Parenting sharenting: Love, hate and social media

Funny things happen when you write parenting columns and blogs, especially when you manage to wing them for five years and counting. In these years, I have put a lot of my life and Re’s out there; I have been at the receiving end of a lot of love, warmth, affection, cheer and many meaningful friendships. I have also been hated, blocked, sly-tweeted, unfollowed, spite-mailed, ridiculed, even trolled by Chetan Bhagat fans post a blogpost that condemned his view of homemakers. But since the former outweighs the latter, I have let it slide.

In the recent movie Masaan, there is a scene in which a corrupt policeman, soon after threatening a poor shop-owner on his failing to pay a ransom, turns all warm and mushy when his little daughter appears. I figured all the people who showered me with hate must be going through the motions of love in the same manner. There was one woman, who in my early blogging days took the time and the effort to draft me a long email about my stay-at-home-motherhood decision then — about how I was self-indulgent, judgemental and living in la-la land. I don’t believe she even read my post entirely, so quick was she to attack me. I could have counter attacked her, and we could have gone back and forth spewing a lot of poison, but I did what I thought was best for my sanity. I deleted her email.

Another lady wrote to me post my column about how memories are our real estate and not the houses we live in or buy. She accused me of being an irresponsible parent who has brought a child into this world with no fixed address and urged others not to listen to me, and first buy a house before considering having children. Again, I ignored her, because clearly, we had different vocabularies. One thing you learn from having children is to pick your battles. At least I have.

A third pointed out to a study which mentions that “On one hand, social media offers today’s parents an outlet they find incredibly useful. On the other hand, some are concerned that oversharing may pose safety and privacy risks for their children.” To which my response was: I don’t really live my life measuring up to ‘studies’, and I do what feels right. I first started blogging about motherhood when I was lonely as a new mother, and when I got lonelier, I wrote a book about it. The book came out when my son was four, by which time my sharings on my blog and column had grown organically.

But I can say this with a lot of conviction that by putting myself and my child out there, we have only grown together. And in a good way. We have been recipients of a lot of kindness and love and affection, and that can’t be a bad thing, can it?

There are many occasions in parenting where you just don’t know what to do; I often falter many times and hit a blank wall, and now I know I have this huge community of people to reach out to, some of who are not even parents. There is much wisdom in a collective consciousness.

Someone else warned me that the online world leaves a digital trail that never disappears. In that sense, the information that you put out about your children will always be there. How do you cope with it, she asked me?

I don’t cope; I don’t look at it as an ominous trail. I’m just grateful that I was able to document interesting bits about my life. When you write things down, they become clearer. You know why you do what you do. I am sure our ancestors had the same issues with the telephone that we have with social media. It’s just about accepting what’s part of our times and making the most of it. If you think of it as the enemy, it will always be the enemy. In any case, privacy in social media has always baffled me as a concept.

Of course there must be a catch, mustn’t there, people wonder. Well, I haven’t seen too many negatives, except being recognised now and then, and often people acting familiar with Re in the manner of “I know the things you say!”. But that is easily circumvented by establishing boundaries quickly. It’s not that I am a private person and my son is in the public eye. Very often, we are a unit. I also see that our circle of love had increased manifold in the last few years and so there are more positives than negatives.

But more than anything else, I follow the rule of my grandmother: If you have something nice to say to someone, say it immediately. If you have something nasty, wait a day. And if there’s something you would never tell a person to her/his face, don’t write it.

It has mostly worked.

 (A version of this post appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 27th July, 2015)

 

 

Advertisements

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.

 

Won’t stay-at-home mom: How I came full circle

I found a really shallow reason to go back to the workplace in my fourth year of stay-at-home mommyhood.  I wanted to dress up and go to work. I wanted to change footwear, earrings, wear hair-product, lipstick, nail-polish, perfume, cotton sarees and silver jewellery.

Fact is, I was tired of mommy dates. And pushing swings. And being told that I cannot take a nap when I thought I had earned it.  I was tired of the husband always whining that he had the most stressful job in the whole world.

On most days, I can see the humour in motherhood. I also think children are deep and there’s a lot to learn just by listening to them. I found myself laughing and crying in equal measure as I spent hour after hour with my son, just the two of us, and the ‘casulls’ we constructed, the mess we reveled in. I made plenty of “I quit my awesome job because I really wanted to be a stay-at-home-mother” mommy friends. I believed them. I began to say the same thing.  I believed it. It felt good. There is the power of the collective. Blogger mommies. Twitter mommies. Working-from-home mommies. School gate mommies. Facebook mommies. Desperately-social-networking mommies. It was important.

But here’s a simple truth: no one leaves a job that is perfect, that truly makes them happy. The same holds for SAHMhood

Just like no one gives up on a relationship when the sex is really good.

Here’s another confession: When I first quit my good-on-paper job to pursue motherhood four years ago, I had reached the point where I was sapped by the job, by its sameness, by its autopilotness, its rinse-repeatness. Motherhood at that time was like a sizzling affair; it was a start-up; I felt like an entrepreneur, I liked the fact that I could do it by trial and error, that there were no style-guides or briefs, that my baby was a brand I could totally make my own, that it didn’t come with excess baggage, that I had no boss! Plus Re was curly-haired, dimple-chinned and drop-dead-gorgeous.

When I was asked “When are you going back to work?”, it made me mad. I wrote angsty blogposts. I got hate-mail and love-mail in equal measure. I smiled and waved.

I had what many women dream of having. Unlimited credit. The husband said it was my reward for doing what I was doing. He was lavish with praise, gratitude, money; he fixed me the best drinks after particularly dreary mommy days, he massaged my calves, he always fed the cats, threw the garbage and made me tea. I flung and he picked up after me.  Sometimes there was a voucher for a dress, sometimes I had a cash-bonus thrown in, sometimes a ticket to Goa; he did his best to keep me incentivised. I had three years in which I could sit around, paint my nails, outsource babyness, buy clothes, go to spas and do pretty much anything for self indulgence, as long as HE was off baby duty.

I wasted it; I outsourced nothing. I took my job seriously.  I treated SAHM-hood like I would a new job. I was always trying to think out of the box, do things differently, wake up every morning and plan meals and things for the day, find ways of making every minute I spent with the boy fun and inspiring. I planned outings, library visits, beach dates, cookie dates, activities, park dates, pot-lucks with much gusto. When things got really intense between Re and me, I started the saga of play-dates and mommy dates. It was the beginning of the end. I met mommy after mommy, each time hoping that she would be THE ONE.

And one day, I got bored. Really bored. And tired. Really tired. I had decided though that the day I felt it was a drudgery, I would stop and try to get back to the work space. I didn’t want Re to be at the receiving end of this energy.

The problem with women like me who are awesome with domesticity is that you can begin to think it’s a career. I am great with food, baking, décor, lighting, furniture, clothes, PTA meetings, play-dates, money, you name it. I know places, I drive, I can create adventure out of nothing and I have lost count of the number of brunches I have hosted. Three  years later, I hated being a SAHM for the same reasons that I loved it in the first place. That it sucked me out. That it consumed me. That I was so emotionally invested in it that I thought it was me.

I am shallow enough to think motherhood is about logistics, after a point. I was done with plan Bs and Cs. Sometimes I wished I had half a dozen kids, so I could have said “fuck-you” to no-shows.The straw that broke the camel’s back was being dumped by a mommy on a play-date I had planned for our boys. A mommy I didn’t really give a rat’s ass about.

Meanwhile every Sandberg , Slaughter, Mayer and Bhagat were holding forth on women in the workplace, constantly making a case for or against SAHMs. It was like there was a conspiracy to shake women out of their complacency and get them back into the race. Mommies on twitter were constantly up in arms or really gushy about their words, depending on which side of the fence they sat on. Twitter was full of mommy angst, very cleverly camouflaged to fit a 140 character breeziness. Mommies instagrammed photos, they wrote micropoetry, they posted link after link (I still don’t how whether they actually read all that content). The ones who spoke about the motions and the mundane were termed whine-bags and dismissed. If you had to be cool on twitter, you had to rise above mommyness.  You had to be with-it.

But it still didn’t bother me. I was as happy as can be, I reasoned. I had a book deal, a blog, a column, I wrote for various newspapers and magazines, and I ran a well-oiled home. What more could I possibly do? On the face of it, I had it all. But it wasn’t enough. It was all too deep. I needed the shallow, the frivolous to feel real. And no, working in PJs is not as much fun as it’s made out to be.

I realised one thing: It’s okay to call your job a drag, but it was not okay to call motherhood a drag. And then I read something which truly explained the intensity of what I was feeling, and it’s the best thing I have read about the work-life balance. In the language of economics, the marginal utility of time with your kids—the happiness you get from the last hour you spend with them—declines as you spend more hours.

It motivated me enough to send out my resume, line up meetings, and announce that I was ‘ready’. In less than a month, I had a job.

I am liking it. I like swiping my card and hanging out with my team in the canteen. I like the quality time over the quantity time with my son. I like that I have outsourced the dreary bits. And I am no longer afraid to call them dreary. I like me more. I know there should be deeper reasons for going back to the workplace, but for now, this will do.

There have been good days and bad days. I have been late for pickups, I have snapped at the husband on the phone, I have run out of meetings like Cinderella, I have got on the wrong train and got so immersed in my book that I didn’t notice, I have started dreaming about work.

But it’s not bothering me. For now, I want to wake up every morning and GO TO WORK. For now I can pretend to be Rapunzel who has been rescued by the Prince from the tower.

P.S: Here’s a tip: If you do decide to be a SAHM, pretend you know nothing about food. Or pest-control. Or rent-agreements.  Or what does a driver cost. You’ll do just fine. And don’t go anywhere near the oven.

Mother, she wrote

Exactly a year ago, I quit my job to be a stay-at-home mother.

It was the only way I wanted to do motherhood. It was the only way I could, or knew how to. My desire to be a mother overrode my desire to be a superwoman who balanced motherhood, career, social life and her pedicures. I wanted to keep it simple. I wanted to grow with my baby, and not just watch him grow.

Yes, there were sacrifices. Like letting go of that dream of buying a house in real-estate mafia land. I didn’t think owning a few square metres in the boondocks would really make us better parents. Neither did I want to lose precious years of motherhood to EMIs.  P told me one does it so that one leaves something behind for one’s child twenty years from now. I chose to give my child what I have, here and now.  Which is me and all of me.  N told me I should quit when the child is two, because that’s when it gets to be fun. I guess I chose the hard path. I thought two would be too late, and I think I chose well.

Perhaps it was easier for me to make that decision having reached a ‘been there, done that’ stage in my career where there were no real milestones left for me to achieve. And of course it helped having an immensely caring and generous OPU who didn’t bat an eyelid when I told him this is how I’d like to do it, and even offered to pay me a mom salary.

After the first few months of quitting, I felt stripped, naked, tagless. The job was about power. Power that I chose not to use. It was about recognition, and social reference points, conversation starters and bylines, about an official id for emails when you want to sound more important than you are. It was about receiving invites to shows, parties, launches, book readings, previews and festivals. It was about people calling you and you saying you’ll call them back. It was about emails you never read, forget having the time to answer.  It was about keeping tabs on who is Cc’g whom on what and making sure ‘everyone is in the loop.’ It was about meetings and video conferences where you drank copious amounts of tea to stay awake and where everyone talked but no one listened.  Evidently, there was lots more to the job than ‘work.’

Since then, not a week has gone by when I haven’t been asked when I am getting back to work. Or if I am. Or if I want to. Or how long a break do I foresee myself taking.  Or if I could freelance or work from home or work flexitime (whatever those jobs are). And I am frequently warned by the supermoms that if I stay away too long, I might not want to come back.

The point is, I am too driven and enterprising to not be where the action is. So, no, I will not be relegated to a freelancer or work flexitime (which is a euphemism for working for a fifth of your salary) neither will I ever negotiate to work from home.

Do you miss work? I am often asked. It’s as though I am playing now, or have turned into one of those ladies who lunch. But to be honest, after a 16 -year career, I didn’t miss ‘work’ for a single day in the past year. I didn’t have the time to think about whether I missed it. I was too busy going through the motions of being a mommy. And I don’t really remember how many diapers I have changed or how many stories I have read or how many songs I have sung, or hours I have walked or play-dates I have planned or meals I have cooked or cries I have soothed or how many nights I have slept or how many hours I have nursed. I think if they invented swipe-cards for mommies, we would all have to be paid three times our last salaries.

But motherhood is about anonymity. About blending with the crowd, about being able to say, “Hi, I am Mommygolightly and I am a mother.” I don’t have much to show except a happy child, this blog, and perhaps some writing, lots of photographs and videos.

So a few days ago when I was registering for Re’s school admission, I was left staring long and hard at the column marked ‘occupation’. I vacillated between writer, blogger, columnist and finally I wrote, ‘mother.’