In Focus 26th December, 2017
I Felt Mentally Exhausted: Experiences Of A Working Mother.

In the past few years, much has changed for the Indian woman. Progress has been made in terms of education and job opportunities; but as an educated, working mother, I feel upset. While women have started walking abreast with men in terms of financial responsibility, the same amount of enthusiasm and reaction has not come forth from men in return towards domestic responsibilities.

As a child, my mother brought me up with notions of independence and confidence, of not making marriage and kids my sole purpose in life. I was motivated and talented and after faring well in school and at the university level, I pursued my higher studies from one of the most premier institutes in India. I got a cushy job which I did well for 6 years. I managed to help my family and grow my life, fulfil my dreams. I even got married in the meantime, with no effect on my career. I could work as late as I wanted, even on weekends, travel as much as I needed to, no questions asked. Of course, managing the house, the maids, the bills, etc. were all my responsibility. But I was better than my spouse at managing the house so I did it all happily. Then, I decided to have a child. I knew that for some time my child will be my priority over my career and I was ready for that. But I did not know how difficult it was going to be for me.

Firstly, India sorely lacks good childcare options, even in big cities like Mumbai. I lived and worked in Mumbai, away from home and family, and thus it was impossible to leave my newborn in the care of complete strangers. My company did not have a daycare facility or a tie-up with someone, nor was there a good option nearby. They also refused to extend an unpaid sabbatical to me for 6 months. Thus I had no option but to quit. Not all women face this though, many companies have in-house daycare centres so parents can easily manage their little ones. Unfortunately it did not work out for me. I started working from home, but continued to not only manage the house but also be the primary, rather the only caregiver for my child. My husband was busy with his entrepreneurial venture and it was upto me to manage everything, and if I had time, to work.

Soon we moved back home, near family and I took the opportunity to start working full-time, as Delhi provided better and more convenient childcare facilities and my child was grown up enough to manage. With the help of a good daycare centre and my mother, I was able to work full-time for about a year. However, still the responsibility of managing the house and baby were all mine. My husband did help with homework over the weekends, but all other child-related jobs were mine, right from feeding, changing, bathing, pickup and drops, school projects etc. It was quite difficult, to be on the run from 6 am to 11 pm. Apart from the obvious physical stress and exhaustion, I felt mentally exhausted, keeping track of everything, following up, worrying, managing, calculating… all day long.

In addition to the double burden at home, there was discrimination at work. Working moms were considered a liability, as they were on the ones who always had to come late or take leaves when a child or a parent was unwell. They had to say no to late working hours as daycares wouldn’t open beyond 6pm. They had to give up on plum assignments if they included travel as the husbands could not manage kids alone even with help from maids etc. Marriage or parenthood makes no difference whatsoever to men’s careers, but it changes everything for a woman, mostly for the worse. Men are preferred over women for hiring, for assignments, for promotions; while moms are just tolerated. No wonder there are such few working moms who rise on the corporate ladder. Those like me who do not have family around or a very hands-on husband, are stuck for life, burning the candle on both ends.

However, having been a stay-at-home mom (SAHM) as well, in the past 5 years, I can testify that doubts and comments aren’t just reserved for working women. SAHM face comments everyday – what do you really do at home all day, you must have a chill life, I wish I could be a woman so I can also freeload on my husband.  The guilt trips and shaming are for both working and home moms – if you work, what kind of a mother are you, don’t you miss your child, how does your child manage, what if the child likes the maid more than you, you need to be around to teach values, your child is ill mannered or skinny because you work, etc. Everyone except the mother in question knows what is best for the child and family.

The sad part is, whether women work or not, whether they marry or not, whether they have kids or not, they are always questioned, made to feel guilty about their choices, and even sadder is the fact that this negativity comes most from fellow women. Women just cannot ever win.

I am back in Mumbai now, and back to working from home as I do not want to compromise on my child’s upbringing. I have help for cooking and cleaning, my husband occasionally helps with the groceries and feeding/babysitting. But my role as a primary caregiver continues, apart from my domestic, social and job obligations. I know I can do much more but I feel helpless in the absence of a good support system.

What do I wish could happen? I wish more companies would have daycare centres so women were not worried. More companies would hire women to work from home/part time so they can care for children or old parents/in-laws. More companies gave more leaves for maternity and parent care. More husbands helped out in the kitchen, with household chores, and with children. More daycares open with longer hours to accommodate women working till late, more agencies come up with better, more efficient, honest and dependable maids.

An overall change in the mental attitude of Indian men especially, and a robust childcare system needs to be developed, else the country will miss out on the talents and abilities of 50% of its workforce, and that is a lot!

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