I would have given my complete support to the write-up “Stay-at-home mom” (Open Page, January 31) if I had not read a fantastic story before, shared by Nancy Folbre, a renowned economist, in her famous book The Invisible Heart – Economics and Family Values, which throws light on a very important and often overlooked perspective.

The story is about a running race between three nations, designed by god. This was a contest to see which nation or society, acting as a team, could collectively run the greatest distance in a set period of time. The first prize declared was “health and prosperity for all” for the winning society.

All the citizens of the first nation started to run. Very soon, the young children and the elderly fell behind, but none of the front runners (middle aged men and women) stopped to help them and, gradually, all the front runners grew exhausted and tired. They began to realise that they would lose.

The second nation adopted a slightly different strategy. All the young and energetic men started to run as fast as possible to increase the score and the young and energetic women were requested to come along behind, carrying the children, the sick and the elderly, and caring for any runners who needed help.

At first, this seemed to work. But then, it resulted in wide disparity between men and women, undue authority and power of men over the women, etc. Hence, the women went out on a strike as they felt that the work they were doing — caring for the runners and others — was every bit as important as the running itself and that they deserved equal rights. Chaos ensued. Eventually, it became clear that this nation too was losing the race.

The third nation’s strategy was different: everyone was required both to run and to take care of those who could not run. Both men and women were urged to compete, to run as fast as possible; but the rules required them to carry equal shares of the weight of care. They were making slow but steady progress. Like the hare and tortoise story, they won the race.

I am convinced after reading this story that the real happiness of women and their family is neither in being wholly career-oriented nor in being a stay-at-home mom/dad, but in treading the middle path. Both men and women need to balance both their career and family without compromising each of them.

Women have already proven to be equally good in all fields and now it is men’s turn to prove that they can give their shoulders for the caring activity, which still remains in the woman’s domain in most of the households.

The contribution of men to the family in terms of taking care of the kids and the elderly, education and development, in the kitchen and other household chores need to increase manifold. Society and work/corporate culture need to change and become more family friendly by providing flexible timings for working mothers and working fathers.

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