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January 01, 2020 Wednesday 02:26:57 PM IST

Millennial Parenting: Burden Still on Women?

Cover Story

Family structures are changing with the increasing in nuclear families which ideally requires undertaking shared responsibilities at home.  In shopping malls, parks and public places, you can find fathers lovingly carrying their young children around or pushing prams. Some young fathers are also adept at changing diapers and putting their children to sleep. This reflects how our society has progressed toward accepting the role of father in equally sharing parenting responsibilities.

What does the current research say about millennial parenting?. A study done by J Devika, Professor of Centre for Development Studies in Thiruvananthapuram pointed out that women continue to bear the strain of parenting, especially those in the economically productive age group. Many nuclear families lack the support which was available in extended families in bringing up children.

Child rearing to Child-Crafting Parents keep themselves updated with latest parenting trends through books, websites, apps and web-based parenting communities. Childcare has become an important pre-occupation with families. Parents want their children to excel in as many areas as possible and parents are no longer involved in child-rearing but’ child-crafting’. They are enrolled in fine arts, instrumental music, games, martial arts classes even during holidays. It may not be possible to send their children to grandparents or relatives to be looked after on holidays or after school hours.  Some children are sent to playschools or day care institutions or left with a caregiver leaving less time for unsupervised, unspecialized play vital for the healthy development of the individual.

According to Devika, the increasing focus on child-crafting puts greater stress on mothers. It is usually women who opt to ‘work from home’ or take leave or even abandon their careers to take care of children. Even teaching children has become a duty of parents, given the nature of homework to be done, combined with the capability and desire of educated parents (read mothers) to see their children come home with flying colours. This converts the double burden of working women (work outside the home + housework) into a triple burden (with the addition of ‘care work’ for children). Unless the other members of the family contribute more substantially to housework and childcare, a woman’s devotion to her children’s welfare may effectively keep her away from achieving her potential in the public sphere.

This is not to say that all is bleak on the horizon. While some nuclear families struggle to manage childcare, there are also instances of grandparents looking after children in newly-formed three generation households or when parents migrate abroad. The National Family Housing Survey-4 (NFHS-4 of 2015-16) revealed that 92% of currently married women aged between 15 and 49 in Kerala participate in household decisions. If this can be taken at face value, it is without doubt a laudable achievement. Devika suggests that while power relations between husband and wife in Kerala families have become more subtle, the focus of control within the family has shifted to children. Comprehensive studies in this area are however, yet to be made.

The Permissive, Helicopter Parenting

A 2011 study by anthropologist Jocelyn Chua in Thiruvananthapuram shows how suicide prevention strategies among children focused on the role of parents in nuclear families. Where parents are ridden with guilt for not spending adequate time with their children, they try to substitute their physical presence with material gifts. This could then take the form of ‘permissive parenting’ which, when combined with consumer capitalism encouraged excess consumption among children as a substitute for quality care.

Helicopter parenting is another style of parenting where parents pay excessive attention to a child’s performance, especially at educational institutions. Technology has supported this in some ways, as concerned parents can now track the movement of their children and their caregivers through CCTV cameras installed at their home or daycare, or using mobile phones. But this form of parenting must be treated with caution as such surveillance could increase the stress on children.

If some parents hover above their child’s head, neglectful parents let TV and smartphones act as substitute parents.Indeed, smartphones have become a major parenting aid and babysitter in today’s world, helping children to have food, to be put to sleep, and to be pacified with a favourite video or game. But its overuse contributes to reduced attention spans, vision, creativity, behavioural issues and poorer mental health in children. On the flip side, parents’ smartphone use can also be a headache for children, as seen in a unique march by a group of children in Germany in 2018 protesting against their parents’ smartphone addiction. The message the protestors wished to convey to their parents was - “Play with me, not with your smartphones!”

Linda Therese Luiz

The author is Assistant Professor,Department of Sociology, St. Teresa’s College, Ernakulam

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