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The great balancing act: a daughter writes to a mother

Dear Ma, Let me start by saying you were right about that vegetable-dyed shirt being hand-washed, my brushes getting spoiled with the dried, chipped paint on it, and the petunias not surviving the Bombay heat. Ma, I’ve been in awe of you for as long as I can remember, and not just for these life hacks that you keep giving, but for the interest you take in small, little things that I do, despite all these years of overwhelming juggling among work, home and us. It has been incredibly inspiring to see you put yourself through a double Masters, all the while maintaining a full-time job, and grooming Jija and me to be independent and driven.

But Ma, does it ever bother you that probably you did not juggle well, that your choice to work compromised our achievements or that your time at work cut on any quality time with Papa? You never admitted any such guilt, you have always seemed secure and confident, but this thought has left me unsettled.

I was spitting watermelon seeds into a napkin when one of my colleagues at the busy lunch table spoke about her career while being a mother of two. She detailed the childcare decisions she had to make, the choices her family “has to make” for dinner, and some of her choices for her own sanity. She repeatedly kept using the words “guilt” and “sacrifice”, while I quietly finished my fruit bowl. In the same week, a colleague questioned my choice of career as he was of the opinion that the rigour of work would affect my “personal” life, my family and children going forward. At 22, I felt the burden of the inane expectations that are associated with women at workplace, but I kept quiet.

These discussions about women at the workplace are now becoming stimuli to my lampooning of the expectations imposed on us. I want to tell them that Jija and I graduated from the best colleges, and we are building our big and small success stories at work every day. We are neither alcoholics, nor drug addicts, and we don’t have any criminal records. If children from working parent homes were destined to be screw-ups and deadbeats, both of us certainly missed the memo.

There is an endless amount of advice given to working women today, at the salon, in magazines, over coffee in office, on “how to have it all” — successful careers and a pristine house, healthy diet and the perfect beach body, happy kids and a supportive husband, great hair and immaculate wardrobes. I see women being judgmental of each other’s work life integration — they don’t offer a hand, a glass of wine or an understanding look when they could. The antiquated idea of the ideal being an attentive mother and the norm being intensive parenting seems to be dictating women at work to be apologetic about their career decisions. Being a working mother in the 1990s must have meant a lot more grief from people around you, from people who criticised your passion for work, your schedule for “acting like you wore the pants in the family”.

But to tell you the truth, I was always so proud of you: how accomplished you were. As I grow older, I become all the more grateful for how you modelled loving your work and loving your family. There was always enough for all of us and it was perfect. Jija and I did not have aunts or grandmothers who would take care of us; while all our friends went home to their mothers after school, we waited at the footsteps for you to come back from work and beamed with happiness when you did. My past memories do not include being greeted with piping hot food after a long day at school or you feeding me little mouthfuls when I was sleepy. But I remember you staying up with me on exam nights with hourly coffee and hot chocolate. We’d spend the start of every academic year wrapping my books in brown cover. You’d write me speeches for the school assembly and spend hours teaching me how to deliver them. You shaped my academics and my personality. You listened to all my stories from school, and told me everything about your work. Your passion to learn and grow rubbed on to me. Even today, when I call you and tell you about Mumbai’s art deco buildings, you are always interested. Looking back I realise I was never given a chance to believe I missed out on quality time with you. I realise there is no such thing as a perfect parent, just as there is no such thing as a perfect child, and that the stay-at-home mom vs working mom debate is fundamentally flawed. Ma, if ever you felt guilty to have made your choices, you should know it is time to quit feeling bad.

Today I don’t care how long you cooked or spent time dressing me, the number of breakfasts you made or the number of bedtime stories you told me, because that does not define me, but having a financially independent mother who has an identity of her own does. You are my role model in the true sense.

I am thoroughly enjoying your dabba of laddus. See you soon.

baid.megha@gmail.com

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Printable version | Apr 1, 2020 12:58:39 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/the-great-balancing-act-a-daughter-writes-to-a-mother/article8324735.ece

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