Issue: Guilt trip

July 30, 2011

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For a working mother, perhaps the most difficult part of the day is leaving her children at home in the morning as she steps out to work. But perhaps, it is much worse for some children, who have a hard time reconciling with the fact that — unlike other moms —theirs’ won’t be waving goodbye to them as they board the school bus.

In today’s world, there are few stay-at-home moms. Rise in the cost of living, a wish to maintain a certain standard and the determination to provide her children with a decent education, coupled with a will to prove herself, have all contributed towards the 21st century uber-mom. This is a woman who is not only maintaining a successful career, but is also shouldering her responsibilities at home simultaneously.

However, though the children are the biggest beneficiaries of the fat cheque that the mother brings in, they are also the ones who may resent her career the most; and sometimes the resentment may carry on till adulthood.

“Although by and large, I had adjusted to the fact that my mom worked, it did hurt at times,” recalls Azeem, whose mom worked nine-to-five during his school years. “I felt her absence most during parent-teacher meetings, or during concerts which she could not attend due to official business.” The resentment, he feels, intensifies when children watch other kids being pampered by their parents, and leading an apparently ‘perfect’ lifestyle, which in this day and age is probably limited to television ads of cooking oils.

“For me, the worst part of the day was coming home to an empty house,” remembers Khatija, daughter of a school teacher, “I would get back home earlier than she would, unlock the house, warm up the food and keep everything ready by the time she would arrive. In those days, I really envied my friends whose moms did everything for them.” As is the case in most families where both parents work, Khatija was expected to contribute to various household chores, which she obviously resented.

The feeling is further endorsed by the fact that even till a decade ago the local media did little to promote working mothers. On the contrary, most dramas/ads portrayed moms as homemakers, leading kids to believe that anything outside this sphere is ‘unnatural’. Perhaps in later years, they learn to appreciate the tough life their mothers had to deal with — since few men in this part of the world assist with household chores — but at that point in time, mom is the villain.

If such a scenario is hard on kids, it’s more taxing on mothers, who are painfully aware of how much they’re missing with respect to their children’s growing years. While on the one hand they are gnawed by constant guilt on not giving their full attention to their kids, there is also a fear that the children — particularly during teen years — may fall in wrong company, since there are fewer checks on them. The scenario is far more challenging to handle in case of a single parent.

However, on the flip side are the proponents of career women and various researches that suggest that children of working mothers fare better in terms of confidence and shouldering responsibility. They are also more open to working women since they have lived with an example and hence, are more perceptive towards hardships faced by someone who has to juggle a job and a home.

Psychologists also believe that working mothers are more affectionate with their children, perhaps because they want to make up for the time they spend at work.

“What matters more is the quality of time you spend with your child,” concurs Rubina, a banker. Both Rubina and her husband leave early for work, so they drop off their infant daughter with her paternal grandparents. “In order to compensate I ensure that I give her maximum attention when I get back home and on weekends.”

Research also suggests that women who work are less prone to depression and are less involved in family politics as compared to stay-at-home moms. Achieving a career goal and contributing to household income also gives them a sense of empowerment and confidence which may lack in their counterparts.

At the end of the day, many women believe that it’s not about working or staying at home, but more to do with how a mother relates to her children. If a woman who spends eight hours away from home is able to instil the values and confidence essential to a child’s welfare within a stipulated time-frame, then her mission is accomplished. If she’s able to monitor her child’s performance, academic and otherwise, along with a career, then there’s no reason why she would fail as a mother.

Similarly, if a woman feels more comfortable in her role as a full-time mom and chooses to forego a career or extra income, then the choice is hers. And if there’s any resentment on the children’s part, the fault may not entirely be pinned on the path she has chosen.