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Does Marriage and Motherhood mean that you can never pursue your dream of a higher education? Here are 6 women to motivate you with their stories.
It is a truth universally known to Indian women that many in India see marriage and the begetting of offspring as the be-all and end-all achievement of one’s life. It does not matter that you stood at the top of your class and it certainly does not matter that you were plucked from your campus by the best of companies as the candidate of choice, you are seen as having achieved success only if you get married and have kids. That according to many should be your true vocation.
But then there are those who go beyond the limitations set to them by society and the challenges of motherhood, to dive back into the world of academics and excelling in their chosen field. Here are seven women with their perspectives on chasing their academic dreams after marriage and kids.
‘You might lose your health, wealth and looks as the years go by but your education and character will always be with you, because education is a character building element.’
59 year-old Latha Alexander has been the principal of the De Paul Public School in Thodupuzha for fifteen years now. But it hasn’t always been smooth sailing.
‘I was doing my M.Com when I got married and had to move to Kuwait with my husband before the exam. On coming back to India, my husband, kid and bedridden father-in-law needed attention, thus I waited for almost ten years to restart my studies. My mother-in-law recommended a B.Ed and I passed with flying colours,’ she remembers.
Latha returned to work as a substitute teacher for class three students in the school her children went to. Three years later, she moved to an international school in Ooty with her family.
‘5 years later I joined a CBSE school as the Principal. I wrote my M.Com exam and studied for my M.Phil and CIG courses while I was working, clearing all of them in the first attempt itself.’
Latha says that her faith, an understanding family and the inner motivation to be useful to others as well as her self helped.
‘Sending the six and seven-year-olds to school, leaving the house with food for your dear ones on the table, and taking care of the needs of guests now and then, were issues if you look at them as such but if you have a positive mindset all will work out for good.’
Latha was nominated five times for a National Teaching Award and she has won it once as a Teacher Principal, an achievement that gives her immense pride.
‘You can do it – just keep your eyes on the final goal. There will be multiple challenges on the way, but don’t ever lose sight of the goal.’
37 year-old Namrata Sadhwani who is currently a well-known social media influencer and a content editor based in Hyderabad, started out with a B.A in architecture. She says she dived into work with little interest in pursuing a higher degree, and eventually succumbed to the societal and familial pressure of getting married, till something about her new family made her want to get back to academics.
‘I got married in 2008 and moved to Hyderabad. I am part of a joint family, my brother-in-law and co-sister are doctors and my husband too held a post graduate degree (MBA). Somewhere, the idea of being the only one amongst the four who was slightly less qualified rankled, but I had made my peace with it. Surprisingly in my situation, it was my brother-in-law and co-sister who actually encouraged me to go back to university and get a Masters, before children entered our lives and I got all caught up. They would all, including my husband, help to look for courses, further education options, etc.’
The university where Namrata was working at as an assistant professor started a part-time M. Arch course meant for working professionals. She applied, gave the entrance exam and qualified. However, her reality of being a working plus studying daughter-in-law of a joint family did bring its own unique set of challenges.
‘I used to work full-time as a lecturer, so by day I was a teacher and by evening I was a student. That meant 5 days a week I was out of my house from 8:30am to 9:00pm, and that was very demanding. Besides that, there was the need to make time to study, do assignments, group projects, etc. It was all very physically demanding, as through it all you are also trying to maintain some semblance of a family life. My family supported me through and through and made it as easy as possible for me.
Mental challenges were also an inherent part of the process as you try to balance it all, and taking breaks is not an option once you get into studying. Exams became a whole new ball game! Dealing with work deadlines as well as study deadlines was definitely challenging. And emotionally, you are wallowing in the guilt of not giving enough time to family or to work or to studies and getting pulled in all directions. But family support and love for what you do pulls you through it all.’
Despite all of that Namrata urges women who want to get back into academics after marriage to go for it. She says that the key is to have a good support system at home. ‘Don’t feel guilty about offloading work to your support system, and understand that for the amount of time you are studying, time spent with family will be less, so make every minute count by your mindful presence.’
‘I believe a woman can achieve anything she wants if she decides to go for it. You can’t achieve anything without expecting hiccups during your journey but the end result is worth it.’
34-year-old Shazneen Shaikh had been pursuing her MBA when her wedding was fixed.
‘I decided to get back to studying immediately after marriage as that was the only condition I had put forward in my marriage. But I could not restart my MBA immediately as I got married in November and it was not possible to start at that time of the year as all the courses were already halfway through. I did not want to waste time, so I started researching different courses around my area as I was new to Bombay and not familiar with the city.’
Shazneen enrolled for a full-time diploma in the local INIFD, a choice that ended up putting a lot of strain on her relationship with her husband’s family that could not comprehend her work taking up so much of her time. By the end of the course things were going badly in her marriage and other relationships, so she moved back to her home in Panchagani, determined to complete her course no matter what.
‘I decided to stay at my aunt’s place in Mumbai to give my final exams. I had never travelled by a local train and I needed to travel by the local as my Aunt stayed very far from my Examination center. So my aunt showed me how to catch a local the day prior to my exams. I ended up passing my exams with great marks. I feel like it was an achievement that I did not give up no matter what was going on in my personal life.’
Shazneen went on to complete her MBA post that, while grappling with her personal challenges, including her pregnancy.
‘My morning sickness made me miss a lot of my classes – I was doing a dual specialization – Banking and income tax. The best part was that the classes I went to were packed with young boys and girls and I was sitting between them with an eight-month old pregnancy belly. But I did it. My last paper was given on the first day my ninth month and I got my result when my son was a month old and I got an A+. I feel happy I did not make my pregnancy an excuse and that I did it with all the ups and down of pregnancy.’
After taking time off to be a homemaker, Shazneen recently completed a course on Early Childhood Care & Education, astounding her family yet again as she took to the stage with a speech to all the graduates assembled there.
‘Marriage/kids are not the end of the world for a women. Women have every right to be independent and they have all the rights to pursue their dream.’
Thirty-two year old Aparna Vasudevan says that it was her husband who urged her to pursue her dream of higher education. Having gotten married to a defense personnel and having had a child soon after, Aparna had left her dreams far behind.
‘When my son was almost a year old, my husband wanted me to continue my higher education because he knew my interest in it. I was reluctant initially, wondering how I would be able to manage studies along with family and a kid. But he supported and encouraged me so much that I enrolled for my B.Ed.’
Despite the support, Aparna found herself plagued with mom guilt every step of the way.
‘Though my parents and parents-in-law were taking care of my son well, the guilty feeling didn’t fade. During the first few days of college I used to think about him every minute during the classes. I used to call every now and then to enquire on his whereabouts. As soon as I reached home, I hugged and kissed and played with him as much as I could. Due to my husband’s job, he was not available too so I had to be a father as well as a mother during his absence.’
It was purely the support of her family that helped Aparna focus on her studies.
‘My husband used to plan his holidays during my exams so that all of them could take sole responsibility of my child while I concentrated only on my exams. The encouragement gave me more courage and confidence, and I enrolled for my M.Sc after completing my B.Ed.’
Today, Aparna is a Mathematics Tutor who boasts of getting the most number of new students thanks to referrals that are a testament to her teaching skills.
‘I have students who scored in single digits in mathematics before enrolling with me. Within a year of enrolment, most kids have developed an interest in Mathematics and even taken it up as their core subject.’
‘Each one of us has our own path and career ladders to climb at our own pace depending on what our goals are in life. So it is important to keep in mind why you started climbing this ladder again after a break especially on your tough days.’
36-year-old Divya Menon had taken a break from academics after completing her masters in Dentistry and was working in India in a Dental College as a Dental Specialist. The mother of one enjoyed the stability her job gave her, but she did long for more.
‘I couldn’t wait to face more challenging opportunities in my career for advancement of knowledge and pushing back boundaries. Hence I decided to pursue a PhD, so that I could be a clinician scientist with a dual purpose of solving a patient’s problem while trying to understand the disease mechanism of that patient’s illness.’
She says that as a parent as well as student, one of the biggest challenges she faced was managing expectations.
‘My time management was being scrutinized more than ever. With so many demands on my time, it was difficult to socialize with colleagues, which led to alienation at work. Moreover finding affordable and convenient daycare was tricky especially as I was pursing my PhD degree as an expat.’
Divya says that it is important to keep your personal goals in mind on the challenging days and that it is essential to keep your partner or support system in the loop.
‘It is important to actively discuss with your spouse regarding your goals and what you need from them to make sure that you reach your family and career goals. Last but not the least self-care is inevitable for your endurance both as a parent and as a student.’
Despite the hurdles, Divya went on to achieve her goals. ‘My biggest achievement in my field was to complete a PhD after MDS and finally embark on my journey as a Clinician-Scientist with dual degree (MDS-PhD).’
‘When you are going back to studying, you have to realise that everyday you have just a little bit less of yourself to give. That’s the bit you’re going to be giving yourself. It feels incredibly rebellious!’
Nayana is a part-time English Teacher and Children’s storyteller in Switzerland. Though she was always going to pursue higher education and be an Academic after she finished her M.A. in English, life happened, taking her down a different course.
‘I began teaching. I then met and married my husband. Moved countries multiple times, had children…In Switzerland, it soon became apparent that in spite of my British accent and my qualifications from British universities, prospective employers were choosing to be concerned on whether I was a native English speaker or not, whether my mother tongue was English or not (it isn’t). I don’t believe that whether I was born in England (I wasn’t) should determine my career and I felt very rebellious about it. I’m fortunate enough to be working with much more open-minded people now but at the same time, I thought that the time was nigh to turn my attention back to Plan A, and give myself a little chance to get back into academia.’
It was early this year that she finally decided to take the plunge back into the world of academics, soon finding that her biggest challenge was time.
‘As a part- time working mother living in a country with no support and no backup, my biggest challenge has been time. There really isn’t enough of it and I find myself stealing study breaks whenever and wherever I can.’
Despite the challenges of time and the new routine she is getting used to, Nayana is happy with the progress she is making.
‘Every time I submit anything, it feels like a giant achievement. If and when I do well, it feels so much more rewarding now than it did back in the day when I was 18.’
Nayana has this to say to those who dream of going back to academics after marriage and children.
‘Your only resource is you. Children and partners will try their best but they are also caught up in the whirlwind of their own lives. You have to find the time to excuse yourself from your own life and obligations to do this.’
Words that will resonate with those hoping to pursue their dreams after having long-shelved them post marriage and motherhood.
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Shweta Ganesh Kumar is a Writer and Travel columnist.
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