When I was growing up all I heard my mother say was that we had to make something of ourselves; that we must “stand on your own feet” – a term that Indian parents love to repeat, ad nauseum, or at least they did when my parents were in the stage of child-rearing that I am today. Hindi films extolled the virtues of the phrase with lachrymose on-screen mothers telling their kids to “become something in life”.
So, it was ingrained in me very early – parents, cinema, et all – that I had to make something of myself. Stories of didactic brilliance, against all odds, were fed to us on a regular basis. The boy who sat under a street lamp and topped the national level civil services exam was the role model who we had to get inspired from, if not emulate.
So, my question is this. And, just to clarify, this is not to assign blame or say that my life would’ve been different had my mother prepared me for what lay ahead. But what I want to know is why no one told me one day I’ll have to make a choice – work or home? I spent years thinking, studying, working towards a career and then, whoosh. Before I knew it, I became that Stay At Home Mom, wondering if someone out there wants to hire a freelancer who is willing to work harder than “regular employees”, whose only limitation is that she cannot leave home for hours on end.
Why was I told that I must “stand on my feet” when that is exactly what I am not being able to do, whatever the term means?
The question that could be thrown back to me is – who told you to have kids? Or, did you not think about who would raise them? Well, not really. I mean, you reach a point when you want kids and you feel you’ll be able to figure to out as you go along. After all, the world has kids and juggles. My mom did. Couldn’t be that hard, right?
It’s not hard. It’s just life-changing. For those who can strike that magical (but it so eluded me) work-life-balance, I sound like a whiner (don’t like that term, my blog name notwithstanding). But I am not. I am asking a real question; more because I want to say the right things to my daughters. I do not want to lead them down a merry path only to have them reach a dead end later, or worse, to reach that wretched fork in the road where they’ll stand and dither and fall into the deepest quandary, the answer to which they will seek for the rest of their lives.
Should I tell them that they must work hard and dream big, but that one day they may have to let go of that dream, or a family? Or, should I tell them to be realistic and choose a path that will allow them to strike a balance between work and domestic life? So it’s better, say, to become a writer, academician (but wait, not dean, that’s time consuming), entrepreneur, teacher, consultant (so many women I know now “consult on a freelance basis) as opposed to any other profession, enriching as it might be, but which threatens to take them away from their homes for long passages of time?
What’s the answer? Is there one?
I want to, just because it’s sort of relevant, tell you this story. Make what you want of it.
I have a friend who was brilliant in college – the sort we thought would lead the way and we’d just follow. At 21 she got married. No one could understand it. One fine day, she just married this guy her parents had chosen for her. Just like that.
It turned out that her mother was this control freak who had figured life out and had laid out a plan for her daughter. She got this rich guy to marry her. By the time she was 23 she’d had her first and only child. She then, needled by her mother, did an MBA (while changing nappies – no diapers then). She lived with her parents-in-law (she, husband, kid on the top level; they on the lower, pretty common in India) So, the child was magically brought up while she worked. Long story short, today, she’s only 42 and her son is safely pursuing his undergraduate degree somewhere in the US. She’s on her way to the top management of her company with which she consulted (surprise surprise) for a few years while her son was young.
So, she’s set, as they say in Indian-English parlance. No stopping her till she reaches the top, which is less than an arm’s length away anyway. Her mother always wears this smug expression on her face – she’s something out of a Jane Austen book, where her only aim in life was to settle her daughter, first into a wealthy household by way of marriage and then into successful employment. Both were achieved.
Well, needless to say, I am not that mother. Don’t want to be. Besides, I’ve never asked this friend what she thought about being married so early. She never questioned it, at least not publicly, but I am not sure she loved being coaxed into domesticity while her friends went abroad for further studies, or ones like me who enjoyed single hood till my twenties ended.
I have no doubt about the reaction my kids would have, if I was to, in some wild imagination, turn into that controlling mother with the all-good intention of planning their lives. There’d be a mutiny, to put it mildly.
So back to the original question. What do I say to my daughters?
I ask, but I think I know the answer.
I am going to let them figure it out for themselves. Limiting their imagination right now for some future dilemma seems unnecessary and frankly foolish. They’ll cross the bridge when they come to it. Hopefully, I’ll be living on the ground floor, looking after their babies..