Sharanya Misra

Let me at the outset clarify that when I mention ‘work’ here, it includes ANY work. So, it could be the work at home done by a home-maker-parent or it could be work in a professional/entrepreneurial environment. Either way, every parent struggles to find that fine balance between ‘work’ and ‘parenting’, especially with younger kids who still need high emotional and physical support from their caretakers. And not just any balance, but more importantly, balance that lets them keep their own sanity intact! Parenting isn’t easy, and I have realised that the solution to this ever-present problem is to Offload, Build & Engage. Let’s discuss further.

A few days back a school friend of mine reached out to me on Instagram, asking how I managed to work with such a young kid. I responded immediately – I know the fears and apprehensions running through the mind of one mother reaching out to another – I told her I had hired a nanny who took care of my child while I worked. I am no super mom, I never intend to be. Because the day I try to be that super-human managing every detail of the environment around me and my child, I WILL end up compromising my mental health and peace. Instead, I have worked out the 3 important factors that allow me to work AND be an emotionally available parent AND focus on my sanity too:

  1. OFFLOAD – Identifying areas in my everyday life that I don’t need to do myself.
  2. BUILD – Finding and building a relevant & reliable support system/tribe.
  3. ENGAGE – Earmarking time specifically to be spent with my child.

Talking of balance, one question I have particularly come across with a working mother is “Can she have it all”! As vague (what does ‘all’ even mean?) and sexist (why not pose the same question to a father?!) the question might me, it stems from the fear that a woman has too many things to balance – household chores, marriage, relationships, childcare AND responsibilities at her job – to be able to enjoy all of it at the same time. So after repeatedly hearing this question being posed to every woman achiever in the world, here is my take on it. NOBODY can HAVE/DO it ‘ALL’ 100%. That’s just the truth. So, does that mean we can never achieve the balance? Absolutely not. The key here is 1. To decide what the ‘ALL’ encompasses for you and your family. 2. To decide priorities – At a given time, what is the minimum % of everything on your platter that you MUST have?

For instance, very early on in my relationship with my daughter, I realised I prioritised spending time with her and investing in her upbringing. Alongside that came my need for the sense of security that I got from financial independence. Having quality family time too was important. Sure, I had other things in my list too. I wanted to keep my home tidy. I wanted good home cooked food every day. I wanted to read, and so on. But I also knew that what I wanted & needed most apart from these was my peace. I didn’t want any of it at the cost of my mental health. Being a parent is in itself very mentally taxing. Add to that hectic office deadlines, thinking of what who needs to eat at home, whether the clothes have been washed…..

And so, my solution was to offload. I hired a nanny for my child because I was working from home. I hired a cook for those healthy home cooked meals. I hired a help who would keep my house clean and would do the dirty dishes and run the washing machine every few days. Slowly, over time I built a support system I could fall back on. Managing my household and my child’s care this way allows me to give space for my individual aspirations and needs, and at the same time, spend every minute of my life outside office hours engaging with her. Sure she doesn’t eat her ‘maa ke hath ka khana’, but she eats healthy food cooked at home and that was enough for me. I don’t spend ALL my time with her because I have a 9-5 job, but when I am with her later, she gets my undivided attention. In turn, I too have those hours every day just to myself, my work, being able to eat my lunch in peace and having that piping hot cup of coffee every evening with some grown up company. NOBODY can have 100% of EVERYTHING. But we CAN have EVERYTHING in various degrees, suited specifically to our needs and interests.

Building that tribe, that support system that you can fall back on is very important while raising a child, not just because it exposes the child to love and attention from several quarters but it also gives parents a way out when they need a break. Apart from hiring help for the everyday mundane, identifying close friends and family who can help out on occasion or in emergencies can be a big source of mental relief to parents too. There are days for example when I gratefully handover my little one to the family so I can have a good long much needed hot shower!

When we speak of parental support systems, people often assume it has to be from the immediate family. Well, it could. But it doesn’t have to be. When it comes to childcare, relevant support is often more important than just any support. It is upto the parents to decide what the source of this relevant support must be. For instance, when my daughter was a baby, like with many mothers I am sure, I was bombarded with advice from EVERYWHERE. But after much research, I found some groups on FB that provided the kind of relevant information that I was looking for that helped me sail through the early days of motherhood. Similarly, many a time grandparents can be found playing the role of secondary caregivers. I personally do not prefer this method because I believe 1. It ties up the grandparents and takes away their space, something I do not like as I strongly believe our parents don’t owe us anything. 2. I have very specific ideas on my child’s upbringing which I find easily conveyed and abided by when I hire help. For instance, I was very particular that my child not be fed ANY sugar/salt during her first year. Similarly, parents nowadays can be particular about screen time or food or language…or anything else, something that family members may not necessarily be able to wrap their heads around. The type of childcare we chose was a CHOICE we made specifically for the ways of our family. Every family must find their own way.

Also worth a mention is the strange idea that hiring help is something that homemakers do not need. After all, if they are there at home, why can’t they manage the baby or take care of household chores all by themselves? Because there is no such thing as a ‘super-mom’/’super-parent’. Atleast not one with a smile on their face, and hair still intact! Parents need balance, no matter whether they work inside the house, outside or both. Mental health is important, and support systems can help keeping us sane. I have often seen and read of families who ‘ask’ the women to stay away from working outside the house so that childcare can be focussed on. But like I have mentioned again and again, there are downsides to every approach. Often, the fathers in such cases burdened with the household’s complete finances doesn’t get time to engage with the child. An emotionally missing father too is not great news for a child. Or the mother is so mentally stressed that it in turn impacts the child on an emotional level. Similarly, I have seen the strange need for families in our country to only have food cooked with the ‘own 2(or more?!) hands’ of the women in the house. Sure, these could be some households’ priority. But let it not be done imagining that there is just no other way. It is for each parent/family to decide if having 100% in one area and 0% in another the way forward or if 30-40% in multiple areas could suffice as well? There are always other ways and sources of support who can make your life easy and strive for that balance. Ultimately it is all about making intelligent compromises. There is no fool proof method to get that balance. But one can try this and that, till something that fits the family suitably well emerges.

Having said all of this, one word of caution that must be shared is that external support can never be 100% reliable. The maid may call in sick leaving the house dirty. The cook may take a day off leaving the kitchen in a chaos. Grandparents may travel to another city for a wedding on a weekday leaving that critical delivery you have to complete this week in the lurch. Or everything may simply vanish overnight due to covid! I remember one time when my cook fell sick for a week. Everyday, I ordered breakfast in the morning, spent an hour in the afternoon and another in the evening in the kitchen (time borrowed from my commitments in office and to my child) and further lost on family time doing the dishes. Then was the time I went hunting for a nanny for my child. Finding the right kind of people as part of that support tribe is quite often challenging. 3 times nannies came, only to leave, till finally I found ‘the one’. When my child settled in with her, I realised I could finally breathe! Times like these however make you appreciate the value of the support systems you have in place. Life can still go on if you decide to do everything by yourself but there are always other compromises you make along the way. Hiring these helps give me time with my child AND give me the breathing space I personally need. There will always be difficult days, but with some patience we can bounce back to our regular lives.

While recently speaking about Women in the Workplace (https://newskarnataka.com/business/biz-talk/back-to-work-mothers-look-forward-to-supportive-system-sikta-mishra/), my sister Sikta Misra had a very apt way of driving this point in. She spoke of social expectations by showing the woman as a multi-handed lady much like Goddess Durga. And then she showed a group (of 2 handed people!) joining hands, to show what real, supportive parenting can look like. There lies the difference. Society has often portrayed women as multi-taskers who can REALLY DO IT ALL if they put their minds to it. Don’t fall for that. No man, no woman, can multi-task enough to do it ‘ALL’ by themselves. But together, along with all the other bits of the support system, whether physical or virtual, yes, ‘ALL’ can be achieved.

 

Read More of my parenting articles Here.

[Image from Pexels.com]

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