It’s a dilemma many women face

Shagun is the mother of two children. She is also an executive in a company. Her hours can sometimes be long. She feels torn between her two roles: mother and working woman. She sometimes feels there are not enough hours in the day to do justice to both facets of her life.

Sahira has just attended a job interview. She is seething. She is newly married and the first question that was asked at the interview was when she was planning to have a baby. She knows that a man at the same interview would not have been asked that question.

Sabrina was stunned when she went to get her child admitted to school. The principal flatly told her that preference was given to children whose mothers stayed at home and could help with homework.

Since Independence, India has provided more and more opportunities for women’s emancipation. Women have joined the work force in robust numbers. In spite of this, a working woman faces a double edged sword: she carries a load of guilt because she feels she may not be able to give her children enough time and simultaneously she faces the opprobrium of society which does not take her ambitions seriously.

A woman’s role in the family Today, the economics of running a family are so complex that a second income becomes very important. It is sometimes difficult for a single income family to provide children with the best educational opportunities. A woman’s contribution can be crucial. More importantly, being financially independent cushions a woman against unexpected disasters which might leave her fiscally stranded.

The effect on children For years, the debate has raged on: Are the children of working women to be considered deprived or advantaged? Some vociferous advocates of stay-at-home mothers state that children of working mothers are deprived of attention and grow up with emotional and educational problems. On the other hand, proponents of women’s role in the workforce point out that their children grow up with independence and the ability to survive on their own. Working women bring the outside world into the home and expose their children to work skills, time management and organisational proficiency. It is reassuring to know that scientific studies have proven that children whose mothers worked during the first three years of their lives were not significantly different from children whose mothers did not work during that time frame.

Quality of child care What does matter is the quality of childcare provided when the mother is working outside the home. Luckily, in India, we still have the advantage of grandparents who are willing to spend time with the child. For couples who do not have this luxury, it is important to do some research and find a good crèche or playschool where the child will get optimal care. Getting responsible household help is the miracle that most working mothers pray for!

Warding off guilt Every working mother knows the pain of missed school functions, a project that takes precedence over a sick child or the heart piercing accusation from the child, “You never have time for me!’ Certain golden rules are:

• Keep track of important school dates and functions so that you can schedule your work around them.

• Always give your child time to just talk with you. It does not always have to be homework and exams.

• Do not be deterred by your child’s attempts at loading you with guilt. ‘You don’t care’, ‘You probably have to run off to office’, ‘Idid it myself, I don’t need your help’ are barbed tries at making you reiterate that your child is the centre of your universe. So do it all the time — let them know that they are the core reason for your happiness but you are an individual too who needs to fulfil her ambitions.

Make the most of your time together

• Learn the art of time management so that you can maintain a distinct line between home and work.

• Write a little note and put it in the lunch bag so that your child knows how much she is loved. Spend time after dinner as a family instead of getting glued to the television. • Sundays must be a fun family time.

(The author is a Chennai-based obstetrician and gynaecologist with a special interest in women’s health issues.)