Conversations with a daughter who wants a SAHM

BY MOHUA GUPTA

About a year-and-a-half ago, my daughter Myrah (then 2-and-a half-years-old) asked me one day, “Mama, kya tumko office uncle pyaar karta hai? (does office uncle love you?)”

I had no idea where that came from and didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. She was trying to figure out how important my office is, as in there must be someone who loves me out there or else why would I go to work 6 days a week (even on most public holidays) and that too at weird hours?

Since then, the imaginary office uncle often pops in and out of our conversations. For instance, “Can’t you tell office uncle to give you chutti? Tell him you want to spend time with Myrah.”

I wonder why she zeroed in on the office uncle, and not some office aunty!

Next, she asked me if I have friends at work. In other words, am I going out to have fun with my friends?

I returned to work five months after Myrah was born. The one thing that kept me going was my 24-hour maid, the full support of my husband who has his own business and works largely from home (though there are the occasional out-of-town trips) and of course my so-called weird hours at work. I can spend the entire day with Myrah and then leave for work around 4.30pm… It’s a different matter that I get home by 2am and have to be up by 7am to get her ready for school.

I am happy I can spend so much time with her, which I couldn’t if I had a regular 9 to 5 job.

But obviously, Myrah wants more of me. Just the other day, she declared that she doesn’t want to be like me, that she doesn’t want to go to high school, college and office and would rather have fun at home. The larger picture being she would prefer me to be a stay-at-home mom.

My mother has always been a stay-at-home mom and though she never lacked anything, she always encouraged me to work and be financially independent. So I guess, this is a kind of cycle. Stay-at-home moms want their daughters to work while daughters would want to be stay-at-home moms.

At the time when I was growing up, having a housewife mom was the norm. Barring one or two friends whose moms were working women, all my friends came from similar backgrounds. And all of us have turned out to have full-fledged careers. But some do opt out along the way. There’s this MBA neighbour who did start working after her son was born, but quit after he started throwing regular tantrums and had behavioural problems. Her son is a happy 10-year-old now and she is too complacent to get back to work.

Also, there’s this fashion designer friend, who after two kids, has recently started teaching at a design school two days a week now that her sons are no longer toddlers.

I too, am tempted to throw in the towel. But I guess I just have to hang in there for Myrah to grow up a bit, when she can realize that it is indeed important to work and be financially independent. But she is learning to figure things out her own way… For more than a year now, she has christened me as Mohua Gupta Fernandes. It would go like this… “I am Myrah Fernandes. My papa’s name: Craig Fernandes. Mama’s name: Mohua Gupta Fernandes.”

I don’t object, even though officially I am still Mohua Gupta. If my daughter is happy with adding Fernandes to my name, so be it. I’m sure in a few years, she would be want to retain her maiden name and also juggle a career and family successfully.

 

About the author:
Mohua Gupta does the job of delivering news (mostly bad) to Mumbaikars first thing in the morning. In other words, she works for a daily newspaper.

 

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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.

Home truths on non-career wives: What Chetan Bhagat ran out of space for

Turns out that after eating one-too-many bhaturas, Chetan Bhagat has a problem with the phulka.  In his column in the Times of India a few weeks ago, the phulkas seemed to me a metaphor for the homemaker, the stay-at-home mother or wife who, according to Bhagat has done a great disservice to her career/life by relegating herself to the role of the phulka maker.

Now, ordinarily I would have ignored his rant, since I almost never read anything he writes, and also, as a CEO of a Fortune 1000 company, I have enough to worry about:  I have two cats, a toddler who asks 21 questions an hour, around 600 lego blocks, 2500 puzzle pieces and a few hundred books, a maid who is conspicuous by her absence, a cook (who incidentally, makes better pasta than phulkas), a husband who puts the phulkas on the table (pays for the atta, actually), a sink that is always clogged, a car that is held by glue, and 27 gadgets, of which at least three are not working at any given time and are in various stages of repair and rehabilitation— all of which adds to my CEO duties, of course.  So you see, reading a Chetan Bhagat column on a Sunday (or any day) is the least of my priorities, because I am busy wondering when I will get to pluck my bushy eyebrows or my upper lip, lest I start looking like Kallol Dutta or Hariharan.  Or get beyond the 47 pages of the last book I was reading (where the fuck did I put it?)

But the piece kept staring me in the face, what with constant sharing on social media, which I hoped was more out of irony than anything else, (but I cannot tell), and so I finally read it.

First of all, I was so intrigued about his championing the cause of career women, and tickled by his feminist bone, that I read the previous column, in which he seemed to imply that women are the best homemakers. I was slightly confused. I am sure Bhagat has something really big coming up in the near future which is targeting a female audience, so possibly, he is trying to appease them on all fronts. But that was just the cynic journalist in me.

What bothered me is that according to Bhagat, I don’t count. I am not a career wife/mother, even though I am working more than ever before and I feel that managing my career was much easier than what I am doing now. Oh, but yes, I don’t get a salary cheque. I am not qualified to pay EMIs, and often, shady officials who push papers seem to add “unemployed”  or “housewife” in my “occupation” column, before I rudely cancel it out and say “homemaker” or “freelancer” or whatever comes to my mind.

Once I had my baby, I thought, now I will stay at home and spend the husband’s money, get manicures and aroma facials and head massages and all those things women at home seem to do. Like I said before, I am lucky if I can get my eyebrows plucked before they curl up sometimes.

The reality is that we hadn’t thought the baby thing through. There was no extended maternity leave, no stay-at-home grandparents, no nannies with scruples, no company crèches in sight.   Also I had been in the career game for 17 years, so I thought it was time to take a break and nest with my cub. Enough of that career bullshit, I thought, fiercely clutching my newborn. I didn’t exactly have a new-age aspirational job (by Bhagat’s definition: glamour photography or design, no less). All I had was a Deputy Editor’s job with an entertainment supplement of a national daily – one that has featured Bhagat on occasion as well.

I must hand it to the husband who never frowned that I had increased his burden, although I offered the position to him, but he was not about to write best-selling novels, so he figured he would rather fire-fight in the office.

Soon I reached a point where I was really tired of being told what a great career I had given up. Or being asked, “When are you going back to work?”. So, I started this blog to vent (and I had a lot of purging to do) and yes, I am guilty of being defensive about my stay-at-home decision. I did get some hate-mail from career moms on that account which riled me earlier, but I can see where that came from now.  It’s not as simple as picking a side and more often than not, it’s not about choice. Home-makers and career women are not mutually exclusive. You never know where one ends and another begins. Most of us are grappling with straddling both worlds and keeping our sanity. A woman at the work place is constantly managing her home remotely, and a woman at home is trying her best to reinvent herself/her career and trying to be productive in the best way possible without tilting the balance on the domestic front. So it’s not as simple as Slut or Savitri as the Cocktail clichés imply.

Now I get that bit about affording a fancy apartment and foreign vacations with a double income. Yes, we don’t have either, and evidently, Mr. Bhagat does, thanks to his ‘COO of an international bank’ wife. So Bhagat, we are happy that it worked for you and you have your EMIs and mutual funds all sorted, but don’t you dare disparage the hand that rocked the phulka.

Of course, the husband seems to be enjoying the rest of Bhagat’s outlined perks of the man who married the career wife: I know more about office politics  and appraisals than he does and also mutual funds, stocks and investments. I also have more to talk about than multi-grain atta or play-dates, my sense of humour is still intact, and even though I push the husband out to have a good time (so that I get my down time), he still says that I am the best company he’s had. He always discusses work with me and I do the same, so nothing’s changed in our conversation quotient. The irony is that I have never made a phulka in my life (and I can’t, although I can bake and make a mean salad), but the husband hardly cares if the food on the table was made an hour ago or a day ago.

Like Bhagat’s mom, my mother too worked till her retirement and loved her job. She never told me that phulkas or rasam-avial was the way to a man’s heart, neither did she say that one should put career over everything else. Incidentally she was (and still is) a fabulous cook, but my father contributed equally to the kitchen duty (we were never rich enough to outsource). And it never jarred that one half of women in my family was homemakers and the other half went to work.

About Marissa Mayer joining Yahoo as CEO when six months pregnant, well at six months, I felt I could rule the world with all those feel-good hormones.  I am honestly tired at her super-woman-ness and role-model-ness being flung at all of us . But then, without sounding disparaging to Mayer, the real hero in this whole thing is Yahoo’s HR policy/department which will hopefully make enough allowances for her pumping milk (if she doesn’t go the formula way from day one) in the midst of a board meeting, or allowing her to travel to a company offsite with her baby entourage (I am guessing she could afford a nanny or two) for the first year or so.

So I told my husband, you go ahead and become CEO of your company. Let me write the books.  We will outsource the phulkas, of course. I hope I don’t turn into a female Chetan Bhagat. But then, I don’t begin my columns with “Recently I saw the recently released Cocktail.”

(Okay, I am late by any standards in writing this piece, and I almost didn’t write it, but every time I ate a phulka, I was reminded of a job unfinished, so better late than never)