Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Single mothers- Do we really respect their choices?

While there are enough marriages where both partners endure a nonexistent or worse a bad relationship for the sake of children, there are a lot of people nowadays who opt for being a single parent. The decision to become a single parent is a difficult one and it’s even more difficult when you are a woman. I don’t have statistics but there are more women who opt out of bad marriages with children and decide to raise the child herself- purely maternal instincts or may be because the child becomes the anchor of their life. The tragedy is that most people are curious to understand the reasons for the marriage or relationship to fail rather than see the courage the person has demonstrated to take a decision and live by it for the sake of her child or herself. And we thought that today the greatest things some of us have is a CHOICE – we can choose to work or stay at home, study or become a nomadic traveler and in the same breadth decide to live our life with someone or go separate ways.

It’s sad though that the social ecosystem hardly supports these decisions and worse most men walk away , remarry easily and live happily ever after but what about the woman- she often pays for the choice she made by living a more difficult life ? May be that’s the reason most women till today decide to be in the relationships, endure the pain and become more reconciled to their fate.

I think all of us would have met such people at the workplace or amongst friends and family . I happen to one as well. She was raised like all of us in small town, educated and made independent by her parents. However unlike few of us who came to big town for higher education, pursued professional courses and basically lived and learnt to be on our own, she continued to be in her home town and just so that you get the picture right, there’s only a handful of girls who today move to metro towns for further studies. So she completed her graduation, did a professional computer course and guess what parents found a good match at the right age ( or so they say) of 24-25 and she was married off. A year and a half  later of a bad marriage and impending pregnancy, she took the brave move of deciding to move out of the marriage with a 3 month old son and not for herself but for the sake of the child – to give the child a normal upbringing rather than a bitter childhood. Today it’s been 8 years and it’s a journey she would rather like to forget. She says she was blessed to have parents who were understanding enough to stand by her and help her raise her child for last so many years as she struggled, fell only to rise up again to be financially independent. But there were enough moments to make her feel the pain. She does not regret her decision but she does regret the long winding legal struggle for a separation and custody of the child, the innumerable glances people gave her of being a divorced women, the unsolicited advice on what to do with her life and worse the easy judgmental opinions about how she did not spend enough time invested in the relationship- In a nutshell, she could have continued her suffering in the hope that one day things will fall in place – her husband and in laws will start loving and accepting her.

Things have gone better as time flies but something’s will take aeon's to change. She does meet new people- Some she likes, some like her but the moment they know her status of being a single mother , things change. Some even suggested her to leave her child with her parents and start afresh – can you imagine? But that talks a lot about small town society today where even for a divorced/ widowed man with 2 kids, they can go ahead and get a girl half his age who would willingly marry and accept the 2 kids as her own but the other way round is just not happening.

Even in so called progressive society of metro town, you can find far and few empathy when a single mother comes late for work for she needed to nurse her sick child or the domestic help crisis has descended on her. The gossip mill run overtime  if she happens to hang around with male colleagues over drinks or decides to let her hair down in a party for once. There always seem to be more interest in her personal life than professional achievements. But few see the daily effort of raising a child all by herself. Most of us have our better halves and no matter how much we all complain, an evening chat, a pat on the back, a helping hand always makes it easier for us. As they say, sharing doubles the joy and halves the sorrow.

Few months ago, I did a post on letting go of relationships and saw a different perspective and basically this boils down to the choice an individual made suiting his or her situation in the circumstances she was in. However what troubles is that in the earlier case , the lady in question was able to endure the earlier pathos of the relationship to eventually find peace. In this case , the external factors, society at large and our systems made a person ,who was so called free from the shackles of a bad relationship, go through the pain post she moved on in the relationship as well and somewhere continues to fee so being under the scrutiny of public eye . And perhaps that’s what makes a life so ironical and difficult to comprehend.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Having a daughter...

is a dream come true for most of us. The angelic qualities of one notwithstanding, its a visual delight for mothers as it gives them opportunity to dress and doll up the little angels. Ours is a first born and its been a riot of colours in the wardrobe for her. From the traditional baby pinks to now electric greens, you name it and I would have bought for her. Daughters do give mothers a chance to relive what they grew up dressing up as but now cannot wear them for myriad of reasons  - from not suiting their personalities now to ummm... weighty issues. But the best part is the accessories- from tinkling of small payals, pink hairbands with a little bows , little thin gold chains across their necks. And of course, having those little studs in the ears when they get pierced the first time around. It takes me ages to shop for my daughter and I have to admit that it all costs a bomb at all. Our boy- well for him the shopping is in a jiffy and often just a pair of jeans and shirt. I would have never spent so many days ever thinking what I will wear as I have spent thinking before each of her birthdays and the endless choices does not help either- it only confuses me more.

So it really saddens this mother when you realize that your choices are no longer your daughter choices . At five, she has a mind of her own and she will make her own couture choices. So the days  you pick a frock from the wardrobe, it has to be floral skirts. The day you tell her to wear her jeans before she outgrows them, she looks for shorts in her cupboard.  Her father seems to love it - "my daughter has a mind and choice of her own. why do you need to bother so much? She will manage on her own." I repeated the same words a few days later when i saw him livid when an over excited neighbour met him in the elevator and mentioned that her son really likes his daughter and he came back furious.

But honestly right now is the phase to enjoy when you see her enjoying life - where all she bothers is about colours and fragrances. Sometimes seeing her grow up so fast makes you realize that as you trudge along Mondays and Tuesdays on one hand, time does fly in a jiffy on the other hand.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Now this is just not done...

Now I am no big fan of aishwarya rai and I care a damn whether Junior B is having a baby. But an article like this (aishwarya sacked for being preggers)surely did not go down well with me. I am no jingoist for feminism but if elite media ( read English dailies) are publishing reports about a career getting over is pitiful. Its sad that the first question which still gets asked when a working woman is pregnant is "would you continue to work" or " is her career over? Well this is a question most mothers- to-be dabble with especially when they are working but shouldn't it be left to them to decide?- whether they want to continue the way they are or opt for a flexi work option or even become stay at home ? I am assuming Mrs bachchan thought of all this before committing herself on the dotted line - the basic tenets of professionalism. The incidents of women getting shortchanged during pregnancy and maternity leave are dime a dozen. I have met friends in corporate world joining back work at a less meatier role or worse missing a promotion. Even in so called cocoons of government services, women have come back to far lesser important role only to begin all over again and its a big blow to the aspirations of most who were brought up by their parents to be on their own and have an ambition to carve a career for themselves. New moms are anyways struggling between the dichotomy of their mind guiding them to continue unabashed pursue of their career or to render love and care to their new born which is a task in itself and then you have people questioning your ability to manage both and work ethics. The infrastructure around is equally frustrating- dependence on maids  whose demand far exceeds the supply controlled by agents asking for 20K a year as commission last heard, no good daycare, nuclear families with grandparents not willing to relocate and to be fair  to them why should they? Their job is done now - its our journey and we need to tread it ourselves. For every working woman i have met who has had family support, I have also met an equally sulking woman at not having the liberty of being on their own- I mean you cant have everything right?You give some , you loose some. But whats equally frustrating is the attitude of the dominant gender in the workforce. As a husband , you might be empathising with your wife for all that she is doing but as a workforce participant there will be a general smirk for colleagues moving on maternity leave.

However its not a story where there are villains pulling the women folks down. The lady in question is equally responsible for her actions. first is a realization that being a mother definitely means some changes in the way you work. If you have a travelling job, you would need to either plan earlier to move onto a role more suited to you then or if you are involved in that, keep the stakeholders informed earlier- there is an equal thought floating that Aishwarya did not keep the producers in confidence on this impending development. I truly agree with thisTed Talk . Most women check out mentally much before they actually become mothers- No doubt its a big event but why is it an event for the woman- its a shared responsibility of both man of the house and lady of the house yet more women start to mentally be prepared that they will go on leave and when they will come back , their wont be much for them do. This is where we need to be strong- motherhood and your work should be taken in your stride- a responsibility bound to come and at that time if you intend to be serious about your career , then look for a solution. Show up after your maternity leave. Don't take the work lightly purely because you can blame it to the reason of motherhood. The two can co exists and not necessarily at the cost of each other. I distinctly remember coming back on the 91st day ( maternity leave being only 90 days in India) and having a very clear conversation with the new head of business whom I was meeting for the first time and he told me that he appreciated the fact that I am serious about my work and my career . all of us want the best of both worlds and that can be achieved  but only when you are dedicated towards both. If you continue to be perpetually on flexi hours even if the organization does not support it fully, procrastinate work and are there everyday in office only for attendance sake but mentally checked out, then sorry that does not work. You rather than take the courageous space some women take to give up the work life and truly dedicate themselves to their children. This middle way does not work.

But then all this is easier said than done. Each woman is unique and so is their approach to  motherhood. There are some who don't want to sit at home for they don't want to burden their children with the fact that they gave up a good degree and a great career for them - may be the kids will never understand it also, some actually manage both purely out of financial needs - My maid started work 2 months post her delivery and with no family member in foreign land, she actually pays a neighbourhood old woman to take care of her like many of her other mates who cannot afford taking it easy, there are actually some who come because they don't want to be at home with in laws being around - its too much of friction and then tthere are some who take it in their stride like men do. They like their work and barring a few bad days with no  support are able to manage both. Yet they have a hanging sword on their head -whether they are ensuring that by this their kids childhood is not messed up.

Our mothers never had the option. Most of them were homemakers and that's the way it was. We were raised as offshoot of their aspirations to be women who had the power of knowledge and the choice to work or not to depending on the circumstances. I sincerely hope and pray that by the time our daughters grow up the social ecosystem and infrastructure has evolved to an extent that her choice to work or not is dependent purely on  her individual interest and not on external  conditions and my son has the ability to appreciate, empathise and participate both as an individual in particular and society at large.