At-home Mother or Working Mother?

Swapna Narayanan

b2eea6ed6e17040e8044333f10b5bc37My first interview, when I was a 22 year old fresh graduate, was taken by a very daring and strong woman who exuded confidence. One look at her, you could only see a fighter in there who has seen it all. Before I could get more inspired by her, she started firing her questions and ended her volley with a question that I was completely unprepared for – Any plans for marriage? Unexpected. I had just passed out of college and was keen on beginning my career with a well known company, and had not given marriage a thought, though my family was fairly clear that I must work for at least a year before I take the plunge. Taken by surprise, I mumbled something and then eventually got the job. But not without a parting shot from her – even if you marry, ensure you do not have a baby!

That set the tone in my head. Okay, so if I have to succeed in private sector (a conscious choice in the late 90s), I would need to put my family on the back burner. And a deeper realization that a women’s biological capability acts as a major disservice when it comes to her career.

With this thought deeply engrained, my conditioned mind never looked at my profession as a long term goal, since marriage was a must-have goal for my family. And to add to it, I was one of the early women to join the IT industry in my social circle, an unheard of thing in a family of largely doctors, teachers and government servants in India. It became clear in my head that the moment I have a baby I will quit working. Why? Because babies are best brought up by the mother. How can both husband and wife have full time careers? After all my husband is the primary bread earner, and I must keep the house and raise the children. How can one leave the child in a day care center, does it not have a home? Never trust these housekeepers, they are known to poison the babies! Children of working mothers always turn out to be spoilt, undisciplined and worse, reckless.

Sounds all too familiar, eh?

And of course how can we discount, in our country, the experiences of our large social circle – Mrs. Sharma’s daughter in law, Mrs. Shankar’s daughter, Mrs. Kumar’s niece – all have very unruly children and a poorly kept house because they are being selfish thinking about their careers and not their families. If career was so important, then they need not have got married in the first place (as if it was a choice given to them!)

So with the basic thought that motherhood actually dampens your career aspirations, I moved on. Though, somehow managed to continue my profession even after having two (not one) children. Yet, it was not an easy ride and not at all a guilt less journey.

While continuing your profession after becoming a mother is entirely a personal choice, and we must respect that, as long as it is a well thought out decision. And not taken under the pressures of our highly conditioned world.

However the reality is, invariably, women take (sometimes forced to take) such a decision because of many misconceptions associated.

And as someone who has walked the entire stretch, I see the need to clear the misconception. While there is no mantra which works for all, here are the few aspects that you can keep in mind while taking the decision.

First and foremost, children of working mothers actually turn out to be independent, confident and more adaptable. Provided the mother is a strong woman who does not fall into the guilt trip often and actually starts training her young ones to be independent as they turn 2.5 years. Keeping their toys away to toilet training are some basic steps in that direction. Once they are 5+, you can actually start involving them in smaller chores. That sets the tone, and they realize that running a house needs everyone’s contribution. And you can continue this practice and add more chores as they grow older. You will be surprised that their little hearts and intelligent mind gets adapted so well, if caught young. Do remember to keep all the elders at bay, for whom making the ‘Rani Beti’, ‘Raja Beta’, ‘Kanna’, ‘Kutti’ do some chores is a clear blasphemy. It is a known fact that children of working mothers are more self-sufficient and less clingy.

Secondly, planning for a trusting support system is important. Irrespective of the medium you choose, your in laws, parents, day care center or a housekeeper, you should constantly be alert and not take it for granted. Devise ways to constantly keep a track and ensure your child is happy and comfortable. Open conversations with your parents/in laws and surprise checks on your day care center or housekeeper are the only thing that works well. As long as there is a healthy respect amongst all the stakeholders and open communication, you can work together to ensure that the apple of your eye is being given good care, even better that you would have been able to give on your own.

Working MotherWhile the math of savings versus the cost spent is always an important driver for these decisions, do remember to keep in mind the other factors of your individuality, your education and your personal space. Motherhood can be very draining and exhausting. To replenish all that you lose while tending to your baby, stepping out to your workplace is a very good idea. I have experienced that working at home always charged me for my work and vice versa. And, it also helped me in keeping my sanity in check and keeping all the depressive dependent thoughts at bay. And while doing the ROI, do not forget that the fledglings will soon become full grown birds and fly away, and leave you with an empty nest. It does not befit an able mother to hold on to her children!

Generally there is always a way around, but as a mother, there is no way around for certain basic things like nutrition, education and building the inner strength of your children. You and only you can do that! So while can always outsource the mundane – like cooking, or sending them to tuitions for their homework, do remember to keep an eye. Motherhood is a 24/7 job and one cannot afford to give it a miss. Also a large part of the inner strength and value system building happens in their earlier years, so do ensure you do not drop a single ball and keep a tab. Tough, but very much doable. Enough women before you have done it, so you can also do it.

Last, a very supportive workplace can actually help. Though things have improved significantly, we still have miles to go there.

Motherhood is a most beautiful experience in the world. Yet you need not necessarily give up your individuality and your professional aspirations for that. If you are interested in pursuing your career along with your motherhood, you can always work it out.

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