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The mommy diaries

For a woman, choosing to be a stay-at-home mum or pursuing a high-flying career after having a child can be the most defining decision.

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For a woman, choosing to be a stay-at-home mum or pursuing a high-flying career after having a child can be the most defining decision. On International Women’s Day, DNA presents the stories of three women in Mumbai who grappled with this conflict within themselves in different ways.

‘At 2, my daughter knows I’m a career woman’
Priya Badshah’s two-year-old daughter, Sara, is as determined as her mother — try offering her a chocolate and she refuses politely.  The tot calmly accepts that any family member, even her doll, if not around, must have a busy day at ‘office’.

“Inculcating such understanding at a young age hasn’t come easy,” says the 33-year-old mother who juggles with her career as senior manager of corporate communication at a leading life insurance company.

Springing back to work after a four-month-long maternity leave seemed the most obvious choice for Badshah.  However, when Sara was a month old, Badshah met with an accident that rendered her immobile for six months. She went back to work after a year, limping and anxious about leaving her child back home. “I was headstrong — I wanted both, my child and my career.”

Thus began her tightrope walk. On a flight, Badshah cannot afford to mull over files — instead, every minute is spent introspecting what Sara should be introduced to next, whether her diet needs new elements or whether building blocks must be introduced in her play. So, Sara finds her mother returning from work one day and telling her stories — not about Cinderalla, but those that teach her good manners in the guise of ‘fun’. She finds herself constantly having to snap in and out of the two roles.

Her doggedness to find a middle path gives Badshah enough reason to feel guilty at times and become pessimistic.

For instance, if Sara misbehaves, Badshah’s paranoia convinces her that she’s “all wrong as a mother.” Or, when she missed two open house meetings at Sara’s playschool, she herself couldn’t bring herself to work due to guilt.

“It is a struggle to shake yourself up and stick to the choices you’ve made for yourself. For instance, I choose to weigh what I bring to Sara’s growth as an independent, confident role model vis-à-vis a stay-at-home mum.” She clarifies that she isn’t running down a homemaker’s role. “It’s just that I wouldn’t be a satisfied individual. Would I make a good mother then? It is impossible.”

Opting for this path means waking up Sara as she slept in Badshah’s lap because she had make a dash for office. “Excuse the cliché, but every mother will tell you this — it felt criminal to wake her up when she looked so angelic… and I had to snap out of it the moment I got into my car and pored over office documents,” she says, the conflict clearly visible.

 In these circumstances, it may be the easiest thing to overindulge Sara but Badshah stands firm. Instead of expensive toys and lavish parties, Sara’s birthday gifts include spending 10 days out of town with her otherwise busy parents. “And no, the maid is not tagged along. It is me who Sara has at her beck and call,” says Badshah proudly.

‘I hid in the office restroom and wept’
In 1980, when Archana Pai Kulkarni got married, she remembers being excitable about the options she could choose from as she pursued her master’s degree in arts. Effervescent and voluble by nature, she had dabbled in designing and loved working as a book advisor before she tied the knot. However, after she had her first child in 1981, she had to step back and make some life-altering decisions. The most important one was to be a stay-at-home mum for the following 15 years.

“I think I know where that drastic step had its roots… My mother worked when I was young and I remember missing her presence sorely. I was clear that I would not miss seeing my children grow up.”

And she didn’t. Kulkarni recollects having the time of her life when she would take them out for treks and put various objects in a bag and teach them how to identify textures with their eyes closed.
However, restlessness did creep in for Kulkarni as her creative leanings tugged at her. “Was I ever tempted to start working? At times, I was. That’s when I decided that sitting at home shouldn’t be synonymous with stagnation.” Kulkarni struggled with her wish to complete her master’s degree, which would require her to put her child in a crèche. But after only a day of the trial, she gave up the idea. “I became so paranoid of letting strangers look after my child, that I chose to sit at home and freelance instead.” Kulkarni also completed a course in creative writing and got many poems published over the next few years.

Finally, in 1998, when her younger daughter was twelve years old, Kulkarni, then 38, thought it was time to kickstart her career. With her profile, she soon landed a job as the editor of a magazine, but the affair was not as jubilant as one may presume — and it had nothing to do with the hostility she faced from her subordinates who chafed at having a boss with no prior experience at editing. “Soon, I was summoned by my daughter’s teacher. Her grades were falling and she had suddenly become demanding. I constantly blamed myself for abandoning her.” Kulkarni remembers hiding in the restroom at work and sobbing with guilt. It took patience to help her daughter understand her dilemma and appreciate her need to work.

Today, Kulkarni has no regrets. “My son and I chat about his first smoke, his girlfriends and so on. I doubt whether we would’ve had that rapport had I done a blink-and-miss role in his childhood…”

‘At times, i wondered where my life was headed’
Five years ago, when Nilanjana Sengupta had her child, she decided to take a prolonged break from her career as an HR head at an MNC. She was clear that her child would be best raised under her care.
“However, it hit me with time — that my colleagues had zoomed past, that my husband who was my classmate had scaled the corporate ladder… I began to wonder if I had done the right thing.”

It took a good deal of introspection for Sengupta to stick by her choice and find a way out of her frustration. “My friends often comment how my HR career has ended. Amidst shuttling between my daughter’s ballet classes and her education, I wondered whether my life was going anywhere.” Then she decided to try her hand at new lines of work which would allow her to have a bit of both worlds. Self-discipline and hard work paid dividends. Today she works with an NGO and pursues creative writing.

“I wait for my daughter to sleep and work through nights,” she says. There was a time when she got carried away and took on additional responsibilities — only to find her daughter adversely affected. “I never left home, but she noticed that I spent all the time over the telephone and on the laptop. She became cranky. Somewhere, I was trying to console myself that my mere presence would do the trick but it all came apart,” she remembers quietly.

Sengupta relies on the rewards she gets. “It is easy to go down the I-paid-a-high-price-for-motherhood road, but one has to count the blessings. As I see my daughter grow into a secure and happy girl, it all seems to tick.”

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