Tag Archives: working-moms

When You Short Sell Yourself And You Know It

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So now I’ve been working for about three months, which might explain my absence from this blog (you can only do so much.)

It’s been great so far. I am enjoying getting out of the house, wearing work clothes and talking to adults. I do miss the lazy mornings, though, when I could read the papers with leisurely cups of tea and whine to my husband as he got ready for work. But, not complaining – you get some, you lose some. This is what I’ve wanted all this time, this is what my angst was all about – that I was not being able to get out of the house and take on the world. So here I am, happy that I finally got on the bus I’d been waiting for.

But (yes, there is a but, and you’ll soon see why) there is something that irks me – the fact that I get paid pittance. I know, I know – I’ve got my foot in the door and that’s key. But the thing that irritates me is the fact that my hiatus from work is being used as a negotiation tool and my abilities and skills are secondary. I am being paid based on my so-called absence from full-time work and not on what I actually bring to the table. Because the fact of the matter is (and here’s where I am going to be a bit, well, not so humble, so pardon me) that I am as good as the person who has been physically present in the workforce all these years. I may not be able to write the corporate jargon like the rest (give me another month and I will) but the clarity of thought and seriousness I bring can’t count for nothing (or just a wee bit more than nothing).

I didn’t expect to feel this way and frankly I did not even think about the money when I took the job. And that was because all I wanted was to get back in. But after being here for a few months I realized something – that the people who work around me are, pretty much, like me. When we are in a meeting, for instance, I have as many ideas (which usually get incorporated) as the Joe sitting next to me (who is, by the way, almost young enough to be my kid – had I married at 20 that is – and earning the same). But because I am this rebooting-her-career mom, my fear is that I am seen as someone who needs this more than she is needed at the job. It may or may not be true, but the fact that I am adding a lot of value but not being paid for it, bothers me.

Now to make this even more complicated I’ll add here that it bothers me that it bothers me (yup, am quite the stereotypical woman). And that’s because I don’t want to think about the money, but about working, about the foot-in-the-door, about the fact that I have managed to flee my domesticity and all that stuff I’d told myself about when I joined. It makes me uncomfortable to think this way.

Yet, the truth is that I do. And, after doing some analyzing, here’s probably why.

It’s because the compensation I’ve been offered factors in the assumption that I will need frequent flexibility, that because I am a back-to-work-mom, I’ll leave the office even if a bee were to enter my house, because mothers are control freaks who will drop everything to tend to their sacred hearths (never mind that I sit there till way past the time I “negotiated” I would).

Sure there would be days when I would have to run back to the house, but that could happen to anyone. What strikes me as unfair is that this what-if scenario holds true of any mother who works, irrespective of her career track. But returning-to-work mothers like me pay a price for a flexibility that we may or may not use, while working moms (the ones who somehow stayed on the road) don’t, even though they would be as prone to tending to a sick child as someone like me. And the truth is that I’ve been at work even when my daughter has been ill. You know why? Because I am trying to prove myself. I am trying to say – see I have a sick child at home, but I am here, doing my thing because I am like the rest, in every possible way.

So I am not sure what I am going to do about this feeling, apart from rant and rave about it on my blog. If it gets too much, I’ll bring it up with my boss when it’s time for a review (soon). The one great learning I’ve had in the past three months is that people who work well are always in demand and there is a short supply of such people. My husband always told me this, but who listens to husbands when you are at home, neck deep into mom-in-law, kids, birthday parties and homework. All you want to say then is “ya right, that’s easy for you to say when you are on the inside”.

Well, now I am on the inside and I could not agree with him more. So yes, I am happy to be out of the house but  wish I had not been so much on the back foot when I negotiated terms for my job. I know now (easy to say in hindsight) that I was going to get it anyway, but I didn’t know how to play the game.

One learns, I guess. The next time I’ll play it too.

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Life Changing Moment

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This April my twins started full-day school. It was, as they say, a life changing moment. Or, that’s what I thought. That moment, actually, lay just a little ahead. Full day school was great, but what came after is what’s really changed my life. It arrived, without warning or signal, out of the blue, like my mother always told me it would (ya ya she was right). Let me just go ahead and say it – I’ve started working. Yes, it’s true. Just like that.

If you read my previous post, then you’ll put two and two together. I started this Monday, and I now await Saturday like I have never before, or so it feels. It’s a start-up. Which means many things. The first being the pay, but I am not thinking about that right now. It also means that you have your finger in many pies and, as I am discovering now, leaving at 4 is not going to be easy. Sure those where the terms of joining, but if a project is not done, what are you going to say? Time up? I don’t think so. Because then you’ll be looked upon as the one thing that will make you squirm – as an unprofessional mommy who could not commit because of her “limitations” (see previous post). No, I’d rather get biffed on the head with a brick!

I came to a realization a long time ago – that a woman trying to make her way back into the workforce is hardly in a position to negotiate terms. It’s sad but true. She’s just so glad that someone opened the freaking door, that she’ll take it. She knows she’s capable, and she knows she’s worth a lot more, but the gaping black hole in her resume is such that it has acquired a life of its own, as it crawls into her bed at night and haunts her in her dreams. It reminds her, constantly, that it’s growing and, like the mythical Hydra, sprouting more heads with each passing day. I know this, because this is exactly what’s happened with me. And now when someone has shown confidence in me and the only thing I can say to myself is “don’t let this go!”, and that this will never happen again. It’s a panic-stricken moment when this happens, because you wind yourself into a frenzy thinking that this bus will never come down the road again (hell, you’ve been waiting many years), so whatever it takes, you have to get on it. Otherwise you’ll wander aimlessly for the rest of your life, lost in the labyrinths of domesticity that will lead you to a long, lonely road, where you will find yourself once the kids fly the nest and your husband is neck-deep in his venture. Yes, I was all too aware of that road and when I saw even the glint of that bus coming down the road, I told myself that no matter what, this one I had to catch. And so I did.

So, long story short, I have a job and I love it. The honeymoon is not going to last I know, but I am, for once, not thinking too far down the road. I like where I am and I plan to take each day as it comes. The summer vacations begin tomorrow and they stretch long ahead of me. Let’s see how that goes. The guilt is yet to rear its ugly head. It will one day soon. It’s only a matter of time. Till then I’ll enjoy this golden period. And the weekend, it’s almost here.

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A Woman’s Little Limitations

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An HR executive called me the other day and told me about this job where the employer had liked my profile, but (isn’t there always a but) he was wondering if I still had the “limitations” I did six months ago. Well, I thought of saying, that if you mean my kids, sure I still have them. They’ve grown a bit – my kids, I mean, not my limitations (paradoxically as kids grow, the “limitations”, sort-of, go down). So yes, I told him I am still a mother of three, but if it helps to know, the limitations now have full day school, so I am, you know, limitation-lesser, if you will.

He didn’t seem fully convinced or frankly satisfied with my answer. I wasn’t sure what he had wanted me to say. Did he expect me to tell him I’d packed off the kids to boarding school, or that my husband had decided to become a stay-at-home-dad, or that they’d taken a sip from the “Drink Me” bottle and grown up in an instant and were, thus, not limitations anymore, or, in a more believable scenario I’d managed to convince my mother to give up her life and come run mine? (sore, sore point)

I wasn’t sure. I did tell him that things were a lot better than six months ago. I could now be at work from 9 to 4, which was not bad. Then I could carry work home, if needed, and stay longer when needed too. Sounded alright to me. He, however, did not receive my suggestions with the alacrity I had expected, and told me he’d call me back, which, I was quite certain, he would not ( I suspect he did expect me to come up with one of those wonder stories above). Many an HR agent/employer have been scared off before, so I am now quite used to it. I have even come to love the look in a prospective employer’s eyes when I say I have three kids. They have this uh-oh, holy-crap look. And I love to sit back and watch him/her get out of that one. It’s ace really, as David Mitchell would call it.

Anyway, to my surprise, he called back. The employer, apparently, was alright with my flexi-timings (who said anything about flexi?) because he was running a start-up and he didn’t mind people working remotely (were you not listening, I didn’t say remotely!). The man had apparently expressed a wish to meet me.

Great I said, I was willing and ready to meet. He responded with similar contrived positivity and got off the phone in a bit of a hurry.

And so it was arranged. I wore my Sunday best and went to meet him on a Saturday (it’s a start-up, they don’t believe in weekends, but they are a “fun-place”. Right). It was a pleasant meeting and we spoke about this and that and the work, the profile and blah blah. I made all the right noises about my interest and abilities; he responded amicably, telling me all about entrepreneurship, finding talent, attrition and doing meaningful work. We parted well and I came home feeling quite satisfied.

Then the HR fellow called me again. He too made the right noises about the guy liking my work and all the rest of it, but (there it is again) he was wondering about my issues. I didn’t say anything about my issues, I said. “Yes, but you had some limitations..”. I cut him off and told him that I had sorted those out – how and what was my problem. I suddenly realized the game that was being played – Flexi was euphemism for low-pay (it’s a start-up, duh). The penny dropped and I told the bugger that I was willing to go into the office everyday and stay late too (a part of me was going WHAT??? STOP NOW!) but I stifled any voice of reason in my head and caught the bull by its horns (lean in girl I told myself). Sheryl Sandberg’s face was now staring at me, right into mine.

The truth is that while I was talking to him, the whole limitations crap finally got to me – when I realized that it was just a ploy to put me on the back foot while making me feel good about being able to work remotely! It turns out he does not even have enough space for me to come in to the office right now! He was trying to get me to say it first. But I didn’t.  I just called the bluff and said I would do full-time, worry not.

There was silence at the other end. This was not something he had been prepared for. He’d expected me to expand on my limitations, not make them disappear! But I had decided that even if it meant not getting on this bus (which I really wanted), I would stand my ground. Limitations my foot.

Anyway, long story short, I he arranged another meet with the boss. I am supposed to meet the employer again in a few days. He wants to hire me, it seems, but also would like to “iron-out” some minor details.

I am guessing these details would be about minors.

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Am ready for work, but..

“The more you grow old, the more you need people who knew you when you were young”. That, or something like that, goes an old saying.

This has never rung as true as it does for me today. I say this because I have some super friends who knew me in my youth (ok, I know I am still young, blah blah , but you know what I mean when I say youth – like youth youth, the 20s youth, and  the 30s, it’s-going-but-still-got-it youth). These are friends who I don’t talk to often, some of whom don’t live anywhere I can drive to and yet, when we talk, or What’s App, I smile. They make me smile, my dear old friends – because they remember me for what I was and not for what I turned into when this whole mid life thing hit me – it apparently arrives a decade earlier now, as do strokes, heart attacks, blood pressure and many such delightful accomplices.

Anyway, today one of my dearest friends called and I had such a girlie, refreshing, you-can-do-it chat with her that I felt instantly uplifted, and though I am not waltzing into the next company and selling myself big so they can hire me on my terms (sigh) just yet, I am feeling much better about myself. See that’s the thing about old friends, they remember things about you that you lost somewhere along the way; aspects of your personality that the black hole ate up, to the point that you did not even remember being that way; those are the things old friends remind you of. They remind you of who you really are. It sounds corny, but man it’s true.

I don’t know if I make sense, but talking to her today was like looking at an old photograph and saying “Gosh, this is who I was!” She just needed to prod that part of my mind and it threw up so many emotions that it forced me to kick into action. “You were one of those people” she said, with the alacrity of a cat chasing a mouse, “who could walk into any organization and make them see your point. You haven’t lost that, it’s just dormant. Just shake it up, pull yourself together” she said (she was one of those charitable friends who thought that my SOP for NYU rocked. I don’t know if it did, but I did make it there). I know all this is easier said, but still, speaking to her I felt that I had become too bashful about the gaping hole (more like abyss, but whatever) in my resume and that had rubbed off on my attitude towards everything. I have become diffident about myself, period.

I’ve been thinking of getting back to work, but I keep feeling that I am not exactly employable anymore and if someone does think so then I should just take it, even if it’s remotely what I aim for. It does not have to be that way. I mean it does and it doesn’t. I have to be realistic about my profile in any organization, so no matter how confident I feel right now I can’t just walk into an office today and demand my own terms of work. However, and this is the part I need to apply in reality, neither do I have to be too diffident about the break (ok, more like an immeasurable crater that could fit three moons) in my resume. I have certain qualities and strong points and I should dwell on those instead of the ones that I feel conscious of.

Women always sell themselves short. It might be a blanket stereotyping to say so, but it’s true. Men will boast of their glory even when they have little to show for it, women will do the opposite. In my heart I know that I will work hard and perform well but, the big but is that I need flexibility – it’s the only thing I ask for. Why can’t companies measure people  more by their work?

My previous boss is someone who likes to appear progressive and “employee centric”. But when I went to him with the idea of flexi-timings, he gave me his classic between-you-and-me bull about how he was all for it but, you know, that monster that watches over us –HR – thought that it “would set a bad precedent”.

At some level, I do understand that from an organization’s point of view an employee working from home is hard to justify to others and probably not the best use of a resource. But if a company really cares about its people, and it should, then there can be checks and balances in such a situation, a system could be worked out that’s be acceptable to both. It can happen, especially in an industry like mine (web based).

The bottom-line is, companies don’t care enough. Sure there are exceptions but those are few and far between.

I, for one, haven’t found such a dream place. But I like to believe that it exists.

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Have It All. Why The Fuss?

I’ve been doing a bit of reading about women and their issues (not a fan of that word) – the whole work-life balance that’s quite suddenly become the thing to talk about in living rooms, when one is done venting about the government and the weather that is.  Not that I went looking for these articles in particular, but I guess it started with one article I read about women and related issues and surprise surprise suggested articles and blogs started popping up seemingly out of nowhere, but we all know how that works. Not that I care about being tracked, no really, I got bigger things to worry about.

Anyway, I digress (oh so easily). Point is, I’ve been reading stuff about how women can have it all if they do this or or if they do that (not relevant to the point I am making). It irritates me, this whole have-it-all discussion.

Who can have it all? Do men? Sure, in many homes they work and the wife looks after the family, but does that mean they have it all? I think not. Ask my husband. He’ll tell you about the grueling hours he puts in at work and only comes home to see the kids asleep – asleep when he arrives and out to school before he can say Johnny Cash, after a tornadoesque morning (three kids, two of whom are yet to be four, to get ready, feed and then drop to the bus stop by 7:20 – yeah, it’s a fun morning). He gets little time with them and does not have the moments I do with them (moments, I admit, I would now, after years of being home, trade quite happily for a teller’s job that requires standing on one leg – you can see I’ve had an eventful, tantrumy morning) But the point is, he has not had it all either. He’s missing their childhood in the aim to secure their future. He’s working his ass off, going through mid-life angst, well aware of the long road that stretches ahead of him. Not defending the men folk here before anyone accuses me of that (ironical that would be, really) but just making a point about this whole fuss about having it all.

What, by the way, is having it all? I don’t get it. Ask anyone if they have it all and you’ll get a answer in the negative. Any road to success (pecuniary success I mean) is paved with sacrifices and regrets, be it for a man or woman. Also, who says that having it all is the key to happiness? So much is in the mind. You could have it all (whatever that is) and still not be happy, or you could have some regrets in life and yet be content with the way things are. I made the choice to be at home and am living with it, angst et all. I got to do what I wanted with the kids – to bathe and dress them, to be there for the school drop and pick-up, to read to them in the afternoons, to take them to their tennis lessons – so I did. Now, I still want those things, but, my need to get out and work is higher, maybe because I’ve had enough of the domesticity and also because they’re settled in school.

I am also aware that for many women, it’s not a choice – they have to work and leave the leg-tugging baby behind. In my mind I was indispensable at home (with three girls I still think I am) and since the house did not depend on my income (though that would’ve led to less stress on the husband and thus on everyone else) I decided to stay at home with the kids. Sure they got looked after and the husband could work tirelessly without home issues clouding his analytical brain. But I too got to do what I wanted, at least initially. For many women, it’s hard because the house needs dual incomes.

What I want to say is merely this, as we were taught very early on in school – you can’t have your cake and eat it too. This little adage, for me, says a lot about the whole discussion around having it all. No one can have it all. No one.  It may appear so, but it’s not true. So why the fuss?

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like I don’t understand the issue at hand here. No one knows that better than me – since I’ve tried to strike that work-life balance and have, in vain, tried to get jobs that are satisfying enough and yet don’t threaten to consume you, leaving you to attend to your other full-time job of mommyhood in peace. It cannot happen. You either do some mindless work where you shut shop at five-o-clock  sharp and go home, or you find something meaningful, in which case leaving at will, or at a family-conducive hour,  is probably not that easy. Or you stay at home, and write (like I’ve been trying to do – yes, yes, a book is in the head). So I do get the point about how hard it is for women who want/have to work and have kids to go home to.

I guess what irritates me is a lot of hyperbole around having it all. I have a problem with the whole concept of having your cake and wanting to eat it too. Maybe it was how I was brought up, to believe that to get something you have to give up another. True, in an ideal world a woman (or a man) should be able to work and be there for the kids all at once. But, is that possible? Ask anyone who’s made it to the top. Or rather, ask the kids. If you are going to slave to get to the top of any organization, something will have to give. And that something will be your home.

Ask Enid Brighton’s daughter (or husband who she had a tumultuous marriage with) what they thought of their life with her. She wrote more than 600 books for children, but did she have time for her own? Did she have it all?

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Work From Home. Really? How Do You Do That?

I’ve been trying to work from home. It’s a tiny little step, but am trying to take one step at a time and it’s hard. It’s hard not because I am not disciplined enough to do it (OK, that too, but that I can work on) It’s the disciplining of the people around me that’s tough to do. The trouble is that everyone is so used to coming to me with the little problems that I cannot have a moment of peace when I can sit and write (yes, have taken up some writing work). So, a lot of my time is spent in telling everyone to let me be when I am at my desk. And, it’s not the kids alone who need to be told this.

Before I launch into the angst and the rest of it, I feel almost obliged to say something. Which is this: I know I am fortunate to be in a position where I could choose to be at home with the kids. A LOT of women don’t have that option. As a fellow mommy blogger recently pointed out that I didn’t have to leave the kids at home and go to work, something she had to do and hated doing. For all my angst about staying at home, at the end of the day I did it because I wanted to and because I could.

But, having said this, what I will add is that maybe I would’ve gone back to work earlier, if I had a support structure to depend upon, where I could leave the kids and work without worry (not without guilt though, THAT never goes away) . But I didn’t and I decided to become a SAHM (have given in to that word/abbreviation).

So, now that the girls are a little older and there is some semblance of sanity, I have decided to work, a little.

Let me tell you what today was like. The morning started with the pipe of the wash-basin in my bathroom breaking. So I called the plumber, he was busy, his wife’s new-born niece had just got jaundice, so he was at the hospital. I could hardly press him to hurry. As I was talking to him, my maid, unaware of the broken pipe opened the tap. The next twenty minutes were spent mopping the floor. I didn’t have to do it, but had to make sure the kids didn’t go rushing into the bathroom to inspect damages, something they LOVE to do.

After avoiding slipping and breaking a leg, when I was settling into my chair to pound away at my keyboard, the electrician called. There seems to be some grave wiring issue that needs to be looked into urgently. He asked what would be a good time to visit. I gave him a time. Eight hours later, he’s still to show up.

The plumber called as I was ending the call with the electrician. He had decided to resume work in the afternoon. Great I said. But, he would need money for the pipe, so would come in a while to collect that (he asked me if I could get it, which, of course, was not my idea of shopping. Besides I had work to do) So, knowing well that he was going to charge me more than he payed for it, I told him to get it.

OK, I said. Now let’s do some writing. My cook then decided to ask me some irrelevant question about food. I told him to decide, only to have him give me options to pick from. I turned from my desk and reminded him what I’d told him a few days ago when he’d disturbed me while working. “That I should come to you only if the house was on fire” he nodded merrily. I asked him if the house was on fire. He shook his head and informed me that the real reason why he came to me was because there was no oil in the house for cooking.

Now, this seemingly innocuous declaration sent me into a tizzy. I lost it. I know it was an overreaction. Anyway, long story short, I gave him the money and gulped a glass of cold water and sat down to work. This is when the kids decided to invade the room. There had been a fight, of course, and it was impossible for me to decide who did what and when. All three looked upset and had a side of the story to tell. Sigh. I took a deep breath, and tired to solve it, which, needless to say, was impossible. The twins were not in a re conciliatory mood, to say the least. The older one, who has just turned six and reacts to most situations with a sulk, just walked away telling me that I was not being fair (why do schools have spring break, again?)

After the matter was amicably settled, with a bit of television thrown in, I returned to my desk. I’d lost my thread. I stared at my computer blankly. Nothing. So I got up, had a bath and returned to write. Just then the bell rang. The plumber had arrived.

There’s more to this story. But you get the drift. I turned Skype off, didn’t want my editor asking me how much I’d written. He didn’t want to know..

Ah, well. At least I’ll make history for having had the shortest job ever.

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The Big 4.

I am now 40. Yes, it’s happened. It’s not a big deal, I know, except, that it sort of is.

What I mean is, that even though I don’t think it changes much, but, just by the fact that you enter another decade (and that everyone around you does not let you forget that one minor point!!), you are forced to retrospect. Which, of course, I love to do. Give me half a chance to reflect upon my life and my mind kicks into over drive. So, turning forty was hardly going to pass by without a bit of what-am-I-doing-with-my-life kind of thoughts flooding my brain.

I told myself, though, that I was not going to be hard on myself. I will think about the future with a degree of objectiveness, as much as possible. I liked what I thought. I have a lot of angst about not working right now, since I had kids late in life (older one was born when I was 34 and twins when I was 38), but, if you ask me, I would not have done it any other way. This is not to say that I do not see the merits of having kids young, there is a HUGE advantage to that. Some of my friends’ kids are teenagers and they are relatively free to carry on with their own lives, while mine are starting school! But, the big but, is that if I had to turn back the clock I would probably do exactly what I did. I lived up my twenties (which is why at forty I see little excitement in having a drink-till-dawn-dance-to-chamak-chalo party) While I was doing, what I think callow twenties are meant for – living it up, completely- some of my friends were changing diapers. Thirties were domestic, as I stepped on the accelerator big time and got married, had kids and all that.

Forties, now, will be different. While my kids are not going to grow up overnight, it will get better. I already find that I have more time. Also, I feel that I am forced to stay young – if you have three little kids you better stay in shape, both medically and mentally. So I spend my days trying to do a bit of work (have started my own web content consulting, a tiny tiny step) and alternating between playing jingle bells and Lady Antebellum on youtube for the kids (sometimes I manage to get “my song” in and play Lay Down Sally and we all jive to it). It’s a glorious time. And I wish I could silence that voice in my head and enjoy it fully. I can’t, no matter how hard I try. I have this nagging voice that says do-something-now, life’s slipping by and all that scary stuff.

So, I’ve embraced fortydom as I always thought I would – positive realism mixed with some trepidation. I like my life, and this may not be apparent to people around me (that angst tends to soar its ugly head). But I am, and maybe I keep saying it because I want to freeze these moments in a way, to enjoy the childhood of my kids and not worry too much about the future – it will get sorted out, in time. I hope.

And then there are resolutions:

I will:

Spend more quality time with the love of my life, my husband, my best friend.
Get Back to work
Listen to more music
Kiss my kids more
Not yell
Be patient with my parents
Visit them more often
Get my hair straightened
Dress better
Organize my papers
De-clutter my drawers
Learn to bake
Bake
Lose weight (how can that not be on the list?)
Do regular health check-ups
Read more
Write that book.

Here’s to the next decade. 40s, I embrace you.

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