Confessions of a working mom’s child

BY ARTI GUPTA

The age old debate between the working moms and stay-at-home moms, or WMs and SAHMs, as they are known in internet-speak continues to ignite web wars. Very little I write could add a new perspective to this much discussed topic.

So, as a working mom, I would love to share the one reason that keeps me going and convinces me that I may have made the right choice. It all begins with my own mother.

She was a working mom in an era when working moms weren’t the norm. And she didn’t have the work-life balance job of that generation, i.e. teaching. Unfortunately, she didn’t come from great circumstances and never quite got the education that would have allowed her to be a teacher. That, and between you and me, she would have made a terrible teacher, so several hundred kids were spared in the process. All good.

My mom chose to work to supplement my dad’s meagre railway services income – as a family of limited means, it ensured that my siblings and I got the best education they could afford that we went to good colleges and got the degrees that allowed us our breaks in life. It was a game changer.

Armed with her matriculation education, a tailoring class she attended as a teenager, and some filmy inspiration from Nirupa Roy, she started a tailoring business. It started small from the house but grew quickly. She had to set up a shop and even outsource some of the jobs to meet the demand. It certainly achieved the purpose of adding to the family income. It also meant long hours for her, an impossible routine that required her to work 12 hours a day, another 3-4 hours of housework and somehow by some crazy magic, she also managed to be the chairperson of our cooperative housing society. Some of her customers who came from low socioeconomic backgrounds found in her a social worker who would help them get ration cards, piped water connections and housing loans. And throughout, she always worked those 12-13 hours a day to earn an honest living.

It also meant that we grew up on pao or biscuits for breakfast, meals cooked once a day, several skipped PTA meetings, homework done sitting in her shop, and a list of errands on our plates. There were no bedtime stories, little homework assistance (although there was ample help from her shop on craft projects), there were no hot chapatis straight from the kitchen, there was no time for mother-daughter chats that many of my friends seem to cherish as childhood memories.

There was a lot of grit and hard work, and there certainly were dark times. Did I compare my mom to others’ moms and feel bad? I sure must have. You see how I say “I must have” – because I just don’t remember those parts too clearly. When I try to look back at my relationship with my mother, some memories shine bright. The Diwali mornings when we made rangolis – something I love doing to this day, when she cooked that fancy meal on Sunday and had us licking our fingers. I learned to stay up at night to study and get stuff done, because that is exactly how she did it, and I continue to do that now. I remember how she focused on satisfying her customers and building loyalty – I later also learned that at business school and in more structured business environs but she was my first teacher. I learned enough about fabric, design and construction that I don’t need that fashion degree from NIFT. Another shining memory is from the day I graduated from business school – I stole a look at my proud parents in the crowd. My mum and I shared an unspoken moment of understanding and acknowledgement of what it had taken to get there.

I didn’t appreciate it for years and I can’t get over it now – what an amazing role model I have had. By not helping with homework, she helped us figure out how to do it on our own. By her not being around as much, we became independent. Seeing her depend on her own mother, her husband and friends to help out, I learned what “leaning in” meant much before Sheryl Sandberg came along. She was fortunate to have an amazingly supportive and understanding husband in my dad, but she matched him stride for stride by being a true equal. And in that she taught me to expect and deliver equality. My brothers share the load in their own households and my sisters-in-law are working moms themselves. It has never occurred to any of us that there is another way of living.

Had she had a masters degree in chemistry, but chosen to be a SAHM for us, I would never have seen the kind of effort, commitment and enterprise she was capable of. I would perhaps have not found the inspiration to find it in me.

So when I choose to work, I not only think about what it allows me to achieve in my life and career. I also think about the kind of role models my son is growing up around. He will learn to value quality time and appreciate that the time his parents spent away from him was invested in doing some really quality work. He will expect women to be independent, have a say and be treated equal – he will never question this.

I don’t know about others, but this doesn’t seem to be a bad thing to me.

About the author:

Arti Gupta is a full time professional and full time mom. Before having her son five years ago, she did not believe she had a single “maternal bone” to speak of. She has since found motherhood in ways unthinkable.  She is the founding team member at Hopscotch.in where she brought her brand of mommy sense to help shape an exciting ecommerce business that redefined the ways moms shop in India.

 

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25 thoughts on “Confessions of a working mom’s child

  1. You have added such a great perspective to the working moms point of view… My mum is an artist.. She works from home.. But consistently for the last 15 years I have seen her working so hard at her art… She changes her style every few years… Tries new avenues to sell it.. Makes new products with her art on it… And each year she does better and better.. And to me that’s the most inspiring thing to see…. And that makes me want to take my work and better it…

    I think in the previous generation women were made of sterner stuff…. !

    • Alishka, that’s such an amazing story. You’re so right – looking at the past generations provides so much inspiration. I haven’t even told my grand mum’s story and she was a rockstar herself!

  2. I could totally relate to what you wrote. My mother too was a working lady. Even after her three kids, she seldom thought of quitting. My father had a busy, demanding corporate job. As a child I did sometime crib about she not being there. But now looking back, the values and learnings she imparted are tremendous. By the way, I don’t understand the “war” of sorts between the SAHM and WM. Aren’t we all mothers? And isn’t that enough to prove our capabilities (if we really are fighting for who is better at it ) 🙂

    • Neither do I, Nancy. I don’t see any reason for the SAHM and WM war, which is why I prefaced this with the disclaimer that there’s no will to contribute to that debate.

      However, Lalita had asked me if I could write about moms in the workplace and I had agreed. As a working mom, who has also hired and mentored many other working moms, I felt qualified to do so.

      However, as I started writing, I felt I needed to tell my own story first – why being a working mom is part of my mental make-up. I didn’t feel I could do justice to others before telling them about this. Hopefully soon, I’ll get Lalita’s help to publish that as well.

    • I agree, why is this constant war between SAHM and working mom, we are all moms and every person should deserve appreciation and respect.

  3. I agree completely to what you have written. My mother is a doctor who has led a fairly busy life. While as a child I would crib why she worked, today i understand that had it not been for her and my wonderful dad who has been the best partner that a woman can dream of, I would not have been at a place where I am. I owe my independence, my strength, my values to her. My parents have had the bravery to face all odds and had a vision which was much beyond times. I have inherited from them the capacity to fight all odds and to chase impossible dreams. My working mom is my role model.

    • Awesome, Tulika Anand. I’m loving hearing all these stories about others’ working moms. Lalita and I’ve both shared conversations about our common threads and our working moms and the equality of our parents’ relationships is perhaps closest to the heart. That and the cats. And the farming. And the brats. But really, it does always begin with the mom.

  4. Arti.. you have spoken my mind! I could add more .. but to summarize my battle of “to be with my son and or to be at work” .. ultimatley was settled after much introspection by “i am not working for myself or for money but primarily to do justice to the opportunities i have received and to server as a role model in a family where working moms are anomalies ( remote village in Rajasthan)”.

  5. Arti, reading your article made me think of my own mom, who too was a working mother way before it was the norm. People around me – my school mates, people in my housing society used to imply that it was unnatural and that somehow she was neglecting me. But I agree with you 100% that having a working mother and a father supportive of that gave me tremendous role models in life even subconsciously shaping what I looked for in a husband when the time came! I now have a 4 month old baby and I’ve been struggling with the concept of going back to work in a couple of months. I had started to think I was being selfish by doing that. But thanks to you, I realise that I need to do this as much for my son as for me. I need him to grow up seeing how and independent woman functions and not just know that his mother used to be a butt-busting professional. Thank you so much for this!!

    • Good luck with the decision, Pooja. I do hope you aren’t feeling pressured to go back though. I feel there’s no right age for doing this – my son was 3 months old when I went back to work and Lalita’s was 3 years old when she did. It’s about listening to yourself and making the right choice.
      I recently met someone who mentioned that she continued to be a working mom through her life, though she took chunky breaks when she needed to, especially at pivotal points in her child’s life. I can see the sense in doing that. Instead of worrying about continuity and longevity of career, it’s rather important to make it count.

  6. Dear arti as much as I value your article and think it’s great for a mum to work , sometimes people like me who are SAHMs stay at home cos as much as they have tried they can’t seem to get into the workforce – it’s the sad reality for many who want to go back but can’t. Also I do a lot of undervalued work at home and I think if a woman’s work at home is valued as much as outside in terms of pay there will never be what I feel . That’s the other side. It’s a good article and I cheer for every working mum.

    • Hi Anasuya, I am a big believer in following your instinct. The mommy instinct is especially sharp. So I would do what feels right to my heart. Once you know where your goal lies, you can mobilize the world around you to make it happen.
      Your comment seems to suggest that you would want to be a working mom but have been forced to be a SAHM. Is that accurate? If so, you do not need to be at the mercy of workforce dynamics. Have you thought of starting your own business? Freelancing? Volunteering? Adding more qualification to your resume – that could help sometimes. Do pardon me if i misinterpreted your point. If I did and if you are finding the role of being SAHM satisfying, then that’s a fabulous choice. Nothing comes close to being able to spend loads of time with your kids. If you do want to get back to work, I have to say that the opportunities are endless. Sometimes thinking outside the box can help.

  7. Hi Aarti. Personally I feel why question whether a person is a working mom or a stay at home and why justify it all as long as the decision is made freely and willingly by the woman. No matter working or stay at home you have enough opportunities to show you are independent and be a role model to your children. You can be a working mom who still has no independence or a stay at home who manages everything including finances. All our roles are no longer within the traditional parameters of what working and stay at home entailed. Therefore, having been both stay at home mom and now working mom I don’t see the difference. The best that we as women can do is stop putting either of these roles on the pedestal and saying which is better. Instead if we can be supportive and help a fellow woman be comfortable with their choice I think we are serving our cause best.

    • Sorry Jothi, if you felt that way. This post is not about questioning choices. It’s about being empowered to making the choice that’s right for you.

      It’s my attempt to share a story as a working mom who had a working mom. No more, no less.

  8. Very well written Arti, I can relate to every line of this as a WM and my mom also was a WM. Also loved the way Jothi summarized it in a line “The best that we as women can do is stop putting either of these roles on the pedestal and saying which is better. Instead if we can be supportive and help a fellow woman be comfortable with their choice I think we are serving our cause best.”
    This way neither the WM nor the SAHM has any regret as long as it is a clear conscious decision that they take in their free will.

  9. I felt that you wrote my story all through. Whenever my 2 yr old ‘s tears stops me from going to office I always tell myself ” if I’m scared of hardships, how will I teach it to my child”.what example am I setting. My mom is my role model for all the hard work she managed to bring me up here to this level and is still sitting thousands of miles away from her beloved home to ensure that I’m free from worries that my child is staying with strangers. she does this to keep me focused towards all my deliverables both in office and home and she ensures that I enjoy every single minute of my motherhood both while being with my kid and staying away at work. She tought cooking, cleaning, sharing household works, helping with odd purchases to all 3 of us at very early age and people used to find it odd. Today when people praises me and especially my brothers for running our own households independently and efficiently I feel proud to be born to my mom who made us so. Hope lot of other women who deal with the dilemma of pursuing career or be SAHM read this and take decision independently rather than following majority.

    P.S. hopscotch indeed is an awesome portal and does feel for mom. And especially when each article arrives neatly wrapped in ur green papers it touches heart. Keep up the good word.

  10. I disagree with author’s opinion since I am a stay home mom, my mother was also stay home mom. Both of us sacrificed our education and other talents for the sake of spending quality time with our kids.. that is more important, we can always get back to work when they are old enough..completely independent..unless there is critical financial need,,I think staying at home is a best option…it should be have lot of guts on the part of an educated women to do that ….I have 2 masters to my credits.. which is definitely helping my kids….so what I am not utilizing it make money…

  11. Very Very relevant article at this stage of life. May God give more strength to the working woman to balance their family life.Hats off to the present day working women.

  12. Amazing perspective to a WM…My mother has always been a SAHM and still she has inspired me to be a working Mom ! We both love our places as mothers and neither of us has ever judged each other or questioned the love for our family. Despite of being well educated she did not get an opportunity to work after marriage but still I see a working Mom in her when she has tries to manage all her tasks with professionalism. She has an organized way of dealing with things, she knows how to give us independence and still warn us of the consequence when we go overboard, she knows how to deal with house helpers on a daily basis, she knows how important a good meal is for her family at the same time she knows how to squeeze in time for her pooja and things that give her joy. So will you not consider her a working Mom ? A Mom working or stay at home is still a Mom only because she loves her children and knows how to build a happy place around her whatever be the case! We both have built a happy family being SAHM and WM respectively !

  13. The choice of a women to work ( for monetary reasons) or not arises when the kid comes in the picture , or sometimes before that – but that is another topic, another discussion .

    Women at work \SAHM are trying to justify their choice. Women are always confessing\trying to find validation , et al. STOP.

    My point – Arent we overlooking the men, whom we think should work and not have the choice to stay at home? I know couple of families where the women are forced to bring home bread and butter, working long hours when their men are not able to do so. Women have gone to work after 8 weeks of giving birth because their husbands were finding it difficult to get a job. This is a paradigm where many women when they want to be with their children CANNOT do.

    What matters is we make a power dynamic issue of looking down on women who do not get monetarily paid. We all do subconsciously , and mostly the better of Qualified men and women do it..

    My physician (a woman) once told me – The social dynamics of employing women ( because they are lesser paid than men ) and not employing men will create future disaster. We all know that sometimes companies want to employ women because they can be paid leser for the same job that a man does.

    My Point – Who goes to work, why should they go, women being underpaid at work is a complicated power struggle where we try to have debates, discussions and diaglogues and at the end there is no answer !. As entrepereneurs ,we end up paying a man more than a woman for the same job – it is a cultural bias that is stuck all over the world .

    It is hard to deny that we work for monetary reasons ( it is not only about identity ) and anybody denying that fact is lying to their teeth.

    I generally resist writing this , but this new brand of ivy league educated women are trying to make a HALO of working women.

    Women have been working in the field for years . They have been running a home stead since the civilzation of man ! In which category will you club them – SAHM or WM ?

    The struggle to many of our answer is EQUALITY of wages – so that a single mom\dad can raise their child without having to cringe everytime they shell a penny for an extra loaf of bread.

    Thank You.

  14. Very well written article Arti, given me confidence to go back to work 🙂 🙂
    Just reminded me about all the qualities that I have is only because of my independent working mom … Actually u forget everything once u become mother … Now not feeling bad to work again and earn old life without any harm to ur child 🙂 🙂 Too good … Keep it up !!!

  15. Loved reading your article Arti! Working moms can indeed provide a great model for sons and daughters to have gender equality. As a psychologist, I also find that working moms tend to be less enmeshed with their kids, because “motherhood” is not their only identity. I think it can be very valuable for children to see their moms have a larger purpose/ contribution to the world, than just limiting their existence to meeting the needs of their own immediate family. I owe a lot of what I am today also to my mom who happened to be one of the rare “working women” in our extended family. I feel blessed to be able to passionately pursue the work I love so much, as well as give a secure and loving environment to my child. They don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

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