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Most Indian moms feel parenting today is a detailed to-do list. But do they pay the price of intensive parenting with their derailed careers?
Roshni Mathew, a Human Rights Lawyer from Mumbai became a stay at home mother (SAHM), as of few weeks ago. When her daughter completed 6 months, she realized she could not have it all. While she says it was her choice to quit, she acknowledges that her husband did not face too much pressure to make changes to his professional life. She emphasizes her choice even while clarifying that mothers are expected to immerse themselves in intensive parenting much more than before.
‘I feel that Indian mothers of today are under too much pressure to raise perfect children from their own mothers, aunts and other women,’ she says.
But the sad truth is that sometimes the pressure to indulge in intensive parenting is entirely internal, albeit forged by external factors. As a young mother, I often found myself crushed under the unreasonable standards of perfection that I had imposed on myself in the name of motherhood.
As an expat and a new mother, all the depictions of mothers that I saw were near perfect. They had given up their careers to focus on their children who were fed perfectly balanced nutritious meals, that were presented in a masterful way. The children were ferried from one extracurricular class to the next from eighteen months onwards. They were read to, and sang to, and never said no to.
I had just released my third book around the time my daughter completed eighteen months, and I had mothers ask me how I found the time to write while parenting. I had not. I had fallen prey to intensive parenting and I had written my novella on my phone while she napped. What should have been a joyful process of creation, was a period that I look back at as one of the most stressful periods of my life. I learnt the hard way that intensive parenting and a mother’s career are not the best of bedfellows.
Dr. Kochurani Abraham, a pediatrician based in Kerala, says she quit working only to focus on motherhood as a SAHM. While she stresses that witnessing a child’s milestones is priceless, she says, ‘The unfair part is that the child rearing responsibility, by default, falls on a mother’s shoulders. A mother getting back to her job is an ordeal, unlike the ease with which she leaves it.’
Zeena Benjamin, a 37 year old Product Marketing Manager agrees that despite striving to be fair about dividing parental responsibilities at home, the bulk of parenting does fall on her shoulders and intensive parenting, and as expected, extracts a price. ‘I would say it does affect my career because I don’t spend as much time on my work as the others in my current team do. I do feel overwhelmed at times. My daughter is old enough now and I wanted to fast track my career, do something I have always wanted to do. I love the job; I am learning much faster and making an impact, and I know I can do more.’
Ramya Kamraj, a SAHM who is a doctor with advanced qualifications in Family Medicine and Medical Law and Ethics, underlines the unfairness. ‘Intensive parenting is killing women’s freedom in so many ways. Our parents raised multiple children on smaller financial budgets compared to us raising one or two kids. They still managed to find time for each other. They still managed to raise decent children who grew up to be something. Intensive parenting is smothering children and mothers in a very slow, steady and silent manner.’
Many mothers say that at its heart it is nothing more than a race to make sure that their child is getting the best exposure and experience possible, to make their childhood as well-rounded as possible. It is about being on call 24/7 and hands-on like never before. It is a full-time job in itself, and how is one supposed to have the energy or mind-space to have a career, when as a mother you feel morally responsible to give your child the best shot, in a world where resources are increasingly scarce? And if a mother does not do this for her child, who will?
Arathi Vittal, a SAHM who gave up her job as a Montessori teacher believes that it also has to do with the lack of support systems that modern Indian Moms lack.
‘It takes a village to raise children and that village has really shrunk. Some of us don’t have a village at all to help us raise our children. Another reason why mothers are more hands on now is because of safety issues. We read and hear so many stories of child sexual abuse and that has created a fear in parents. The pressure of raising global citizens who are exposed to as many extracurricular activities forces many moms to be tiger moms too.’
Yet many feel blaming society and the pressures of intensive parenting seems to be a simplistic way of explaining the complex issue of Indian Mothers and their careers.
Work from home mother Rati Ramadas, who is an Editor and Content Strategist for a parenting site based in Mumbai says, ‘There are tons of other reasons women stop working — traffic not allowing moms to reach home sooner, infrastructure that doesn’t allow moms to visit kids in schools, bad state of daycares, etc.’
Dr. Kochurani agrees. ‘Intensive parenting is not killing a mother’s career, but is definitely delaying their progress,’ she says.
According to a study on Intensive Parenting conducted by the University of Mary Washington, mothers who indulge in the same firmly believe that ‘women make better parents’. But the Indian mothers I spoke to were quick to point out that it was not the gender of the parent that cut down on professional commitments, but the one that would be able to provide more financial stability for the family.
Smruthee Thota who has a Masters in Hospital Administration and is a SAHM says, ‘There might come a time when one of them (the parents) needs to give up their career for the kids. Then it should come down to how much financial stability they give the family individually, and the decision needs to be taken keeping that in mind. Not necessarily man v.s woman.’
Ramya Kamraj, currently pregnant with her second child echoes this. ‘It was a straight-forward conversation my husband and I had before our child. Our logic was this. He is a guy. He will have lesser prejudice at his workplace due to his gender. He will be paid better and will have a better shot at everything simply because he is a man. We agreed on that. So he tries to stabilize his career and make good money. We set a target of 6-7 years. After that he will have the time to be around for the kids while I pursue my career. In the unfortunate situation that he dies, I’m still qualified to land a job easily and provide for our kids. So I gave up my career because I am a woman. My husband is not a male chauvinist. We didn’t have it in us to fight the system, so we are just playing it the best way we can.’
But not every Indian Mom can hope to map out her post-child career that clearly. Also, the gender pay gap means that it is usually the men who earn better, and the woman who ends up being the fall guy. So, what could a more fair and accessible solution be?
Apart from making workplaces more conducive for returning mothers, and flexible to the needs of parents in general, it also seems that there is a general consensus that society as a whole needs to back off from the belief that a mother’s life should centre around her child. Irrespective of the mother choosing to go back to full-time work, or cutting down on her professional responsibilities, or quitting to spend time with her child, she should still be able to maintain her personhood without dissolving completely into the needs and wants of her child, real or perceived, in the name of intensive parenting.
Image source: shutterstock
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Shweta Ganesh Kumar is a Writer and Travel columnist.
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