The working mother, a winner all the way

August 14, 2011 01:13 am | Updated August 19, 2011 10:18 am IST

openpage multitasking women color 140811

openpage multitasking women color 140811

The day starts for Professor Asha Ramachandran (35) at 5 a.m., when she gets up from bed in a hurry. A four-burner gas stove and a microwave oven in the kitchen couldn't cope with her speed. Within an hour, the menu for the entire family, including her son's evening snacks, is ready. And, mind you, no chef can compete with her.

An hour later, Keshav, her six-year-old son, is still in bed trying to avoid the sunlight peeping through the windows; within minutes, a complete transformation takes place when he turns out to be a neatly uniformed boy waving bye to his mother from the school van. Then comes the next portfolio for Asha with a full list of commitments for the day. She returns home anxiously only to assist her son in his homework and to feel proud of his performance in school.

She is the embodiment of the many-handed Kali. So are the employed women of today. A working woman's life is all about balancing many balls at a time without slipping a single one.

In ages past, women stayed at home, preoccupied with the family, taking care of children and providing emotional support for the members. But now, they feel that their traditional roles as childbearers and homemakers must be coupled with achievement outside home. In this context, it is inevitable to investigate the impact of such a phenomenon on society as a whole and on childrearing in particular.

Socio-economic profile

India has 397 million workers, of whom 123 million are women. Of them, 106 million are in rural areas and the remaining 18 million in urban areas. Only 20 per cent of the women labourers work in urban areas. Women are an estimated 38.2 per cent of all economically active individuals. They earn 66 per cent of men's salary for equal work; the socio-economic condition in India has contributed to the need for dual income in middle class families. With a population of a little more than a billion, India is the second most populous country. The literacy rate among women is 39.3 per cent and they make up 28 per cent of the labour force which constitutes educated employed women (Catalyst, 2011).

Indian women were traditionally housewives; education to them was given only to the level that every one wanted to be educated. Now India has the largest number of professionally qualified women. This includes female workers at all levels of skills — from surgeons, pilots to bus conductors and labourers.

Women work roughly twice as much as men, combining home and workplace. They have a lot more responsibilities and accountability at home than men. Yet, they seem to perform equally well.

What is the secret of this achievement? Is it the natural ability? Is it the will to fight against the odds? Is it the spirit of achievement or a combination of all?

Women possessed the skill sets even earlier, but the family always took the first priority. Today, with opportunities aplenty and the help that is available, they are able to balance both home and work. Not just multitasking, there is yet another quality that women bring to the workplace — sensitivity. Emotions and sensitivity come spontaneously to women, making work a much pleasant proposal.

Hurdles to women

Life gives it all to some people — fortune, power and reputation but no one gets it easy. Success never comes overnight and it requires years of perseverance to reach the altar. For a woman, every accomplishment is twice as delightful and those who make it to the top in the toughest of the fields are really great. In fact, constant pressure makes them work harder. The debate whether both parents should work or not is not really important anymore. Mothers are working and will continue to work outside home.

The truth is that seven out of 10 mothers are working women. It is certainly possible to be both good mothers and competent professionals. For that, they must have clear-cut priorities and learn how to enjoy the ride. Before starting the family, they must plan how to proceed with their career. Should they have one or more babies and how far would they like to reach in their career?

But life is more than just a job — women are ready to accept lower pay for flexible working hours and part-time work to balance the twin challenges of home and work. Women have now become ambitious, determined and even ruthless. Why not? Can she be stopped? She must learn to adapt. And if she does, she wins.

Children of working parents

Children acquire habits, lifestyle, morals, values, based on the way they view or identify with their parents. In addition to financial gains, there are potentially valuable benefits associated with work, for children in particular. It is a known fact that parents who work present a different image to their children than parents who do not work.

Rekha, a young competent IT professional, says that her son will enjoy the luxury and happiness of owning expensive toys as a benefit of her additional income. Gurcharan, a six-year-old kid, gets dropped by a school van at 4 p.m. He manages to open the locked door of his house by himself, eats the snacks prepared by his mom in the morning, switches on TV and sleeps on the sofa within minutes only to wake up at the stroke of the calling bell when his mother is waiting outside the door. This is the state of affairs of a majority of the children whose parents are employed. They learn to do their work by force of necessity.

The working mother occupies a very important role in the family. She commands respect from her children because she exhibits the characteristics of an industrious person, full of self-confidence, maturity, decision-making capacity, intelligence and accountability. When children identify with their parents, these qualities are imparted to them. They learn to cope with life's problems and become socially compatible. Children think that it would improve their status among their mates when their parents are employed. When they are left to take care of themselves in the absence of their parents it indirectly promotes independence and self-reliance in them. Typically, working mothers harbour higher educational aspirations for their children. Studies show that the boys of working mothers showed better social and personal skills than boys of non-working mothers.

Sometimes, on the negative side, boys of working mothers showed bad results in school. The child gets more attached to the servant maid or the babysitter than the parent. The babysitter needs to be treated with equal importance like a member of the family.

Malini, a doctor and mother of a schoolgoing kid, says that the maid cannot be left behind even during summer vacation trips as her son is attached to her. But these are minor issues which can be overcome.

Working parents are in a good position to prepare their children for life. Speaking of the time spent on parenting, it has been found that even though less time is spent, it is quality time spent and it is found that no child is deprived of the love and care of parents because of the quality time spent with the child by the mother, at the cost of her own leisure and sleep. Working mothers often possess the skills necessary for responding creatively to the increased stress their children face while advancing in their own career.

(The writer is on the faculty, Department of Management Studies, Sathyabama University, Chennai. Her email is

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