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.