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Individual mothers continue to grapple with finding a balance between child-care and work. Can Society, including employers, create more just structures that allow women to balance these roles?
Before my daughter began Montessori last April, every morning I would slip out of bed, trying not to wake her as I got ready for office. On most days she woke up before I left and we parted, with a kiss, a smile and a wave. I had established a rule that I would not leave until she had happily said goodbye. She, for her part, seemed to have understood the weekday routine that involved her mother going to a faraway place called ‘office’, possibly the only place where she was left behind.
When I resumed work, after six months of maternity leave (a luxury, I’m told), I was happy to be back to the grind. This transition was aided by the comfort of having grandparents for constant support. And yet, each day since, I wondered if I was doing the right thing. I searched for reassurance in the scores of other women with children who continue to give their best at work and make of motherhood what best they can.
It also helps that my mother was working (still is, into her late 50s) and my brother and I seem to have turned out fine. But the fact that she dealt with the same dilemmas thirty years ago as I am today is very discomforting.
The key note of distress among working parents is how to maintain the ideal work-life balance and not lose their sanity in the process. Especially for mothers who continue to work outside the home, the daily angst of balancing their career aspirations alongside child-rearing and domestic duties remains a continuous challenge.
The only choices that exist are paying through their nose for day-care (which one parent must rush to from work as these close earlier than average office time), moving in with grandparents if they can or for the mother to quit her job. With escalating prices, parents often need dual incomes to run a home in the city. If there is no restriction in monetary terms and a woman has to leave work solely due to the absence of child-care alternatives, then the ensuing disillusionment cannot be good either for her or her family.
Ever since the Feminist movement began in the early 20th Century, arguments have continued over whether stay-at-home mothers are better than working ones. The fact is that all women with children are working mothers, whether they are home-makers or find their bliss in the boardroom.
The fact is that all women with children are working mothers, whether they are home-makers or find their bliss in the boardroom.
In October 2012, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer was criticised for projecting an unhealthy image for female executives when she returned to work after two weeks of delivering her baby. Then in March last year Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, raked the hornet’s nest when she played down institutional constraints and said women often dropped out of leadership roles because of “internal obstacles”. She summed up the solution in the title of her book, urging women to “Lean In”.
Prescriptions abound on what women should do, what they should want and how they should behave. When a woman plans to have a baby, her decision to continue working outside or become a home-maker is fraught with anxiety over child-care, career aspirations and the monetary implications of her decision. Instead it should be driven by the roles she wishes to play in life, both as an individual and as part of a family.
As a society we have begun to give prominence to educating the girl child, providing ample opportunities for higher education and subsequent hiring in organisations. However, the existing framework does not adequately address the relevant needs of a working woman during her entire life cycle as an employee. Allowing mothers to be more fluid with their child-rearing and job responsibilities is always going to benefit both families and organisations.
The Government for its part has created a provision for crèches under several industrial acts such as Section 48 in The Factories Act, 1948 that mandates all factories employing more than 30 women to also provide a crèche facility in the premises. The private sector has been less than forthcoming in family-friendly initiatives. There are industries such as IT/ITeS that have been more flexible in allowing women to work from home or providing facilities that aid them in taking care of their children while being employed. But these are few and far between.
Left to themselves, corporations would always check the impact of any initiative against their profit margins. Linking the provision for a crèche facility to the number of women in the company could impact recruitment of qualified women, perhaps more negatively than is prevalent today. The key is to create a framework that mandates the responsibility of childcare on society and incentivizes corporations to provide facilities to help women continue to work after childbirth, if they so desire.
Adding a crèche facility to the list of mandatory facilities within a building will allow working families to manage their lives better and corporations to benefit from a more engaged workforce and lower female employee attrition. Also, sharing the cost for this facility with other occupants of the building will not adversely impact their real estate costs.
The arguments often cited against a daycare within office buildings include limited use by employees and extra safety measures because of the presence of children. Setting quality standards for the daycare industry can settle questions of safety and parents’ comfort.
While watching my daughter wave goodbye to me one morning, an old gentleman remarked, “Why are you waving goodbye to your mother? Shouldn’t your mother be waving goodbye while sending you off to school.” To be able to do that and more, I switched jobs a few months ago, albeit at a lower salary.
In a just world I should have the right to make work-life decisions involving fair alternatives. This is only possible if I’m certain that my choices will be supported by societal structures, like being able to take my baby to work.
Working mother image via Shutterstock
Manika is a textile and craft storyteller plus human sight-seer by day and mommy
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