Some months ago a troll left a comment on someone else’s blog about how I no longer get after working moms because I am now one myself. The person whose blog it was, promptly forwarded the comment to me and deleted it. She has no time to entertain personal attacks. Particularly when they have nothing to do with the post in question.
Anyhow, here’s the thing. I never did ‘get after’ working moms. I had an opinion. I stated it. Some didn’t like it, but that didn’t matter. Because thats the thing with opinions. They take a side. And not everyone has to like that side. And it ruffled feathers because I was a SAHM myself, at that time. People don’t like you commenting on them if you aren’t in their boat. Just like I don’t like NRIs telling us how everything is wrong with our country!! Here’s the thing, I still stand by what I said even though I am not an SAHM.
I have been a working mom for a year and a half now. And I don’t like it too much. Let me clarify. I enjoy work – if I were to look at work in a vaccum. What I don’t enjoy is leaving my children to hired help to take care of entirely. Which is what you’re forced to do by most Indian organisations that keep you in office until 9 pm and don’t want you to have your kids as the screensaver (kidding!). They milk you for everything you’re worth, chew you up and then spit out the remains.
But I was fortunate enough to get an awesome boss. As long as my work hits the table as planned, I am free to exercise my flexitime option. It means I sleep barely 4 hours a night, I am sick as a dying dog and maybe I’ll die at 40, but hell, who wants to be mom to adult kids anyway. This way I get the best of them and leave the OA to handle them marrying unacceptable people
Anyway, my point always has been, that its good for kids to have a parent around. In my case, as the member earning less, it made sense to quit. I also realise that if I were earning more and our family income had got suddenly halved and we had huge loans to pay off, my decision might have been different. That and the first maid who burnt the Brat’s belly.
So anyway, a few days ago, a friend was talking of a common friend. A brilliant girl. And saying that she felt bad that this brilliant common friend of ours was wasting herself being home raising kids. Now I don’t know where to go with this because she reads my blog (hey you!!) – but its still important enough an issue for me to want to address.
I know that I felt the same way until I had my kids. You know, what self-respecting, educated woman would sit home wiping noses and washing bums when there are agencies to take care of that thing and you have a world out there to save. Kids are this homogenous mass of cranky, snotty whiners until you have your own. Who is of course brilliant, adorable and well – so special! You no longer think of it as sitting at home wasting your life.You are leaving your special impact on this child who is special to you. Raising them exactly the way you want.
A few days ago a friend mailed me. She is also a working mom who has her MIL helping her raise the children. Now all due respect to the older lady, but she belongs to a different time and age and hell – most importantly, she is a different person. The kids kept getting conflicting instructions. My friend is now on her own for a while and the kids are much easier to handle because its only one person giving them instructions. Another top business journalist friend quit her job 6 months ago, when her child was 2.5. And now she wishes she’d done it earlier because the child’s behaviour and temperament have undergone a sea change.
I don’t think I am levelling any criticism here. Merely saying that anyone with half a brain can see that two people will raise a child in a radically different manner. The OA and I are very different in our approach too. And if we were to divorce each other and keep the kids for 6 months each, the kids would go nuts with the different attitudes (and with the shuttling, I imagine!) and instructions.
Anyway, my point is, even today, as a working mother, I don’t see how I am leaving any significant impact on the world. Which of course brings us to the next point. How do you define significant? Its different for each of us – right? To me, significant means you’ve either found a cure for cancer or the common cold. Or else are working with an NGO or are a teacher. This is my personal definition. I don’t think too many journalists are doing earth shaking work – myself included. And neither do I think selling more colas or chocolates (even if they are the biggest brands in the world) and watching the numbers sky rocket, is particularly great. You’re just giving our kids extra calories and cavities with no great benefit, so you’re not really my number one role model.
I am much more in awe of the influence a parent has on a child. You spend time with your kid and you’ve just taken one more kid off the streets, smoking something illegal. Again, no disrespect meant to those peddling soaps, cell phones or anything else. Just that I object to a parent taking time off to raise their child, being told they are wasting time or their intelligence.
Lets see what else you’d be doing with that intelligence.
- working your ass off for your company
- making more money for the big bosses above you
- making more money for yourself
- buying a bigger house
- putting your kids into more expensive classes
- higher EMIs on various goods
- struggling to work harder and worrying that you might lose your job and not be able to meet that EMI
- and the cycle goes on.
- or, as some people plan – retire at 40 and sit around doing damn all.
- why not just cut the cycle and the tension and take it easy and sit around doing something meaningful earlier in life?
This is not just others we’re talking of. This is also what the OA and I are doing. I took 5 years off work and now that I am back, we’re finally investing and buying all the things that we haven’t in all these years. A second car, more books, short holidays – but also, also, both of us working, working, working. If it weren’t for the flexible nature of my job, I don’t think I’d be doing this.
It goes on. Everyone I meet these days says, I wanna make big money and quit work at 40. Damnit – quit at 40 and do what?!! Spend your days bumming around? You waste the best years of your life, your youth and your health, stuck inside AC offices with stale air and cold white lighting, and then want to sit around at 40 doing nothing, while your kids are now in their teens and have no interest in you? Strange idea.
Funnily, I hear more men say this, than women. Its like a sudden change has come about when its no longer shameful to say you want to sit around doing nothing, not being socially useful or productive. Isn’t that the charge levelled against SAHMs? What do you want to quit your job and do, I ask all these men and women. ‘Oh, read, travel, garden, sunbathe… play with my cats and dogs, learn pottery.. blah blah” To say nothing of all those investment and mutual fund ads that show men sitting around watching the rain because they’ve retired young. Is retired a more politically correct way to put it? In that case I also retired at 25 and took up a post-retirement job at 30. There, doesn’t that sound nice?
What you’re saying essentially is that its okay to stay home and read a book and do nothing. That doing THAT is not wasting your intelligence and talent. But staying home to raise your kids, leaving your management degree aside for a while is a waste of your time and resources? Particularly if everytime I see you, I realise your kids are healthy and happy, you are health and happy, your husband is healthy and happy.. so then where is the problem?
I don’ t know if this is a feminism problem, but again, it seems to me that the very same choice, is treated differently depending on who is doing it. A man taking a sabbatical to discover himself, read and travel, is oh – deep, interesting, in touch with his innerself yaada yaada. A woman taking a break to raise her kids because she feels this is the right thing for her and for them, is unambitious and wasting herself according to her friends. While her acquaintances are shocked if she says more than Moo.
Sometimes when I give my going back to work some thought, I think of it as a very sneaky choice. One that appeases everyone. Today’s society (because it believes that women should work), my family (because they believe that they educated me so that I work), my kids (because I can tell them what a great example of the emancipated woman I am, you know, I was a working mom who struggled to bake them muffins, do their homework, cut their nails, nurse them through illness, all while holding down a job!), my husband (because I am an earning member who is paying her way) and so on. And the best part is I am no longer as defensive and insecure as I was when staying home. If I had a buck for every SAHM who shrugs self-consciously when asked ‘What do you do?’.. I’d be a millionaire.
I feel terrible that they’re made to feel like such wasters of time and resources. Never mind that some of them volunteer, bake, write, invest in the stockmarkets and fill up all the tiny gaps we don’t even realise exist. And never mind that its a choice that suits them and their family and is really none of our business.
When I get into bed and am alone with my thoughts, I am naked. I see my flaws, my failures, my pride, my mistakes, and I wonder how many of us can stop and say we’re doing something truly unselfish. In a simple way. Not portraying ourselves as matyrs. Not calling it sacrifice. Simply doing something because we feel its the best and not letting others opinions of us, colour the way we feel about ourselves.
There’s a simple pleasure to bathing your child, teaching him to shut the taps tight and not waste water, feeding him while telling him stories of the crow and the fox, teaching him to tie his shoelaces, and my personal favourite – welcoming them home from school (I dont get to do this one often enough). Home isn’t the house – its mommy and her mommy smell and her mommy smile. And who are we to tell those who have chosen to do this, who are privileged enough (and here I don’t equate money to privilege) to have these joys, who hear their child’s first word, watch her first step and nurse her first bruise, that they’re wasting their lives? They’re teaching their kids the greatest lesson in life, if you ask me. That nothing, nothing on earth, not money, not education, not career, can be as important as a person. And the best part is that this is a thankless, tedious job. One you do only for love of it. It is not a credit on your resume, it doesn’t send you to Goa for an offsite, you don’t get a salary and while there is a lot of personal growth, there is no moving up the career ladder here. Until you become a grandparent which from what I hear, is definitely a promotion!
Here I will clarify that I’m not talking about those who have no choice and are struggling to make ends meet. I am talking about us. The middle class and above. We who can choose to work or not. Where we can manage on one salary. Where we’re highly educated and intelligent enough for our friends to say we’re wasting our resources.
We’ve made a choice, they’ve made a choice. If we don’t want to be called heartless b******s who leave our kids to hired help, we have to stop patronising them and saying that they’re such intelligent women and we’re sorry they’re wasting their brains. Right there we’ve insulted their intelligence by implying that they’re stupid to know what to do best with their brains and their family. Right there. Yes, back up a bit and watch the insult roll off your tongue. Even if you didn’t mean it.
To say nothing of how conversation comes to a grinding halt when you say, ‘So what do you do?’ and they reply ‘I’m home with my kids right now’. Ahem. What does that say about your conversational capabilities if you feel like your topics of conversation are limited now that you can’t talk shop with them? Surely you realise they read and watch movies and catch the news just like you? Why not chat with them, just like you would with me, about what they think of Kasab’s death sentence. I assure you, they’ll have an opinion. You don’t have to discuss the best washing powder with them, you know. Here’s a mostly SAHM who I have grown to love and respect over the years. And another. And here’s another. And another. And another. And another. And another. And another. And another. And another. And another. And another. And another. I could go on, but I won’t. My respect guys.
And yes, my respect to the working moms like myself too. No disrespect intended to self and others like self Just a reminder. Lets not call it a waste of brains if you’re home with a baby. Not unless we’re willing to stop all the backpackers, readers, writers, travellers and tell them all they’re wasting their life too. And even then – NOT!
There’s probably a lot more to this and so I throw the floor open. What do you guys have to say?
PS: Here’s what Ranjani had to say. And Noon’s post is here.