It was not easy for Sukhram Kuiri, a plumber who hails from a faraway village of Purulia, to join hands with his wife to raise their daughter.
”My friends have been taunting me ever since my daughter’s birth for bathing and feeding her, and doing similar chores. But, I love it,” says Kuiri.
A resident of Lengdi village in Baghmundi block of the backward Purulia district, Kuiri leaves his three-year-old daughter Deepa at an anganwadi centre when he goes out for his plumbing job. In the evenings, he encourages her to recite rhymes and sing songs, draw pictures of animals and birds, and play games. Many fathers like him have shown zeal in parenting in remote areas of the district.
On rain-soaked mornings, fathers and male guardians are often seen taking toddlers to the Sonaijhuri Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) centre in Purulia-I block.
Prothomi Mahato, an anganwadi worker of the centre, said she and her counterparts have been trained by the district administration and UNICEF to design simple games with locally available materials like pebbles that would facilitate parents to spend quality time with their children.
”When the wives become pregnant, the men enlist their names with the Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA), ANM workers and ICDS centres and avail nutritious cooked food. Most of them are daily wage earners, who also take their pregnant wives to hospital for immunisation and regular check-ups before childbirth by skipping a day’s work,” said Mahato. Balraj Sahis, who also belongs to the Lengdi village, is a father who takes his young child to collect cooked food, she said.
Sahis had accompanied his wife to the hospital for delivery, where he was given advice by Mahato on how to take proper care of the newborn.
He actively participated in raising the child with his wife, Mahato added.
UNICEF officials insist that positive parenting boosts a child’s self-esteem, and this year, it has identified mental health as the theme for commemorating the parenting month in June.
”Research indicates that particular focus should be given to the first few years of a child’s life as the brain develops at an extraordinary rate during this time.
”An emphasis on positive parenting during the early childhood development phase shapes their ability to learn, and thus strengthening engagement with the children is critical to their cognitive development and lifelong learning,” Paramita Neogi, Officer-in-Charge, UNICEF office for West Bengal, told PTI.
She said in the post-Covid period, reports of children being affected with mental health problems have increased. ”Positive and responsive parenting can be hugely instrumental in helping children overcome these challenges. Seeking medical support and being able to talk about it freely with family and friends needs to be encouraged,” Neogi said.
Sensing the need, the district administration of Purulia has been promoting participation of fathers like Sukhram in parenting as they play a dominant role in most of the households.
”During the training of ICDS workers, often emphasis is laid on inviting the male members of the families at the parenting meetings held there. We have made it a point to include fathers, as change does not take place if it becomes unacceptable to the male members of the family. After all, raising a child is the responsibility of both the father and mother,” said Syed Anjum Roomani, District Programme Officer of ICDS in Purulia.