Does Working During A Childcare Crisis Make You A Bad Mom?

Posted: January 4, 2014

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.

Working during a childcare emergencyMy 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)

I am Ujwala Shenoy Karmarkar. I love reading, meeting people, listening to music, watching plays,

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17 Comments


  1. No one asks a man the same question – It’s his child, too. Even if your husband’s friend or relative or guest comes home on his invitation or your in-laws invitation at a time when audits are going on, it is your responsibility to cook and clean for extra people whom you would not have invited at this busy time. No one expects this from your husband. If your mum-in-law is sick, her own son goes to work, but you have to stay back or be scathingly criticized. You are expected to earn a lot but not more than your husband. And you have to work, but have to accompany your hubby to Saudi Arabia if he wants to stay there, resigning the job and life you love. Marriage is hateful and repugnant and stupid. Even if your hubby is understanding there are so many people around who have the right to pass judgement on you saying ‘Aurat hokey aisey karti hain’. There is no equality in Indian marriages. Living in is far better, laws protect women living in much more than they protect married women.

    • Totally and totally agree…… Luckily I have a wonderful family and husband …but I have seen friends and cousins who have gone through this kinda situation.

    • So you won’t be there full-time for your children at a very important stage of their life. You see, the mother is the primary caregiver – just ask divorced women fighting for child custody! Men exist to pay the bills. Now, there’s a cost for the job and life you love, and that’s what you should accept. You may rationalize, justify, and even fight this, but can you please stop feeling guilty?

    • The point of the piece was make women realize that feeling guilty is natural. but letting it bog you down is not. .
      Very sad if you feel that all that fathers do is pay the bills.On the contrary, I feel that i could go to work and keep working because my husband was supportive and helpful. Even with divorced parents, we need to remember that a child needs both, mothers and fathers to be involved, if possible to have a healthy upbringing.

    • Renu and Shoba,
      This is precisely the reason why I try to offer help and support to other women in such situations.It feels good to be “passing on” the help that I was fortunate to get in my younger years. Even if we do struggle now, it feels good to be lending a helping hand and non-judgemental shoulder for others to vent their problems.

  2. Dear Ujwala,

    I loved your post…as a working mom, i too go through all this daily…i loved a sentence in your post-“a mother who is content and satisfied with her roles as mother and career-woman makes for a healthier bonding”

    I hope down the years i am able to be happy that i chose to be a working mom…

  3. What ever u have said is fine and I too have faced such difficulties and managed to an extend. The only concern is the feeling of a child when he or she is sick. Even though they are grown up to manage themselves, they are expecting to be with their mother and their near by. so we need to think of the kids feeling and expectation, especially when they are sick.

  4. Good piece of writing.
    I have been to relate to this so much.
    Though I left my son with my mother, I was made to feel so guilty sometimes especially when he was unwell.
    Society should perceive a working mother in a better way and people should appreciate her efforts at managing both the worlds without a uffff.

    • Society and its attitudes will not change in a day, but we can and should change ourselves and our response to their behavior, prioritize our children whenever we ARE with them and treat other mothers in similar boats with compassion and understanding.

  5. I can totally understand….when my 9 month’s old oxygen level dropped to 68% in hospital and I was asked to let the team lead know earlier if i am going to be late like that in the daily 9:30 am meeting and was told “its not you who just have kids”

    • Goodness!!! Sounds ghastly. I once came across a colleague crying in the duty-room of the hospital for a similar reason. As I was not her senior, I could not intervene, but I sat with her till she was composed and she could go back in.
      I think what we need to remember is that all working women will face this. If we are the boss, then we should give the junior the day off….

  6. Anjali Chandra -

    A very very valid topic Ujjwala, and a problem that I as a once-upon-a-time full time journalist employed with a leading daily faced endlessly. And i must commend you here on managing to strike a balance between home and office, and what’s more managing to conquer those travails which have fazed many, including me.

  7. Chaitrali Mhatre -

    My mother is a working lady. She has been ever since i know her (that says right from the birth). She loves her job, and is 100% committed to it. I love her for that. It generated a feel of independence in me. Now i can never picture myself anything other than a working woman. She has never in one instance made me or my brother feel that we are neglected. Yes we would wait eagerly for her to come home, yes there were some days when we felt that she should be with us at the moment. But then what are sundays for, if not for enjoying one whole mummy day. Lots of pampering, outings. OH! how we use to wait for that “Sunday”. But these experiences made us realize her worth, and we use to savour each and every moment of her

  8. Radhika Raheja -

    Thank you for writing this piece. I have a 1.5 year old and have rejoined work just recently. I find comfort in the fact that the guilt that remains in me almost every day isn’t unnatural. My family and in-laws are all supportive, and it is because of them that I find the courage to leave my angel behind.

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