While working in a municipal hospital in Mumbai as full-time Consultant, I remember a day when my nine-month old baby had gastroenteritis. I requested a day of casual leave from my boss. But, an acute shortage of senior consultants meant that the lower rung, including me, had to report for work.
Fortunately, I had a good nanny and further more, my husband, also a doctor, promised to drop in and check on him. Turning up for work, I was obviously very worried. My junior colleague M, however, was quick to pronounce judgement.
“Ma’am, how could leave your sick baby at home and turn up for work?
Nearly nineteen years have passed since this episode, but I still hear echoes of similar comments about working mothers everywhere.
My opinion: When a mother goes to work, maternal instinct ensures that she is drawn back to her child emotionally. It is a sign of evolution that women of the human race conquer these feelings to pursue their careers. It is a sign of organisational skill and intelligence, that they leave their child in the hands of someone they trust.
It is also a sign of strength that they seek to add to the family coffers, feel creatively satisfied or vindicate their education, by working after motherhood.
Whatever the reason for leaving her child behind, every mother ensures that her child is well looked after, within her own limitations. It may be a child-care facility, a nanny or a grandparent.
The crisis areas and solutions: We all have faced these.
An unscheduled office meeting, your child running a temperature, an absent nanny, a sick grandparent, a personal emergency…..familiar hurdles, while walking the tightrope between a career and parent.
There is no one size- fits- all- solution! Every mother and child, every job and each family has their own equation for this. A grandparent, a neighbour, spouse, a friend…there are different solutions for every parent. I remember an emergency case, when I had to take my four-year-old along for an hour to the hospital and he was looked after by the staff!
My dictum was/is, ‘Never be afraid to ask for help and give help, when possible.’ For me, this was a friend, neighbour, my mother – a familiar face for my child and a safe haven as well. One of my elderly neighbors, grew so fond of my son that he is a substitute grandfather to my son to this day.
I can almost hear the cries of, “How could you?” from women/ mothers, who are aghast at such solutions.
But, I would stress that this is what worked for me. What works for you may be totally different.
The point is, solutions exist. We just need to open our minds to them.
Bottomline – Is my child affected?
Studies have shown no long-term effects on children of working mothers.
1) On the contrary, a mother who is content and satisfied with her roles as mother and career-woman makes for a healthier bonding.
2) The time that you spend together on your return is also more crucial.
3) Discuss your reasons for going to work with your child, in an age-appropriate way.
I did this with my son when he was about five years old. He had demanded to know why he could not have a stay-at-home mother like some of his friends. He was satisfied with my frank answers and would cheerfully bid me good-bye, even if I had to leave for an emergency at odd hours.
4) Emotional moments
There were still moments when maternal guilt would overwhelm me. It happens to all of us. It is helpful to show your child that you are affected as well.
The bone of contention
Getting the conversation going is easy, if you just introduce the topic of working mothers. The pros and cons, the prejudices, the all-knowing comments can get to you every single time, if you let them.
Leaving your child with someone, when you step out to work does not mean that you are abandoning them.
So, keep a tight rein on your guilt, be clear about your choices, firm about your priorities and candid about any problems that could arise with the people who are affected. You will never regret it.
Pic credit: horrigans (Used under a Creative Commons license)