“Outstation dad? This is a huge trade-off”

“Outstation dad? This is a huge trade-off”

My husband has a job that requires him to stay away from home 24 days a month. Our 13-year-old son often complains about him in his absence. I haven’t quite understood what he gets so angry about, because the issues are minor—like why dad went for the Open Day at school “when he doesn’t know what’s going on in my school life", etc. I have explained to my son that though dad may not be present, he is in touch with me daily. My sister’s advice is that my husband should leave this job. My husband says (and I agree) that these are his prime earning years. How can we deal with this changing-the-job situation?

Some part of your son’s outbursts could be attributed to the phase of life that he is in — adolescent boys do feel animosity towards their father, and can become hypercritical.

However, having said that, a largely absent father is not a good idea at all. I understand that today people have to go wherever their work takes them to become bigger and better breadwinners and achievers. But perhaps you need to step back, as parents and householders, and make your own clear assessment of what is the trade-off. Particularly since you have a fairly ballistic boy on your hands. I suspect that the message is quite clear from your child: He needs more than just a breadwinner for a father. And he is turning his need for his father and frustration at his absence into a “who wants him here anyway" kind of counter-rejection.

So here’s what the two of you as parents will have to sift through: How much of your husband’s pursuit of the big bucks is really in pursuit of a big lifestyle? And big career strokes? Don’t get me wrong — I’m talking about not turning parenting (fathering) and earning into two mutually exclusive activities.

It’s true that some of the lifestyle pursuits are to do with giving your kids good stuff, vacations, exposure and access to paid Western education. So most tired, overworked, absent parents tell themselves, “But I’m doing this for the kids."

However, as you can see, your son is hungry for more than lifestyle gifts. In this situation, it is unfair on your child, as well as yourselves, to say that “the career choice we have made is not negotiable, and now let us find a way to fix the problem with the child". Your choices impact your child’s everyday world and his larger emotional universe too. There is really no getting away from that. Any behavioural, surface changes that you bring to the situation will at best tinker with the problem.

If you and your husband do decide to cut back on your earnings but be more present in your son’s life, do be careful not to rub it into the child’s mind. Some parents end up saying things like: “Papa is getting paid less so that he can be with you. You better work hard and get a scholarship because your father can’t afford to send you abroad." This sort of thing defeats the purpose completely and throws a garnishing of guilt on to your child’s plate. These “trade-offs" are for you as parents to make. They should not become shining examples of your sacrifices and good parenting choices.

Send your queries to Gouri at learningcurve@livemint.com