hard to be tuned in to what children need while juggling a high pressure job. I speak from my own experiences where I found that even if I was physically at home, my mind was so preoccupied with deadlines and tasks to be done that I simply could not focus on what my children were going through or requiring at that moment. It was not about just reading them a bedtime tale and snuggling with them. I did not have the mind space to see that my daughter was sad because her friends had excluded her that day, or that she was struggling with her relationship with a particular classmate or teacher. Children are able to turn to us and share things about their lives only when they see us as totally relaxed and present for them. I wonder if any caregiver other than a parent can really connect with the ups and downs of a child’s life and support them as required.

Does it sound like I expect everyone who chooses to become a parent to forget about any goals of their own and focus totally on parenting??  Or even worse, that I am expecting women to feel guilty if they cannot care mindfully for their children? Hey, that is definitely not what I am saying!!

But as parent educator I am an ally of the child. Every child has the right to have at least one adult who has the time and energy to focus on nurturing him/ her. Let us not minimise how important this is and what it takes. No research can convince me otherwise. And yes, this does not have to be the mother.

In fact there is so much discussion about how guilty “working” moms are made to feel. But I am very comfortable not being there for my children when I know my husband is. Most often we feel guilty because we feel that our children are not getting the support they need.

So my confusion remains- How do we reconcile what seems irreconcilable? How can every woman pursue her dreams while still creating families or societies in which nurturing children is given the importance it deserves? Does liberation for women mean short-changing children, especially if men are unwilling to play a greater role in child care? Do women have to hold back for their children’s sakes?   Can two adults who are highly successful in their careers be equally successful in having a deep connection with their children? Whose needs are more important?

Some may look at better child care as the answer, but it is not the whole answer. Yes, good child care can provide amazing support, but it certainly cannot replace the role of a consistent, life-long caring adult in a child’s life.

These questions totally confound me. Can anyone tell me the way forward?

About the Author

Kesang Menezes

Kesang Menezes has been facilitating parenting groups and workshops since 2004. She believes that small interactive groups are a very powerful tool for learning. She also writes articles for Parent Circle magazine, the Hindu and other publications and has short online videos on Parenting.

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