An eternal dilemma

June 03, 2006 12:00 am | Updated March 23, 2012 01:39 pm IST

To work or not to work, that's the question confronting many working mothers. SHEFALI TRIPATHI MEHTA on why it's important to justify the reasons and stick to one's decision

When her new neighbour came to know that Radha was a working mother, she sarcastically commented, "I can also go to work but my husband earns enough." Radha fumed. Some days later, another neighbour made a dig at Radha's working status by saying how she was blessed because she did not have to go to work and could care for her children round-the-clock. When a distant relative's daughter ran away from home, her aunt taunted Radha, "Her mother was always busy with her career. What is the child's fault? This is a wakeup call for you. Don't run after your career so much." Radha found herself again into that eternal dilemma which confronts each working mother innumerable times during her career. To work or to stay-at-home. Apart from the guilt pangs she suffers from for not `being there' for the family, especially the kids, every time a situation like this comes up, a working mother is thrown back into self-doubt. A question that crops up again and again in her mind is - Am I doing the right thing? Am I being fair to my child? Am I being self-centred? Can I afford to sit at home? If working is crucial to running the house entirely or partially, the burden of the dilemma is off to some extent. Because she does not have an option. But when the need is more emotional or intellectual where the woman wants to put her skills, qualifications and education to good use, wants to feel worthy or be financially independent, she finds the task of justifying her stand to herself, more than others, most difficult. Although she does not need to justify her reasons to anyone - she herself needs to be very clear about it. Is she happy with her decision? This is the answer she needs to give to herself. And be absolutely sure and resolute about it so that others are not able to raise doubts in her mind time and again.

What you can do

If you are a working mother grappling with this anxiety, you can gain some clarity and peace of mind if you can ensure the following:* Child is in good hands. If you have a family member to look after your child in your absence, you should consider it a blessing. Otherwise, a good day care should be your first preference. A day care provides the child with a routine, appropriate activities, and most important, the company of other children. The day care should be carefully chosen with considerations such as the child-caregiver ratio, the competence and presence of the person in-charge and their response to small emergencies. A caring maid could be the next option, for there is much supervision, guidance and adjustments required. But this is not to say that loving and reliable maids do not exist. Consider her part of your family to make the bond of trust and mutual care grow strong.* Absence of guilt. If you are always blaming yourself for leaving your kids behind, it will not only affect your professional and family life but also your physical and emotional health. Weigh your options, take a well thought-out decision and stick to it till you need to revisit your options due to change in circumstances.* Essential household chores are not affected. Between yourself and other adults at home, you should ensure that essential everyday chores such as fresh nutritious meals and a clean home are not compromised. * Children are not neglected. If your job prevents you from being at your child's sports day, doctor's appointment or from helping them with school assignments, you need to revisit your priorities. * Do not forgo hobbies, family get-togethers. Social contacts provide you emotional grounding. Your hobbies give you a sense of personal identity, accomplishment and an overall satisfaction with life. Without these, you are no better than a robot. * Support to partner. This applies to both the husband and the wife. If your partner has a hectic work schedule, ensure that you too are not in a high-pressure job. One parent needs to be available for the kids whenever the situation arises. It is ideal if one of the parents has the option of working flexi-hours or working from home at times. Constant squabbles between parents on issues such as who would stay back if the child is ill or if the maid has not turned up are bound to cause anxiety to the child. Even after ensuring all of the above, remember, your trials may not end. At the workplace, you may be sidelined at times and heartburns cannot be avoided. When in spite of your hard work and dedication, less qualified colleagues get the promotion you deserve, only because they stay back late in office or because they can travel when you cannot or because they do not take as many days leave as you do, you are bound to feel dejected. But a working mother should not let it affect her or become doubtful of her priorities or her capabilities.

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