Whether you’re a child living at home with senior parents, or a parent yourself, the coronavirus has ensured everyone’s in it, together. Yes, struggles differ, some have a study to work in, and some can barely close the bathroom door for a 10-minute getaway, but if you have a younger one, chances are you’ve gotten riled up, calmed down, and gotten through eight months you never thought life would throw at you.
Neither did Nadir Kanthawala and Peter Kotikalapudi, who have a four-year-old daughter, Zia, and a three-year-old son, Liam, respectively. The duo produce, write, and host ‘Pops In A Pod’, a parenting podcast from the perspective of fathers. Kanthawala tells me how for Zia’s birthday, they don’t have a Peppa Pig customised cake this year. “We went to Hamley’s, and we were constantly badgering her to not touch things. We have ingrained it into her that going out is not possible, and now, she’s understood it. However, if she sees either of us leave home, she gets dramatic,” laughs Kanthawala. Liam was supposed to be joining nursery and two days before his enrollment, India locked down. “We started those online classes, which he absolutely hated. He was in daycare before the pandemic, so he started associating the virtual classes with being sent back to daycare. He’s gotten better though, but he doesn’t entirely understand not going out,” explains Kotikalapudi.
Aniruddha Pathak is a finance professional, and has a six-year-old daughter, Rhea. Pre-pandemic, his routine was crossfit, work, dance class, and spending time with Rhea. During the lockdown, the routine has changed to waking up, helping with cooking, setting Rhea’s virtual class, work while she’s on call, break for lunch and do the dishes, work again, dinner, and sleep. “Trying to work while managing home and a child who has been forced to stay at home poses its own set of challenges. Also, we try to keep Rhea away from too much screen time,” Pathak says, and adds that it’s worse when other kids are allowed to play in the building, and they are trying to be safe, by keeping her at home. “She cries, and it doesn’t feel very good to keep working while she wants us to spend time with her,” he says. Pathak has also been looking into Rhea’s studies, something that he couldn’t do earlier because of work. However, keeping a child entertained is not always easy, and even more so when they are at an age where they have all this energy. “There are only so many books and activities. Thankfully, now we have got enrolled her for fitness and ballet classes online, which takes care of some part of the time,” he says.
Celebrity photographer Dabboo Ratnani has been at home with his wife, Manisha, and his three children — Myrah, Shivan, and Kiara Ratnani. Before the pandemic, Ratnani would be the one waking everyone up at home, making his wife coffee, dropping the kids to school, going to the gym, and going to work. “Initially, it felt like an extended holiday, because you didn’t think it’ll go on for this long. We used to watch movies till late night, wake up late, and did things we didn’t do earlier because of never having time,” he recalls. When virtual classes started, everyone had to start waking up early again, Ratnani says. “I had gotten my computers etc. from the studio, and I worked on reprocessing images from the archives while the kids were in their class. Other than that, we were making fun videos, TikToks, etc.,” he explains It wasn’t tough explaining the pandemic to them, Ratnani says, because they kept exposing the children to the same information that they were getting. “I don’t think dismissing is the right way to deal with kids, I’ve always been the kind of father that respects their questions, and gives them responses that aren’t immature,” he adds. While the world changed for the dads of the energetic kids, the newbie dads had their own experiences, since their tiny tots came at a time when there’s literally nowhere else to be. Actor Ruslaan Mumtaz became a dad right at the beginning of the pandemic, and now he’s back on the sets. While he wasn’t going to share the baby’s pictures, he put them out as a ray of sunshine in the gloomy world.
Actor Sumeet Vyas had his baby two months ago, “Beyond a point, to be honest, dads can’t do much, this early on for the baby. But I had consciously decided to take that time in May and June off, irrespective of how lucrative an offer is,” he says. Kanthawala feels that with the WFH bit, frustration levels have gone up. “Zia’s school has just started, and I take care of her entire schooling bit. My wife works in a bank. I’m sitting in my makeshift work space in her room, and she also settles in with the computer set up with me. It can be enjoyable to see your child learn, but it’s also frustrating because you constantly end up nagging your child. And then there’s work pressure too. I’ve sent so many wrong emails, with mistakes, so it does creep into your professional life,” he says. Three-year-old Liam and his parents always had breakfast together, which is a routine that’s gotten a little haywire during the pandemic. “I used to pick him up from daycare, and then go to pick my wife, Karen, and then on the way we’d talk about our day. We’d have a snack on the way, which was our little de-stressing time. Now, that’s totally changed since we just get out of bed, brush, get coffee, and grab breakfast in front of the screen,” Kotikalapudi says. Sometimes it’s so necessary to take a break from your kid as well, Kanthawala feels. “Sometimes you end up scolding the child for something that isn’t their fault. I know a lot of people don’t really agree, but come on, of course, you need a break from it.”
Ratnani feels that it’s important to keep your calm. “You can’t lose your cool on them, your pressure can’t be taken out on them. Kids can take it very wrongly too, and it’s not their fault that they’re at home. Everyone’s dealing with pressure, even financial. I’ve told my kids that you can’t spend like you used to,” he says. Pathak too, feels parents need to keep their mental health in check, first. “Work out, eat well, and most importantly, learn to let go, you can’t control everything,” he says. He meditates and has picked up activities like painting or online dance classes, all of which helps him keep himself in check. The role of a father, and the idea of equal parenting, has evolved in the past few years. Dads want to be more involved, people have asked for paternity leave as well. Will the pandemic shape this further? Mumtaz and Nirali, his wife, have consciously decided that once her job resumes, he will not take up any assignments till they settle down, and can have help too. “Because of the pandemic, we don’t have any help, and we have to figure this out ourselves. My shoot will finish by the time she resumes, and I will not take up anything else then,” he says. Mumtaz has become comfortable with taking care of his baby, now six months old. “I take care of him when my wife is working, and there’s pretty much everything I can do. I bathe him, change him, put him to sleep, all of it. I had a choice — either to just sit there and let Nirali deal with it all by herself, or be involved because I’m the dad. And honestly, it’s so much more fun than Netflix,” he says.
Vyas feels the pandemic is teaching us to be grateful for everything we’ve taken for granted. “I’m hoping this realisation has seeped in. It has, for me, even towards my own parents,” he explains. Kotikalapudi feels like while the role of the dad involved has been progressing, the pandemic is not going to transform anyone. “In India, we always have the option of having help. Nothing prepares you for being a parent, and things you took for granted, you’re doing it now. You’ve all these articles about how dads are finally involved, but did it really take a pandemic for you to be involved with parenting your child? We’ve always been like this, and our dads were the same with us,” he says. Pathak agrees. “I believe a lot more men are already doing their bit in sharing the load. I don’t see the pandemic changing anything drastically.” Ratnani feels the pandemic will bring about a change. “Simple things, and the way we handle ourselves, will evolve. There will be behavioural changes in everyone, spending so much time with each other,” he adds. “Some seem to be just #forthegram, to be honest. Parents today have to be on the same page, and have to have these conversations before having a child. It’s half and half, and it’s got to be equal,” Kanthawala concludes.
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