Monday, June 15, 2009

To Work or Not to Work

Kuputro Jayet kvachidapi Kumata na Bhavati
(A son might be bad but a mother never is)

I know of no mother who has not the best interest of her child at heart. How she goes about it could vary and sometimes be far from perfect. But her intentions can never be suspect.

I touch upon a taboo topic.I was afraid to do this post. I do not want to hurt anyone. I sincerely hope I won't. It is after all a very touchy topic of the New Age - To Work or Not To Work. For the mothers of course. Any kind of opinion can turn controversial and loved or hated by the two opposing thoughts.
Anyways this 'issue' came up (though its a in your face problem of modernism) when one of my friends put this on her status update on a popular social networking site....

" Y travelled on the school bus this morning and then in the noon again to check out the bus route...felt so envious as she watched Mommy's pick up kids from the bus and hug them tight... wish I was there for 'X' too when he gets off the bus each day..sweaty, tired, half asleep and full of stories... :-("

The comments that followed were definitely in nature of are not alone, don't beat yourself about it, you are the best mom, you are doing a great job. All very true and well deserved. Out of the 12 comments only 2 dared to write that they dropped everything to do just 'that'..see their little ones talk and say their first word. Then there were 2 comments which got my goat.

One said " its not half as glamorous as it seems...... the hot sun, standing for like ages...... when you can do something more useful...... the kids also are not so happy everyday...... they would be grumpy & dump their bags on us...... believe me, its not as great as it looks!!!!!!

And another said "its the quality not the quantity of time you spend with your kids"

I am not here to judge either the working or the non working mother. I believe that just as we are our own best competition, we are our own best judge. But having said that I find the debate of glamorous vs. unglamorous and quantity vs. quality ridiculous.Its like saying I had the best meal ( read quality) in the world and yet since it was way too little I remained hungry. Or I had plenty to eat (read quantity) but the food was almost inedible. I will still remain hungry. How can we talk of either quantity or quality in isolation???? Isn't motherhood about BOTH!!! It is then for us to work out the right balance for ourselves and then live with our decision.
I spend the whole day with my kid. But all I do is put him in front of the idiot box or beat and abuse him...But hey!! I am a stay at home mom and I give the kid quantity.
And on the other hand as a working mom I spend 2 beautiful, productive hours everyday with my kid or a week in his 2 month long summer vacation and I am giving him quality. The kid is hungry in both the case scenarios. So how can it be either or or?? Go Figure for yourself I say!!

Glamour?? Looking for glamour (as we see around ourselves) in motherhood is like looking for the Masai Tribe in Iceland. Motherhood is about living in sweats, covered in baby spit, bad hair days, sleepless nights, dark circles and an increased pulse rate due to anxiety. A few extra pounds with little time to work on those once upon a time surfboard abs.It is about forgetting that there is a pretty woman behind the mother of all messes and chaos. Its about sweaty dirty fingers, wet kisses, meltdowns and more. You are on call for 24/7 all year around and for a lifetime.

This debate is becoming a reason for women to resent each other. The underlying seething emotion is palpable. Its like two warriors of the opposing camps sizing each other before going in for the kill. The working mom is fed up with the 'holier-than-thou' attitude of the stay-at-home mom. And the stay-at-home-mom considers the working mother selfish and self centric, a slave to objective happiness.

Who is right and who is wrong is not the point of my discussion today. I think the final loser is the woman herself be it from either club. I will not get started on what it does to the children and the family structure at large. Seriously, how does a woman who is juggling both a demanding career and family and another who is at home but questions her decision constantly do any good to anyone.

I have seen working moms riddled with immense guilt. They are physically and emotionally exhausted. Every mis-step their child may take, or his/her every failure as deemed by the society will rest upon her fragile shoulders. They will love her now since she brings in the moolah but will not hesitate to peck her at the faintest sniff of trouble. She dreams of giving it all up. Playing house, being a mom, being a woman with no strings attached. She cannot most of the times..for she might really need that extra money, or they have become used to the fringe benefits of a double income household. And also because it is certainly most difficult to give up on the dream of a career,and success as has been taught to her all through her growing years. When she was growing up all they told her was to study and work hard and get a respectable job which gets a good salary. They said her self esteem depended on it. Its not easy to break free. And yes, it does break her heart when she catches her child say a prayer to God "Please make my Mamma not go to work today".

I have seen stay-at-home moms emotionally and physically high-strung. She is of course doing the most challenging and important work ever. But no one tells her so. This work does not pay after all. She is often asked "Do you work?" She does not know whether to laugh or cry at this question. She is the anchor but still feels adrift. She is indispensable at what she does but no one makes her feel so. It is after all becoming the most taken-for-granted roles ever. She is either dismissed as a wannabe loser who never made it so stayed at home or someone who wasted her potential. She cannot shake off the sense of incompleteness. She feels depressed when people pity her or compare her to successful and earning counterparts.It breaks her when people say to her "Kuchh kaam kyun nahin kartee/ why don't you work?"

I have a sneaking suspicion that this is feminism in regression. We are in an illusion that we have more freedom than ever before. Maybe some of us do. But many still don't. And those who think they have it, are unaware or have forgotten what true freedom tastes like. It comes with no extra baggage. It brings peace. Not a sense of burden,doubt and guilt. It does not tire but rejuvenates.It spreads joy. It is not transient but stands the test of time.


D said...

A very thought provoking post, Chrysalis, even though I don't agree with all that you've said here.

For one, I do believe in quantity vs quality if you don't take either to extremes. When someone says it's important to spend quality time and not just quantity, they're not necessarily saying that two hours of time well spent with your kid is enough. In this case, they may just be saying that it isn't necessary to spend an entire day with your kid and after-work hours spent well with the child may be all you need to bond with him/her.

Also, I do think motherhood is glamourised. Not everyone has the clarity of thought that you do, which is to know that mothering is a tough job and people do play up the joys of motherhood more than they do the soppy side of it.

But you're right, the freedom that feminism has brought is only half-hearted. Women do carry a huge burden of guilt a lot of times, even when they're making informed choices. But why should that be feminism in regression? It may be feminism in progression. Perhaps, if we can set the right foundation stones, women to come may be able to live without guilt.

Chrysalis said...

D: Like I said I think one cannot substitute quality for quantity or vice versa. Parenting your child I believe is something nobody else can do for you. Time and energy and amount of physical and emotional involvement is difficult to quanitfy.
About regression ..maybe its the wrong word. Maybe with every step we take forward we take one backwards too. Maybe that is what is thrashing out new 'isms' and working out new ways. But yes we need to rework our concepts of self-esteem.

Piper .. said...

A very well-written, though provoking post! I do agree with D though - that in some ways(though not completely) it is an issue of quality Vs quantity. Of course, the moment I think of it that way, I have almost compromised on parenting itself. If I cant spend the entire day with my kids, let me compromise and spend atleast 2 hours of quality time. But then again, do I see anything wrong in that? Pbly not, but I`ll have to give it some more thought really..
An excellent post Chrysalis!

Doodleduck said...

From a social context,I feel, it is a choice that women have to make and be very strong to believe in their preferred choice.And no, no solution brings 'eutopia'.

Amrita said...

The post more or less left me speechless - And left me completely in doubt as to which side was more convincing. Yes it is true that true happiness and freedom does not encompass any guilt. But then - when has the life of a woman been without strings attached. No matter what she has many shoes to fit into - and there by lies the pain. The societal demands for a man are much simpler I feel, hence its a bit uncomplicated for them. Leave alone rearing kids, how conflicting might it be for a woman to leave her abode of nearly 2 decades and start calling a completely new place as her home!?
Each step there is a rising conflict. And I dont think there is any doing away with it.

Chrysalis said...

Doodleduck: Agreed worldle decisions cannot achieve complete utopia.And yes it is definitlely the woman's decision but while she needs to be strong about it she also needs to be wise about it.

Amrita: Totally agree with all you say. A woman has to make tougher decisions compared to a man at every step.It seems more complicated because of the times we live in. If we truly understand the the fundamentals it is very simple. But easier said than done.Personally for me the more I re learned in the process of learning new things (spiritual) the less complicated it got. There are moments of weaknesses. I am no 'gyani' yet but more at peace now.

Doodleduck said...

Yes! this post really made me think hard!I agree with the unfairness of it all.Reminds me of a conversation with a wrking Mom -'oh!The child has started school and I just joined this job to kill time and really!i donot care about the money.' I ask - Why is it not ok to work for works sake? why is not ok to have ambitions after marriage? And I have also come across women who finely balance their home and work lives.Both ways..whichever way u choose to go,there will be talks by other. So woman, do what u know is right for you. For it would be a shame if you had any regrets at seventy.

Chrysalis said...

Doodleduck: Agreed. Dont want to regret anything. And yes work should be for the the love of it (if i have the luxury)and stay at home also for love.

Poonam J said...

Chrysalis......a very thought provoking post.I personally feel all mothers are working mothers, some choose to work outside the house too.The ones who go out to work,only physically leave their kids behind.
Totally agree with you........ "I know of no mother who has not the best interest of her child at heart. How she goes about it could vary and sometimes be far from perfect. But her intentions can never be suspect "
I remember reading this some where, and it makes perfect sense"Women do not have to sacrifice personhood if they are mothers. They do not have to sacrifice motherhood in order to be persons. Liberation was meant to expand women's opportunities, not to limit them....."
At the end of the day who are we to judge what is best for one.It indeed is about the choices we make, keeping in mind that a mothers intentions are never suspect. A very well written post.

Anonymous said...

"Quality and quantity" is all in our minds. If a woman is not doing justice with herself she can never do justice with her family. If a mother is not satisfied with her professional or homemaker job, quality or quantity doesn't matter. Not all kids get "special attention" from their parents. My two blog articles on Haylee and Little Nevaeh talk about "irresponsible mothers" who without analyzing the consequences exposed their little daughters to sex offenders. They valued their relationships more than their kids. These are exceptional cases but any object or person “inside” and/or “outside” a house can be dangerous for the kids. At this point it's unimportant if mothers are working or not. Father and/or mother should be extra cautious and try to protect their kids from these dangers. (Note: Few incidents are very unfortunate and beyond human control).

The bottom line is to understand the parental responsibilities and execute them well. Being a happy and responsible mother is more important than working or not.

Chrysalis said...

Poonam ji: Beautifully said. And so good to hear from you. Was missing you :)
"Women do not have to sacrifice personhood if they are mothers. They do not have to sacrifice motherhood in order to be persons." Lovely says it all.

Crimesandlaw:I agree if the mother is in doubt and wallowing in guilt and doubt ...she can do no justice. She needs to enjoy each moment to give back with the same joy.Agree with your bottomline "to understand the parental responsibilities and execute them well." About child sexual abuse I am well aware of the horrors. Cannot stress upon this issue enough.

Ashwadhy said...

Either way there is bound to be a sense of empiness. Uthopia seem impossible for the woman.
I left work when we got married. And since then we have been moving from one place to another. I miss friends, I miss family and I miss work. But knowing what I have prioritized, the fact that there is appreiciation/ understanding/ support from the people I care most (on my situation), helps a lot in dealing with it myself. Esp when I see them handling my tantrums: classified as feeling of worthlessness, which is not so often but enough to drive someone insane. Again, am not so sure if its the situation that has made me the way I' now, all accepting. Or the unision in ideas cause got there as a couple.
To work or not to work as a mom has definitely undergone tremendous changes post the relationship.

Wonderful post as usual. And 'am sure there are many women going through this.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful Post, Crysalis! At the end of the day, it is important that the mother gets to do what she really enjoys. If she decides to go back to work and if she is happy and satisfied - the possibility that the whole family will be totally comfortable - than with a mother who decides to stay at home - but it unhappy with it.

I personally know people who are working, and are able to balance both side beautifully - with help from their partners, of course. They come across as having fun, being balanced and not deprived in any way.

At the same time, there are stay at home mothers who are dissatisfied, unhappy, but spend a lot of time with their children - but I start wondering if their underlying resentment does not get transferred to their children?

So I do think that it depends on individuals to make the best of what they have. Some people, as you say may have the luxury of staying at home - and might be perfectly happy to do it, some may decide to go back to work. As far as the woman is happy and satisfied - it does not matter. Also, no matter what one's choice is - I think self doubts always crop up. I think there will be times, when people will wonder if they have taken the right decision. And that does not necessarily mean that it was the wrong decision.. it probably just means that they are constantly re-evaluating their decisions..

Also, I totally agree that motherhood is glamourised. With all this hype on yummy mummies and stuff - I think it could actually make it look like a 'glamourous' role, forgetting that mother hood is a whole load of other icky, non-glamourous stuff - that to be honest - I love and cherish just as much.. Nothing gives me more relief than when daughter snuggles into me and drops off after a heavy bout of vomitting in the night..

Anonymous said...

I think, women can take a break for about 3-4 years (when the child is young) and start working after that, if they want to. When I was young, my mother worked in the same school and she came home about an hour after me.... And I was in my grand parents house during holidays, which was very close to our house. I guess, I was lucky!

Destination Infinity

Chrysalis said...

DI: I think you were very lucky. And I agree with going to work after the child is a little older. Nothing is as good as working around the child's schedule. The lesser they are left alone or in the compay of strangers ...the better I think. HOw nice you could spend summer vacations with your grandparents....these days with both parenst working ...children are being hurriedly put into summer camps straight after timings also to suit working parents are from morning to evevings in many places , such schools are known as day boarding ....I think the children are as tierd and overworked as their parents today