Every time we had to stay up till late at night, frantically finishing our school projects, who stayed up with us, helping us finish the work? When guests came to our homes, who gave up being part of some discussions, to prepare snacks? Who is the angel who patiently gave up her sleep to tend to the wailing infant whose cries pierced the slumber of the household? Indeed, it is our mothers who are to be credited for these efforts, an answer that must have come readily to all our minds.
However, aside from being grateful to her, we also need to pay heed to why we associate such acts of selflessness only with the mother. We have been so used to our mothers’ sacrifices that we do not even notice them anymore; we just take them for granted, as just another job our mothers are responsible for. Yes, parenting undoubtedly requires sacrifice. But why is it only the mother who is heavily burdened with societal expectations of such altruism?
Maternal altruism refers to ‘the ideology that women are, by their identities as mothers and wives, 'predisposed toward nurturing and self-sacrifice.'
This unquestioned acceptance of the idea that our mothers are ‘mothers’ first, and their persons second, or maybe even third (second being the wife of our fathers), has been ingrained into our minds since, literally, our very birth. This notion stems from the belief that women should be relegated to the domestic sphere since they are ‘nurturers’ and men should be the breadwinners, an idea that has been deep-rooted in the social institution of ‘family’, due to patriarchy.
‘The mother’s sacrifice’ is glorified, and no consideration is given to working women with children who face the constant disapproval of society for taking on a portion of a load of earning, while giving a portion of a load of altruistic parenting, to their partner.
Media and advertisements only reinforce gender roles. Although women have begun to be shown as working professionals, an underlying theme of motherhood still parents, where it might not have, had the individual been the father.
An important step to deconstructing such differentiation of parental roles is increasing the paternity leave for men. In India, the Central Government grants only 15 days of Paternity Leave, as opposed to 180 days of Maternity Leave. This is both, a cause for, and consequence of, the propagation of the notion that parenthood is almost synonymous with motherhood, and that the primary duty to extend efforts towards the caregiving of the child lies on the mother, the woman.
Further, the gender-wage gap ensures that it is usually the woman who is earning less than the man, by which, it seems logical that she should be the one to give up her job to care for the child, should it come to that.
A father’s involvement is as important as a mother’s, in a child’s life. Women would have to fight for equality every day, in parenting, household chores, and other matters, for every single effort counts in this struggle against gender roles and patriarchy.
Keeping a saying by Margaret Mead in our hearts as our mantra, we must sail through, to make this world a better place – “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”