Stay-at-Home Fathers Still Outliers in Indonesia

Maha Matma Aji is a stay-at-home dad for his son Satria Bayu Aji, 11 — a role that remains highly unconventional in Indonesian society. (Photos courtesy of Wiwin Pratiwanggini)

By : Zakky Ramadhany | on 2:42 PM May 25, 2014
Category : Life & Style, Arts & Culture, Featured

Eleven-year-old Satria Bayu Aji isn’t exactly bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as he prepares to go to school early in the morning from his home in the Condong Catur area of Yogyakarta.

Soon, though, he and his mother, Wiwin Pratiwanggini, are neatly dressed — he in his school uniform and she in her office clothes.

But Satria’s father, Maha Matma Aji, better known as Ahmat, is still in his T-shirt. He rustles up a quick breakfast before taking Satria to school, then heads to his job: back home to do the laundry, sweep and mop the floor, and all the typical household chores that stay-at-home mothers have endured for generations.

Ahmat is a stay-at-home dad, a concept that is still unfamiliar, and even considered as taboo, in Indonesian society, where most people still cling to the idea that the man should be the leader and breadwinner of the family, while the woman’s place is at home, doing the chores and looking after the children.

“At first we often got negative views about Ahmat being a stay-at-home dad, but I don’t care. We’re happy with the situation,” says Wiwin, who works as a finance officer at a school in Yogyakarta.

“My husband is very nimble and familiar with the myriad household chores that need to be done. He’s used to doing these chores since he was young.”

Ahmat grew up in trying circumstances, living with his mother and an older, disabled brother. Under those pressing circumstances, he learned to be adept at doing all kinds of household chores, so the role of a stay-at-home dad doesn’t bothers him, he says. He even considers it the best decision he has ever made in his life.

“I don’t mind being a stay-at-home dad,” he said. “The important thing is to nurture a harmonious family.”

Ahmat isn’t exactly unemployed. He works from home as an Internet marketer, selling household products. His family has simply had to adjust to this unusual pattern of parenting to allow him to do his job.

For Ahmat, the situation allows him to spend a lot of time with his family. It also gives him the leisure time to make new friends — many of whom are surprised to find out that he works from home, but who eventually understand his role.

Ahmat believes that more Indonesian parents should consider doing the same so they can be more deeply involved in the family unit. He concedes it may not suitable for everyone, but it is an idea worth exploring.

“I see lots of parents who are oblivious to their role in providing guidance and time for their children,” he says.

While rare in Indonesia, the role of the husband as homemaker has been around for a long time, often in low-income families where the woman finds work abroad as a migrant laborer.

That compels the husband to take over the household and child-rearing duties, sometimes at the cost of the husband’s own job.

But rather than empower the women earning the money, the situation has long been dominated by the husbands, who feel entitled to the income earned and how it is spent, because they still see themselves as the head of the family, says Ratih Ibrahim, a family psychologist.

“It’s because the patriarchal culture in Indonesia still treats women as lower than men on the social ladder,” she says.

Ratih says the differences in child-rearing habits between men and women can also affect the growth of children nurtured largely by their father. 

“Mothers definitely have a stronger sense of attachment because they carry the child for the nine months of their pregnancy, and fathers may feel awkward in taking care of their children,” she says. “But both should be able to provide facilities for their children no matter what.”

For men to be able to take on the role of stay-at-home father graciously, Ratih says they must view their presence at home differently, not as a sacrifice.

“They have to be realistic and make themselves useful,” she says.

She also says envy over the wife’s earning ability should not be a factor, because the job of rasing children and looking after the household is invaluable.

Lastly, she says, there should be a show of appreciation from the family — as there should be in traditional households where the mother stays at home — so that stay-at-home dads can see that they are appreciated.

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