A few days ago, I met a young mother in another division at my workplace. She was back at work after four months of maternity leave. She’s in her late 20s, and this is her first child. Unlike our other colleagues who invariably leave the job when they have a baby (due to lack of help at home), this girl is determined to hold on to both career and motherhood.
But the effort is tearing her apart. Her heart aches to be home, to watch her son grow and be there for his first milestones. But a strong drive to have a job and her own place in the world pushes her to come to work every day. Her husband brings the baby to the office every few hours – ‘I am so lucky to live close to my office!’ she exclaims with evident relief – and she goes out and feeds him in the car. She has also begun baby food though it isn’t recommended by doctors, only so that the baby can be full for longer periods during the day when she is out.
It’s a difficult choice. On one hand is the biological need to be there with your baby. On the other is the personal drive — perhaps also biological — for survival and achievement. Survival, because city dwellers often need a second income to pay the rent and afford their children’s education. Achievement, because for a woman in India, a job is often the only place she can express herself fully, away from social constraints.
And that’s why I say women who do make the choice are amazing. These are the reasons:
- Like the lioness leaves her cubs for short periods so that she can feed them, the working mother forces herself away from her children so that she can go earn a livelihood. It takes the heart of a lioness to do that.
- She’s a professional. Having left her kids at home, the working mother will not waste time chatting away around the coffee machine. She wants to get her work done and get home. I can say this from experience: people who have an active, demanding, purposeful life outside the office are usually the hardest workers inside the office. And the working mother is the busiest bee of them all.
- She’s also a multi-tasker. Trust her to manage several projects at the same time; it’s a skill she has developed over the years at home keeping fighting kids apart while making dinner and also paying the bills online. One of India’s most famous fashion stylists, Anaita Adajania Shroff (in picture, right), is mother to two young boys but she’s never missed a shoot — she even brings them over during major projects when she has be away from home for longer periods, but she manages everything seamlessly.
- The working mom is an expert at crisis management. Once you’re a mother, you’ve just about seen everything — even life and death situations if you’ve had a difficult pregnancy or a hyperactive baby who insists on putting his finger into electrical sockets or rolling off the bed the minute you look away. In the face of those heart-stopping moments, any crisis at work is a minor blip on the radar. Trust her never to lose her cool about office disasters — missed school bus, yes; workplace drama, no.
- She knows her priorities. She won’t play power games or politics — either at the workplace or at home — because she doesn’t have the time for it. She has figured out what side of the bread is buttered and she sticks to it. That’s why a working mom in India will maintain a good relationship with both their boss and their mother-in-law.
- She’s a problem-solver. After years of locating missing toys and socks, fixing loose screws on cookers and buttons on shirts, she’s the one you call when you need a solution to a tricky situation. When you give her a job, you can trust that it will be done — sooner rather than later, because she needs to be home to tuck the kid into bed.
- She can be emotional sometimes — and mothers of young kids and babies are known to burst into tears due to all the pent-up exhaustion and frustration of having their hearts in two places at all times — but she’s also a rock and a haven for others who may be going through their own emotional roller coasters. An office that DOESN’T have a maternal shoulder to cry on from time to time is a desolate place.
Of course, there are all kinds of people in the world and no two working moms are alike. I am also not undermining the years of effort that our stay-at-home moms put in so that we could grow up to be educated, working mothers ourselves.
But, on the whole, I think it takes courage, will and strength to be a working mother these days, what with nuclear families, 10-hour work days, and long travel times. Working fathers are useful — they help you change the diaper and they bring the baby to your office so that you can feed him.
But working mothers? They are AMAZING.