When are you going back to work: Living the motherhood/career paradox

So when are you getting back to work, asked she who must know it all. It has been exactly a year and four months since I quit.

I am not sure, perhaps when Re is settled in school?

But the longer you wait, the more out-of-practice you will get.

Out-of-practice? Did she even know what I do? But I try to explain.

I am a writer. I write all the time. I will never get out of practice.

But education is so expensive. And then there is peer pressure. Children are also so demanding these days.

We keep our needs minimal. I don’t do designer labels, designer birthdays, designer holidays, or designer schools. I want to keep it simple.

Still, it must be tough to manage on one salary.

She has entered forbidden territory by now. I am seething, but I keep my calm. I guess motherhood makes you manage your anger better.

I’d rather do 100% motherhood now than deal with issues later.

You can plan all you like, but what will happen, will happen.

She is someone who hasn’t worked a day in her life. Perhaps she thought I spent my days getting my nails done, spending the OPU’s money, taking beauty naps, or getting my jewellery reset. What would she know about the motherhood/career paradox, I wondered.

The problem with motherhood is that either way, you are screwed (I know I shouldn’t be using such words, this is a mommy blog, but nothing describes it better). If you choose career over baby, bottle over breast, money over bonding, you are accused of being materialistic and cold-hearted. If you choose the opposite, you are accused of having turned into a lady who lunches, someone who would be emotionally manipulated by her child, someone who took the easy way out, someone who wasn’t career-minded in the first place. And then, people think you are at their beck and call. Friends expect you to pick up movie tickets. Randoms ask you what you do all day. Relatives wonder why you can’t show up at perfunctory dinners thrown for someone in the family tree you don’t really give a shit about (okay, will watch it!). Considering you don’t work, I thought you would show up, was a line thrown at me recently by a certain someone who is trying to pack it all and is an eager contestant for supermom.

I grew up with super moms before the phrase became fashionable. My mother was one too. My extended family is full of them, although they haven’t made it to magazine covers or features. Every single aunt of mine worked till her retirement, managed work and family on auto-pilot and most of them still draw pensions. The ones that didn’t have jobs turned entrepreneurs who ran creches, beauty parlours, catering businesses, jewellery design or investment companies. Each one of them lauded me on my decision to quit my job to do motherhood. No one has yet asked me when I plan to go back to work. Least of all, my mother, who worked 36 years as a school teacher before she eventually retired. She loved her job, but she still tells me she wished she could have quit to be home with us when we were little. She had no choice. Times were hard then.

I guess times are still hard. I have given up on my dream to own a house in a real-estate gangrene-ridden city. It’s not a priority any more. Yes, I do miss my fat paycheque and I do feel odd spending someone else’s money.  But I figured, after working non-stop for 17 years, I could certainly win a job back. On motherhood, I am still raw, and this is my only chance, so I want to get it right. I didn’t want to be torn all the time, I didn’t want to negotiate my work-life balance on a daily basis. I wouldn’t have a daughter I could lament to years from now about a decision I could have made.  Re would be too grown up and too male by then.

But she stirred a lot of emotions. When I thought about it, I didn’t have an answer to when I would be ready to go back to work (makes you wonder if you are on holiday now). Yes, Re will start school in six months. But that would still be three hours.  Would I leave him with a maid for the other six, wondering if she ever fed him the date rolls my mother made or has she eaten it herself? Would I find a day-care with soul close to home/my place of work? Would I find a job close to home/playschool that would allow me to hop across when required? Would I find an organisation that understood and practised (without being exploitative) the concept of flexitime? Would I find an organisation that offered day-care and not look at me like I was asking for the moon? I don’t know.

It may seem unfair, but fathers never have to deal with these kinds of negotiations. Fatherhood is still a column men don’t have to fill in their resumes. It can be invisible until they decide to put up baby pictures on their soft-boards. Motherhood on the other hand is a life-long contract you enter into from the time you get pregnant. You can make it discreet, but never discreet enough.

I am not glorifying stay-at-home moms, before you swish your daggers at me. All I am saying is, this is how I wanted to do it, and after 17 years of working non-stop, I think I deserved to. Kids grow up and turn out okay anyway, is another line thrown by randoms. Yes, I know they do. May be I am nuts.  But I figured I may as well invest the time now than deal with allergies, therapists and eating disorders for years to come. It is not the only way, but it is my way. And I don’t think it is anybody’s business, except me and the OPU. Even if the OPU is totally supportive of my decision, and in awe of the way Re is shaping up, my ‘not working’ is still viewed with a certain dismissiveness and skepticism by people who don’t even matter. I am always asked when I plan to return to work, never if.

If you come and see what I do, you wouldn’t want to trade places with me. Being ensconced in air-conditioning, bcc and cc mails, video conferences, meetings and endless cups of tea seems far more comfortable than being a stay-at-home mom, keeping pace with a toddler’s complexities.

As to what I do all day, there are two ways I can answer that. Give you a detailed account of all I do, starting with waking up to my face being rearranged at 6 am to controlling water-play to trying to decode the boy’s vocabulary which has much more sound than it has words or dealing with growth spurts and behaviour transitions and making sense of them to making sure he interacts with his environment in a way that is humane and productive to managing menus and domestics, groceries and SIPs, play-dates and outdoor activity along the way to playing the wife/daughter/daughter-in-law/friend/social mom  as the situation demands to writing two blogs and a book to finding me time (if anything is left from the above).

Better still, I will let you trade places with me for a day.

I am sure she wouldn’t last an hour.

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15 thoughts on “When are you going back to work: Living the motherhood/career paradox

  1. Lovely! I have been a lurker here for a while. I am a working mom and I completely understand your point of view. For my husband and I, this set up works, I have a lovely daycare that caters to my sons needs, we spend all our evening and weekends with our son, not the computer, not the TV..just us, playing as a family. Yet I get the, you should have stayed at home talks…and it bothers me. I probably spend more quality time with him than some others who stay home full time I know.
    Parenting is a hard yet very rewarding task, and to each his own! Refreshing to see it from your point of view!

  2. What men(by men i mean husbands) and randoms of course also dont understand is that parenting is not only about being a woman who should leave the job for the sake of her kids or be a supermom balancing work and home. Parenting is a commitment and responsibility that both should contribute to. Being a full time lecturer myself teaching Women Studies since the last eight years, I have come to realise that all talk about Womenhood And being Radical is not polictically correct in a world that is not meant for women!. Neither you can ensure any daycare that can replace your relationship with the child nor any organization, even one that claims to be rights based will ever be able to resolve or help resolve the paradox of a woman simply wanting to be with her child and a woman trying to balance both work and kids(which in reality is never possible. U have to compromise on either one of it). I really appreciate your commitment towards your priority.

    Sonia

  3. Motherhood is exhaustive.. As with everything, people would have something to say no matter what you do.. Being with Re and experiencing his growth is a beautiful experience which you are very lucky not to miss.. 🙂 cheers to Mommies !!!

  4. I’m a stay home mom tooo, I get asked when you going back to work, tried to work from home, replaced a friend at work for a week…but I realized that I could not give my best to both so I chose my baby.

  5. It’s been 13 years and I’m still dodging the “when r u planning to get back to work” question. First I had Aditi and then 6 years later, I had Arnab. I had loads of people telling me that I was wasting my talent being just a full time mom. Just? JUST?? Like u said these people wouldn’t last a single day in my shoes. It’s been the toughest job, but so well with it. I don’t think any position, perk of pay cheque can substitute for happy, confident, secure, well turned out kids.

  6. Touche!
    It will never stop – so just follow ur heart or
    mind whichever works for u.
    I have gone thru diff phases post kids – stay at home – work from home – full time work – part time mom – part time work – part time mom!
    Kids will always need us. Period. Each of us try to achieve a semblance of balance – some of us are luckier than most!

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  8. Kids turn out all right anyway!!! Absolutely… The point is not about the kid but about me… Would I regret having worked through my baby’s babyhood … would I regret having stayed at home when I could have changed the world? To me, these are the key questions. My answer to the first was yes and to the second was no!!! So I decided to be a SAHM. Have joined a course and read a lot (Well!!! You can define ‘lot’) (now have started reading lots of kiddie stuff) and enjoy my time with my baby. Thank you God that I can afford it – both financially and mentally with a spouse who is totally bought in on the idea.

  9. Pingback: Won’t stay-at-home mom: How I came full circle | mommygolightly

  10. Pingback: Won’t stay-at-home mom: How I came full circle | ParentEdge

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