Balancing motherhood and career: Work vs Family life

motherhood and career

The recent Rio Olympics had a resonating theme. Beti Bachao and Beti, Bachao, as one tweet succinctly put. It is not a revelation that women have had a long struggle to get out from under the clutches of a society dominated by men- whether it is the struggle to right to vote, an education, equality or simply the right to be born.

But unfortunately, while on one hand we boast of our female athletes, leaders, businesswomen and academicians, our prehistoric brains are still stuck in patriarchal self serving notions of acceptable women. One look at any matrimonial classified section in any of the reputed newspapers and you’ll see Wanted homely, convent educated, very fair and very beautiful bride for groom with so and so monthly salary.

Translation – Wanted life long servitude from a beautiful bride who can bear beautiful children and do all homely chores, while also being presentable at office parties of her  bread winning, male chauvinistic swine of a groom.
 

Motherhood vs Career – The eternal debate

The perception of what a woman’s role should be is extremely well-defined, in our society. You can be the product manager of a large company with a hundred employees under you, but while socializing your husband will be asked about how his work is going on while you will be complimented on the choice of the menu.

You will see TV commercials where men will be endorsing all sorts of serious things like real estate, insurance or cars, all while women are seen forever struggling to make her husband’s shirt whitey white.

No, we are not here to talk about all that is wrong with our society and its unfairness with the treatment of women, historically and in the present times. We are here to talk about just one –

How does a woman balance her professional career with her traditionally accepted roles?

This question is broad and let’s just concentrate on the one that is probably the most sensitive of them all, balancing her growth in career and motherhood.

One thing to note here is that we will assume that the careers we are talking about don’t have employers who are notorious in making Corporate slaves of their employees. This article is based on women who are looking to balance a healthy career with raising a child.
 

Balancing Work and Family life

Before we start the discourse, let’s get the facts in order. According to a 2016 study by Grant Thornton, the percentage of women in senior business roles is still shy of 25%. If half of the world’s population are occupying only a quarter of the big honcho positions, we probably have serious unfairness in the system.

No, it is not because men are smarter. If the current global tragic economies, crumbling governments and total disarray of human life are any indicators, all the men who are top CEOs, politicians and diplomats, are doing a splendidly awful job. So let’s not go that route and agree that lack of smarts is not the reason holding women back.

In fact more women are likely to get hired, as compared to men, in hard core STEM fields in Universities (read article).

You must have an acquaintance of at least one of the kinds of women talked about next. Each has made a decision that needs no judgement. These are decisions that women have made to reach a compromise between their personal and professional life. So let’s take a few cases:

 
Malini has been working in a law firm and there is whisper on possibility of her becoming a partner. It has been a good year for her. She got married earlier with her husband, who also works in the same firm. She is excited about the possibilities but slowly a voice starts holding her back. It is a voice in her head warning her of the limitations that such a position will put on her plans of having and raising a child.

She discusses the fear with her husband and they decide that it would be best if he were to take on the partnership and the moolah into the house. While she will continue in the not so demanding current position, or perhaps leave her job, thus keeping a window open for diaper devils.

Nalini on the other hand has just joined a University as a junior faculty. She is in a tenure track position for the next five years. In other words, she will have to eat sleep breathe and even swear in research lingo to get enough papers floating in the scientific black hole.

While also inching closer to the proverbial biological clock, she is wary that she will have to choose between a career and a carrier. Her husband and she decide that they will have a kid and share their parental duties on equal grounds, while pursuing her tenure track.

Volini on the other hand is a late bloomer in her career growth. She has opened a start up with the dreams of making something big on her own…and no that doesn’t mean a kid. She chooses to leave babies out of her life and concentrate on what makes her feel happy, her job.

 

The three cases, here, show the range of women who choose different paths in the spectrum where full time motherhood is on one extreme and full time career devotion on the other. While a decision like Nalini’s might be the most commonly made, it is certainly not easy to follow through.

A National Parenting Association study from 2002 has shown that women who decide on the so called middle ground end up not just having it all but also doing it all. They are the ones to feed, bathe and care for a child. They are the ones who prepare the meals, do the household chores, take off from work for a sick child- all while taking on bigger and bigger responsibilities at work to keep up with the demands of the career. 

Is there ever an optimum feeling of satisfaction though?

Of course not. Working mothers suffer from a guilt of leaving a child alone, un-mothered for the few hours. And the aforementioned archaic society is not forgiving at all. A successful woman is automatically portrayed as the stereotypical power-hungry selfish ambitious go-getter who can sacrifice anybody for her goals, including her own child.

She is the evil stepmom or Shashikala from yesteryear bollywood. But even Shashikala was often shown to do all those horrendous things for the benefit of her own child. So in a way a successful woman is worse…Prem Chopra perhaps.
 
This is a never ending battle and this article is not an attempt to alter traditions, persecute men or victimize women. Instead it is aimed at laying down certain useful facts and gathered suggestions on how to help alleviate the stress that workings moms face everyday.

The more constructive way to deal with this topic is to answer a different question
 

Do working moms raise better children?

A Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development, done by National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, was conducted over a period of 15 years by following the track of children from working and stay-at-home moms.

The results of the study show that children of full time working moms, who are brought up with the help of child care or relatives, actually turn out to be no different than the ones who are brought up with constant maternal presence from infancy.

In fact the study indicates a tendency for such kids to develop better language skills and preparedness for school. The study is not exhaustive, of course, and there are signs of certain behavioral problems that might show up, in such kids, but they are temporary and go away within a few years.

 

The significance of fatherhood

The same research from National Institute of Child Health and Human Development also showed that children who are brought up with significant involvement from both parents end up being better adjusted.

Maybe it is a high time that our society stops going goo-goo-gaa-gaa over dads who know how to change diapers and wake up in the middle of the night to stop a crying baby. The involvement of fathers, in child rearing, is not unnatural and the concept of mothers as the only primary care givers should be reconsidered.

Nearly 16% of the stay at home parent population, in the US, are dads. This doesn’t even include single dads or same sex gay couples without a mother-like figure at home.

A busy career can take upwards of 60-70 hours a week. If moms are expected to take care of everything at home, it can become an unimaginable load of additional 10-20 hours of work which doesn’t necessarily have to be just hers. A sharing of load can be a step in the right direction.

Balancing a professional career and a personal life is obviously a very subjective topic. Situations, conditions and priorities in everyone’s lives are different. However the hope is that career women everywhere do understand that their choices are only for them to make. No amount of fulfillment of expectations is ever going to keep the society from passing a judgement.

Ask any stay-at-home mom if she feels fully secure and comfortable in her everyday child rearing decisions or are there people second guessing everything she does. Ask any child-free woman to describe how many times she is questioned on her selfishness to decide not to have a child, even though the decision is no one else’s but hers and her partner’s to make.

So, to any woman out there. You are not alone and you should have a chance at happiness in whatever you decide. You don’t just have a right to be born, you have a right to live.
 
References: 1,2,3 and 4 | Image credit: bazaarnest.com


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Rakhi Acharyya //
Rakhi Acharyya
Rakhi is a freelance writer, a Physics PhD from Michigan State University, an ex-teacher and a former employee of Corporate America. Follow her on Twitter.

2 Comments

  1. Sri says:

    Nice! I do want to add a fourth scenario.. One which is starting to be more accepted these days. Here the husband chooses to stay home and take care of the child while the lady works. This is potentially more difficult on the guy since he is the one breaking the traditional gender roles. But if he is comfortable with it and it’s right for the family, then why not. It wasn’t easy when women broke the traditional gender role and started to work. I think this should be considered a valid option and not just get honorable mention. I know a lot of very good fathers who do a great job of child care. At the end of the day if two people decided to start a family, everyone is a part of it and needs to make this a joint decision or effort. It is rarely completely a woman’s decision and a lot of times circumstances dictate what people decide. Women should stop beating themselves up and should learn to ask for help. And should not strive to be the picture perfect woman . There is no such thing.

  2. Poonam says:

    I completely agree that we should stop praising and over praising men who could do household work and share kids’ responsibility. Its natural and does not make them alien. In fact, parents should start training boys as well in household activities as most of them want “working bahus”…

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