Growing up in a middle class family in India, in the 90s was probably one of the most exciting times in my life. My parents encouraged my sister & me to dream big and set ambitious goals for ourselves. I always thought that one day I’d love to become a parent, like my parents. They were always our best friends first & then our parents. I recall having family dinners where we’d discuss everything under the sun, from the latest song by Ricky Martin, to their new ATM pin, to the new boy in my class I was crushing on. Nothing was off limits, really. My dad worked a good, day job & my mom was a teacher at my school – both working parents who always showed us through example that we were their priority.
This is how I believed parenting should be. I just assumed it was easy – having 2 kids, working, managing a home – no big deal right? Well, not really.
I was always intrigued by the idea of working mothers vs stay at home moms. I always wanted to know – was there really a difference in the way the kids turned out? Did stay at home moms have it easy? Were working moms selfish? To get some of these questions addressed, I remember having multiple conversations with my Psychology professor at my college in California. Our chats while sitting out in the sun with our cafeteria trays & my classes on Parenting psych weren’t enough for my curious mind. So I decided to take things into my own hands. I decided to write my senior year thesis on how working moms balance motherhood & work – all while staying sane. Researching on this & interviewing women from all strata of the society, taught me a few key lessons, that I believe are helping me today as I raise my own little baby girl.
- Being a happy mom is the best type of mom – This was a lesson that I learned from the lady who managed the postal services at my university. She was a single, immigrant mom, who was working hard to make ends meet. But she made sure to keep sometime for herself – either heading out to a salon for a couple hours every month, or going for a date with someone she met online, or even just giving salsa lessons. She reminded me of the most important lesson – if you’re happy on the inside, then you’re going to be happy on the outside. Remember the line written by Roald Dahl in Matilda? – “ A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely“. This stands true of whether or not you choose to be a mother someday. If you’re a sunbeam, then that will create a lasting impact on everyone around you. Especially your little humans.
- Letting go of the small stuff – Now I must admit this one’s hard for me. I’m a perfectionist and I need to see every area of my life running clockwork – my home cleaners arriving on time, my work calendar being followed through the year to the T, my laundry smelling a particular way – you get the point. But this is something that I’ve had to work on myself for a few years now. I married a man who showed me that it’s okay if things aren’t exactly how we planned them to be. And while you don’t need a partner to teach you that, having a simple reminder of that on a daily basis does help. As a working mother, you need to let go of the things that don’t make a huge difference to your daily life. Your kid not taking his nap all day? Your team member not sending you a report on time? Your mother in law not saying hello to you as cheerfully as you expect? Let it go. I’ve learned through the years that sweating the small stuff only leads to stress for you. No one else. Quoting one of my all time favorite songs from Baz Luhrmann here – “Worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum“.
- Asking for help – Now this one, folks, is important. No one can do it all. Not even the Avengers, without each other. Running a home, buying groceries, taking your baby out for a walk or just pouring you a glass of wine at the end of the day – asking someone to share the load, lessens it for you & makes the journey all the more fun. My husband and I are working on this one by setting out time during the week where we can prioritize tasks and figure out who’s schedule allows what. It’s not easy and it can lead to difficult conversations. But totally worth it. Reach out to your partner, your parents/in-laws for support when you need it. Life is better lived together and not in isolation. Reaching out to the people who love you and being there for them when they need you- is one of the tricks that makes it all easier. Remember, they may not do it the way you do, but setting your expectations clear at the beginning always helps. You yourself aren’t perfect either (bitter pill to swallow, I know).
- Taking out time for yourself and your family – My husband, daughter and I spend about 15-20 minutes every morning, lazing around on the bed together. These moments are precious because they really give us time with one another before we head off for the day. Every evening, my husband and I try to have dinner together after our baby’s asleep. A few days a week, we try to take out time doing things we enjoy – going to the gym, going for a drive etc. It’s important to remember that at the end of the day, parenthood is just being able to enjoy the time with the kids, before they grow up (after they grow up, you can have a different kind of fun together). Time with family is limited and so precious – make the most of it.
All of this makes me realize that working or not – women don’t always have it easy. Whether you choose to be a working mother or a stay at home mom, it is your love, trust and faith in them that will raise them to be successful and happy adults. It’s your kids knowing that their parents have their back – regardless of anything that will make the biggest difference. At the end of the day – we just need to find what works for us and try to follow that. But keeping the big picture in mind always helps.