A version of this post first appeared on Huffingtonpost
Every mother works. No option here! The only thing that varies is whether you work at home or in an office, whether you get paid or not. I’ve been a working mother, in the traditional sense of the term, for five years now. There were highs and lows. I experimented, I evolved and overall I felt enriched. But no, it wasn’t easy. Nor do I ever expect it to be.
Many perspectives have been shared on this subject, a lot of viewpoints have gone viral, cases in point being Indra Nooyi , Michelle Obama, Sheryl Sandberg and Marie Ann Slaughter.
A lot of women in positions of relative power have highlighted multiple perspectives on being a working mother. I’ve also written a lot of this subject, but I believe there is more to be said on the day-to-day trials, tribulations and turmoil of a working mom.
First things first. You will struggle to be understood. The previous generation of men and women will not always “get” your work-life balance or resonance. Your stay-at-home counterparts are also likely to show little support or empathy for your career and life choices. Your generation of men are almost always silent observers, not quite sure of what to make of your decision to navigate multiple worlds. As for the kids? They will almost always ask you tough questions for which you don’t really have answers!
Tough position to be in, right? But a working mother puts herself in that position, and is striving to make it work every single day of her life. What does she go through every day?
1. She has to live by her choices and their consequences
For a very long time, I thought that the most difficult thing in life is to make a choice. Because making a choice ends ambiguity and uncertainty. Making a choice is somewhat binding in what you can do.
But I was wrong. Ever since I became a mother, I recognized that making a choice is the first step of the journey. The hardest part is living the choice – every day! Starting with the choice of going back to work and when, to how you strive / struggle to honor professional commitments – which may be driven by deeply personal reasons or pragmatic considerations. Whatever the reason, many women are compelled to make tough choices as they navigate the trajectory of their life and career.
What does this mean in real-life terms? It means being unable to celebrate a career milestone because your child is ill. Or having a messy home and hungry kids to tend to after a long, hard day at the office. Or worse, when you are told that your child is not thriving at school in some way because you work. Or when the child is sick and you are stuck in a meeting, stewing in guilt. Or the day when your kid says “You are a bad mummy”. Of course, there are days when you succeed at work and come home to the hugs of two happy and calm children. This last scenario, of course, is a rare one!
Living your choices amidst the everyday guilt, judgment and just the chaos of daily life is tough. What do you prioritize in any one day? Being a mother or a wife or a professional or a friend or something else? And every time you make a choice, you choose to not be a zillion other things. And that is tough because you have to live with your choice and those zillion other things for the rest of your life.
2. She has to flip between two different states of being : Of Focus at Work and Flow at Home
Over the years I’ve come to believe that there are basically two states of being. One is of focus, in which you give your full time, energy and attention to the end goal and work towards it. The second is of being in flow when you are adapting and molding to what your immediate environment expects or needs from you — you are fluid, so that the people around you can focus on what they want or need to do.
The workplace environment demands that employees be focused — on corporate goals and business objectives. On the other hand, being a mother is essentially about being in state of flow where you tend to cater to the needs of the family.
Viewed in isolation, both these states are good places to be, and suitable for different situations. They need a different mind-set, emotional quotient and way to conduct yourself.
Personally, one of the hardest things about being a working mother is having to oscillate between being in the state of focus while at work, and in state of flow while at home. The transition between these two states has to be seamless as the boundaries between work and home are blurring.
3. She lacks role models who are working mothers
The current generation of working women are in a position of unique advantage and disadvantage. On one hand, it is a point in history when there are more women than ever are active contributors to the workplace. And their performance is measured by uniform and well-defined workplace policy and standards. The flip-side is that no one cares what your personal circumstances are – all men and women must clock a certain number of hours to deliver work outcomes – which usually require 40 or 50 hours work week.
The other interesting point is that the benchmark of reference for being a mother is the previous generation of mothers — who were mostly stay-at-home moms.
Today’s young mother is almost always compared and judged against her mother or mother-in-law at home and against her father, father-in-law and husband in her role as a worker. And that is tough. Because being a mother is a 24-hour job, while being a professional is about working 8-12 hours a day. Now, as much as I’d like for a day to have more than 24 hours, I can’t change how the planet works. And I don’t have any role model for how a working mother should be and conduct herself on a day to day basis. Neither do the people around me. So it’s a hazy picture, and everyone has their own perspective.
4. She deals with failure every other day but must plan for success
Almost every working mother I know feels like a “failure” every other day. Why? Because she almost always fails to live up to expectations – her expectations of herself as well as those of others, including family and colleagues. With few role models to emulate, she tends to expect far too much of herself as do others. This is exhausting in the long run.
The solution? Redefine success and failure, and make peace with the fact that there will always be others who won’t appreciate your life choices. It’s not easy to live with judgment, labels, comparisons and criticism from all quarters, especially since you don’t even have time to sit and sulk. If you do, the next thing you’re expected to do is delayed!
So, that’s the inside story of a working mother for you, and because she endures so much almost every single day I personally believe she is worth admiring.
Do you agree? Leave a comment to let me know what you admire the most about any working mother you’ve known or observed.
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