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‘Parenting is not just a woman’s job, it’s the collective responsibility of society’

S Kavitha S Kavitha 8 Mins Read

S Kavitha S Kavitha

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IAS officer Dr Divya S Iyer is a role model for many. But for her, there is no model formula for parenting - it’s all about letting a child explore

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‘Parenting is not just a woman’s job, it’s the collective responsibility of society’

Doctor, civil servant, author, singer, actor and mother – Dr Divya S Iyer IAS, Collector of Kerala’s Pathanamthitta district, is doing it all. A firm believer in raising children without gender differences, Divya does not say ‘no’ to her son. Instead, she shows him a better alternative. Long days at work do not tire Divya who makes sure to play with her son and tick his to-do list every day. In an exclusive interview, Divya gets candid about her life as a mother.

You were born in Kerala, God’s Own Country. What was childhood like?

Growing up in Thiruvananthapuram with my elder sister, life was very colorful. I was a very enthusiastic student and was actively involved in dancing and singing. My parents encouraged me to learn new things. They always said that I could try my hand at anything that gives me happiness. When young, I took part in a competition where I saw a fellow contestant play the guitar. I instantly fell in love with the instrument. I told my parents that I wanted to learn the guitar. They did not dismiss my wish and within a week arranged a teacher who trained me to play the guitar. My childhood will remain very special as my parents always breathed life into my wishes and dreams.

Dr Divya S Iyer IAS

You said your parents were always supportive. Could you please elaborate on their parenting styles? 

They were neither extremely strict nor did they pamper us. My parents wanted to do as much good as they could for us. If there was a new bar of chocolate in the market, my father would buy it for us the next day. When they went to buy new clothes for Deepavali, they turned the trip into a celebration. Through their activities, our parents showed us how to find joy in even the smallest of things. My mother is a perfectionist. She taught us to give our hundred percent in everything, be it studies or extracurricular activities. Dad always provided apt guidance whenever I needed it.

When you switched from being a doctor to pursue a career in Civil Services, how did your parents react?

Initially, my decision was difficult for my family. I was the first doctor in our family. After completing class 12, I got a chance to study at Thiruvananthapuram Medical College and at CMC Medical College, Vellore. It was my dream to study medicine at CMC Medical College and so I chose it. My mother was apprehensive about it as Thiruvananthapuram Medical College was closer home. But later, she understood.

While studying medicine in Vellore, I had the opportunity to visit many places for fieldwork. That’s what attracted me to Civil Services. My interest in public health and community health grew during these field visits. It occurred to me that an officer with a medical background can serve people much better than a doctor in an individual capacity. But my decision initially came as a shock to my parents. Later they understood that I was passionate about serving society and working for the welfare of the people.

You have a three-year-old son. What is your approach to parenting?

I follow a positive and honest parenting method. If I think something won’t work for my child, instead of saying no to him, I show him an alternative way of doing it. My son loves to paint and often smears paint all over his body. I have bought him nontoxic paint. He also likes to get drenched in the rain. At times, when I come back from work he would run and drag me out of the car to play in the rain. We will get drenched, roll in the mud and play to our heart’s content.

Children can enjoy new experiences only when we don’t forbid such things. If we restrict them, they will be a version of us. It’s the responsibility of parents to identify children’s interests and create a suitable environment to develop that interest. However, if some activity endangers them, we must prevent them from doing it and keep them safe.

Do Not Hit Children, Please!

Hitting a child is the most terrible form of violence, according to Divya. “Children should not do anything out of fear. A child should happily engage in his favorite activity with the confidence that his parents are there for him. Children are a source of positive vibes for parents,” she says.

“My three-year-old son Malhar gives me the energy and enthusiasm I need to be actively involved in people’s work,” Divya adds.

Divya with her husband Sabarinadhan and son Malhar.

You are a doctor and a civil servant who works tirelessly round the clock. You don the hats of a columnist, actor, singer and mother. How do you manage your schedule?

Cooperation from the family is essential for mothers to multi-task. It is important to have the husband’s support. It is a jackpot if we get cooperation from all of them combined. If I can talk to you in peace, it’s because I am sure that my son is in the safe hands of my parents. Lack of support makes parenting an uphill task for mothers.

There is an African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child”. That’s how parenting was during the olden days. My parents used to drop my elder sister at my grandmother’s place in Thiruvananthapuram when they left for work. My sister could eat her lunch from any of the houses on the street where my grandmother lived. There was a greater sense of belonging, and it aided perfectly in raising children. However, in today’s society, there are more nuclear families. If there is a good rapport, trust and bonding between neighbors, it makes the job of parenting easier. But in today’s scenario, it is very difficult to find such relationships.

Working mothers often feel guilty about not spending quality time with their children. How do you look at it? 

Age-old practices have firmly established an image of parenting as the sole job of the mother. Parenting is the responsibility of not just the family but of society as a whole. Due to societal constraints, the idea of parenting is associated with only mothers and that is the reason mothers feel guilty. There is no argument about the fact that the mother has to breastfeed her baby for the first one-and-a-half years. But apart from breastfeeding, there are other aspects of parenting that can be done by others in the family. Beyond all this, the workplace environment should be conducive for mothers. It will be a great relief for women if the workplace offers a child-friendly environment.

Given your work routine, how much time do you get to spend with your child?

My son adjusts his time according to my work schedule. He compiles a list of things to do with me and gives it to me as soon as I return from work. He goes to sleep only after he ticks off all the items on that list. Even now, when I leave for the office, he often says, “Amma please do not go, stay with me”. When I wear a saree to go to work, he brings my nightdress and wraps it around my saree, asking me to stay back.

Divya with her parents and her son Malhar.

You are fond of music. Do you sing lullabies to your son?

Until he was a year old, I used to sing a lot to him with pet names. But now he asks me to sing rhymes. If I am humming a particular song, he comes up to me, enquires about the song and urges me to sing for him right away.

You have translated Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s A Feminist Manifesto. What are your thoughts on gender discrimination at home?

The difference between the male and the female begins the moment a baby is born and comes out of the delivery room. A baby boy is wrapped in a blue towel, and a baby girl is wrapped in a pink towel. Some people ask me if my son wears a pink shirt. I ask them what’s wrong with a pink shirt and tell them that I will buy shirts of all colors,  including pink. Similarly, when I go to the shop to buy a kitchen set for my child, the shopkeeper inquires about the age of my daughter. Why shouldn’t a boy play with a kitchen set? My son loves the kitchen set as much as he loves a JCB van and a car.

There is a deeply entrenched notion in society that boys should not cry. Aren’t feelings of happiness and sorrow common to both men and women? Why is there a division of these feelings between a boy and a girl? Such gender discrimination should be eliminated, especially in families. Only then boys will grow up realizing that girls have dreams just like them.

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