A few days ago, a friend who is a new mom of a handsome little one month old boy, left me the kindest message. She wanted to talk to me about my decision to be a stay-at-home-mom (for an undetermined period of time) after the birth of my baby girl Parijat, who has just turned 6 months old. My friend asked for my insight into what helped me make the decision that I took and how I felt about it today. When I spoke to her later that week, I did explain what was going on in my mind and hearing myself talk out loud was a very rewarding experience. What I said to her, I will share at the end of this post, but for now, I will try and compose a few thoughts around a much discussed and debated topic of motherhood and pursuing a professional career.
Are these two realities mutually exclusive or can they successfully intertwine? Why? Why not? What enables a woman to balance both? When does she want both? When does she choose one or the other? Why does she choose one or the other? I know I am incapable of answering these questions so I went back to the storehouse of knowledge that I have gained through the years by observing and talking to of some wonderful friends who were kind enough to share their insight on this topic. Some of these women have chosen to be a mom and mom alone. Some have chosen to pursue successful careers along with their commitment to motherhood. Some, like me, took the longest time to even think about having children because a career was what they wanted to focus on. These women, who belong to different nationalities, are from different walks of life, from corporate executives to teachers, from journalists to home makers. Their situations and circumstances were very diverse, but they made very concerted and conscientious decisions about why and how they wanted to live and love their roles as mothers.
TO HAVE A BABY OR NOT TO...
Isn’t it amazing how everyone has an opinion on the ability, timing, and decision about you becoming a parent if you aren’t one already? I often go back to my 13 years of being “childless” and laugh at the comments, conjectures and criticism I got. They ranged from anything to being “incapable” to being “incompetent” to being “immoral” for not procreating. I even recall when people found out I did and could give birth to a child, the first line of gossip that went around was, “Did they go through a treatment? Why were they childless for so long?” I know these individuals are going to read this paragraph and all I can say is, "Thank you so much for your concern and your care!" Am I being sarcastic? Hell yeah! Parenting is not a joke and once a parent you are always a parent. It is a lifelong commitment to a living human being not a job or a car (yes, I was pretty committed to my VW bug) or other relationships one forges in one’s lifetime. So have the child when you and your significant other are ready and if you are never ready, IT IS OK!!! Seriously people, you are not going to hell because you didn’t bring forth progeny. Grow up already!!!
DO I QUIT OR KEEP MY JOB?
Fortunately most legally compliant organizations will not immediately treat you like an outcaste when you start to sport the baby bulge. Being in HR, there was a common joke that you cannot ask a woman if she is pregnant, in an interview, unless she has gone into labor right there and voluntarily admits she needs help delivering a baby!!! A lot of factors have to be considered in making this decision. The women I spoke to or have seen over several decades make a decision one way or another have been guided some universal principles.
Raising a child is NOT inexpensive. According to a CNN Money article dated Sept 21st 2011, the cost of raising a child from birth to age 18 for a middle-income, two-parent family averaged $226,920 last year (not including college), according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That's up nearly 40% -- or more than $60,000 -- from 10 years ago. A few single moms I am friends with and have had the pleasure of working with, very categorically mentioned that they “had” to come back to work for very practical and obvious reasons. For these super moms, going back to work was not an option, it was a necessity. What is amazing in their story though is to see the wonderful children they have raised on their own. A few of them are pre-teens, some are in college but my gosh, these women knew what they were doing as Moms.
As fun as mommyhood is, it is NOT EASY and late nights and messy diapers are the over rated and hyped supposed stressors. Those are the least of your concerns as a mom, trust me. What is most concerning? Well that is the point? YOU NEVER KNOW! You can NEVER prepare for it; it will never be the same for 2 children. Given these variables that are all outside your control it is not easy to do this “balancing different balls in the air,” given your little tyke is the biggest ball and you DON’T want that ball to ever drop, in more ways than one! For the moms I spoke to, this was a big factor in whether they were able to go back to work or stay home for a while. Some were able to get help from parents, with others a good nanny wasn’t hard to find. Still others were able to return to work because of work time flexibility their husbands had. In almost every case where there was a conflict in the logistical area, the mom invariably took some time off before heading back to work, if that is what they wanted to do.
That is a HUGE factor that enables or disables a woman to pursue a career after becoming a mother. I was married for about 3 years then and fresh out of grad school doing my internship in North Utah and staying by myself in an apartment close to work. A lady with a little boy came up to me one evening and started chatting and invited me over for dinner. I showed up on the given date and the sight which greeted me literally left me speechless. Her little boy had just spilled some semi-solid food all over the carpet. Her husband who was in the other room, walked into the mess and walked right ON it, reprimanding the lady for not keeping the room clean and disciplining the child and then stomped out of the room after bestowing on me a cursory “hello.” I am not sure how the evening went because it was all a blur. I recall the woman never showed me her face for the next 3 months I was there, out of sheer embarrassment. Yes, weird realities like this do exist and then you also have husbands who want to take care of the baby at night, because they know you did the hard part of carrying the child for 9 months and then giving birth (epidural or no epidural)! Such situations do make a huge difference in whether a woman feels she is in the right frame of mind to go back work, knowing her child will be well taken care of in her absence.
Priorities and choices
Finally what should be the key determinant in all this, is the woman’s own rationale to prioritize the different elements in her life. Every woman I know who has taken a decision either way and has enjoyed it, has done so knowing what is best for her. Almost everyone said this in various ways but I am quoting a friend when she said, “My way to be good at it is to simply be ME & when I take care of ME, I give the best of ME!” Much too often we associate thinking of “me” as being selfish. Much too long we have been taught by our elders and peers to think of nothing more than the child and our family. Much too unfortunately do we fall for stereotypes on what our role ought to be, not what we want it to be. Whatever you decide, know that you own that decision, both the joys and the consequences. And once you have established that ownership in your mind, life is much easier and for all the right reasons.
For me personally, this has been biggest deciding variable for all my decisions in life so far. As far as motherhood goes, my closest of friends know this, my husband I adore children but we never thought of having our own. We both were very devoted to our professions and I was not in the frame of mind to give it up till I suddenly was. So enjoying dinner at the Bull and Bear restaurant overlookng Lexington Avenue during a conference at the Waldorf was just as much fun as waking up to some dark chocolate truffles mid air in the swanky locales of business travel in great airlines. It was just as much fun to freeze in Stonehenge with Neel as it was for me to saunter along zen gardens in Kyoto after a business trip. Looking back, I wouldn't change a thing because at the end of the day, making the right choices for the right reasons is all that matters if you want to be at peace with yourself.
The math adds up in your favor if you do this right! The child truly is the face of God and also the father of man. With those to qualifiers going for your little tyke, any well thought out decision will lead to its own rewards and reprimands. There is no perfect answer, there is no perfect formula to determine the outcomes. There is nothing certain about tomorrow other than the ever increasing undying and unconditional love you will feel for your child with each passing day. The rest is just fluff! Enjoying the moments as they come is all that matters in the end.
After I chatted with my friend and hung up the phone, I looked at Parijat who was lying next to me. She was holding on to her little bumble bee toy in one hand and the edge of my kurta (the long shirt I had on) in the other. Her expectant eyes looked up at me as I smiled at her. Her little face broke into a toothless grin as she knew Ma was all hers again. She happily squealed out loud and then went back to play with her bumble bee. Yes friends, that is why I quit my job to be a stay at home mom after working in a profession I absolutely have been in love with for a decade and half. Do I miss it? OF COURSE, I do! The joy of seeing a light bulb come on in the faces of my audience while facilitating a strategy discussion was supremely fulfilling. It is just, that the joy of watching the light bulb come on in Parijat’s doe eyes as she discovers and rediscovers that her little fist is a part of her arm is, well, just a wee bit more..