I have been through another round of paternal leave. This means I’d taken some time away from work to take care of my children. It came on the heels of my wife having spent 8½ months at home with our children. In what can be described as the transformation of roles I have looked after my children by providing material, emotional and social supports for them while my wife went to work Mondays to Fridays during that period of time.
This is not my first parental leave. However my reflections were more intense on this occasion. I grew up in a normal Nigerian family with brothers and sisters. What I knew about my childhood is probably typical of majority of Nigeria homes. Our mothers have the obligations to see to the running of the homes while our fathers worked all the time.
In some circumstances the women are not only running the homes but also providing the daily bread. In a way it appears to be an integral part of our culture to place the burden of domestic chores and child-raising on the women. But my experiences as the house-man for a combined period of over 12 months with the dual responsibilities of taking care of my children and the home generally have led me to the conviction that this aspect of our culture in Nigeria needs to be modified or changed.
However without the intervention of the government or some very strong recommendations from the Ministry of Women Affairs it may be technically and bureaucratically impossible to implement policy changes in both private and public institutions that will lead to creating a greater degree of flexibility for parents with respect to the fostering of their children.
It appears that the issue will become a hot debate which will face serious opposition and even condemnation because we run an undesirable system where we think that women are inferior to men. In Nigeria I would imagine that advocating for equal rights and opportunities for women with respect to family values may be asking too much. But it shouldn’t be.
We should provide extended maternal leave to mothers of new babies irrespective of where they work or the nature of their work. In addition we need to do a study or survey of how parental leave works for both parents in countries that have successfully implemented such programmes. I know that the UK is now paying more attention to this program. The backbones are functional public institutions, well-thought out government policies and well grounded elementary educational systems.
I don’t think that it will amount to adopting an alien culture if fathers are made to undergo the same experience as mothers in terms of nurturing their children in the early formative years or throughout infanthood. After nine months of pregnancy, labour and subsequent delivery the women need both moral and emotional supports and giving them extensive maternal leave and social supports should be the least of efforts that the society can contribute.
I think that one of the probable reasons why Nigeria’s population continue to explode despite the harsh economic reality and the unfavourable political climate is because the Nigerian man is not always physically at home to see to the running of the house.
When he is at home, he prioritises watching TV, reading old newspapers or entertaining friends as he keeps calling on mama junior to do this or do that. Men need to understand the pain and plights of the women and they must come to realise that there is more to being fathers than being sperm donors or money-droppers.
The importance of the family as the unit of the society cannot be overemphasized. The bond within the family and the values taught within it are essential elements of the immediate environment and the nation as a whole. There are strong indications today that the communication gaps within the family are widening and may have contributed in no small measure to the socio-economic problems that we have in Nigeria.
Some fathers do not know their children and many children do not know their fathers. Sexual recklessness is even on the rise leading to having children with non-definable parentage. Rarely, it is the mother that is missing in action. Once these gaps are created in the formative years it is usually difficult and sometimes impossible to bridge. The holes may deepen and persist for life.
Divorce or living separately is not even supposed to be a license to reckless parenthood. Many separated parents continue to nurture and supports their children as they would have done if they’d live under the same roof.
My experience gave me an opportunity to reflect daily. Usually I thought not just about my mother but the African woman as a symbol of strength, courage and determination. I asked myself several questions. How did these women cope with six or more children? Did they ever complain about tiredness to their husbands or the fathers of their children?
Was there always someone they could share their pains and frustrations with? What did they do when there was no one to complain to? How did they handle all the stress and situations around them? What did they do when they felt like sleeping and the children kept crying for attention and comfort? In short I asked myself, how did they cope with all of these problems? How are they coping now? In millions of homes the African woman continues to fulfil her obligations as the housekeeper, in sickness and in health!
I pay tributes to the African woman. I pay tribute to the good Nigerian woman. I can’t stop thinking about single parents too. I wonder how much repatriation can bring comfort to them for their roles, their resilience, their courage, their forbearance and their sacrifices as they struggled to keep their homes and work together.
Nigeria more than ever before must start to promote the rights of women and gender equality. With gender equality and recognition for the rights of women and children, it will be easier to control birth rate. Nigeria’s economy is suffering from persistent austerity measures and unemployment remains very high yet birth rate is not on the decline. This is an abnormal trend as Biological laws dictate otherwise.
It is particularly annoying and irritating to read or hear about women giving up homely lives because of their careers and vice versa. There is a need to create flexibility to allow for a reasonable integration of work and home as a source of both fulfilment and happiness. Nigeria must create or review the situations regarding nursing mothers in terms of social welfare packages.
We don’t have to wait for a perfect political climate before we start to live and enjoy our lives. There is nothing wrong with initiating programs that will bring succour to the citizens of Nigeria even if the political class is populated by unrepentant liars and corrupt people. It is another aspect of our collective responsibilities to rescue ourselves from such anomalies.
By carefully studying the processes of parental leave in countries where successes have being achieved Nigeria can start a corrupt-free national insurance program that will cater for nursing mothers of all ages and categories. That should be the starting point.
In the foreseeable future the integration of fathers into the policy will be very useful in rebuilding the family and ensuring that our women are not overburden or abused. Finally, the government must re-energise and re-engineer the family planning policy while emphasising the need for it. The benefits of family planning compliance by all and sundry cannot be over-emphasised.
May the Glory of Nigeria come, soon..!