Attitude towards working women is in no way different than that towards housewives. A working woman has to manage her home also in addition to her work. A woman has no choice but to manage both the home and the work front otherwise she is under guilty feelings.
The tide is beginning to turn in the world social order. Traditional family roles are changing as democratic notions creep into the social system. Earlier, it was assumed to be written in stone that the man was the provider in the family and the woman the homemaker. In India, while a majority of the women may still be fighting against the old order, some have definitely seen the light at the end of the tunnel. And it is not just because women are beginning to realize that there is a world outside their kitchen windows. Women are also turning out in large numbers in the work force due to economic necessity.
But as in the case of every social change, there is a lag between actions and attitudes. While people may be willing to accept the idea of career women, they are not willing to excuse them from their duties as career moms. The attitude towards working women seems to be that while people have no objection to availing of their talents and abilities outside the home, women are not allowed to compromise on home life. And if they do, they should be made to feel the error of their ways. In the first place, the term 'working mother' is a misnomer as mothers are working round the clock even if they don't go to an office. Being a working mother is not the easiest job in the world. Some women are good at it, some don't have a choice, some choose a middle path and some don't even try it. The point is that it is the women who should have the right to exercise the option to work or not to work, assuming that they have one. And if they do elect to pursue a career, it is important that their families be supportive.
Making the decision
Mothers who have a choice whether to work or not to work have to consider many things before they take the decision. First of all, they need to be clear about their priorities. Does the baby and family come first or is a career and financial security of greater importance? They also have to decide whether they would be happy having servants or other family members look after their children. They need to realize that by taking the decision to work, they will probably miss out on all the major milestones of their babies' lives. Mothers need to remember that a job can be very demanding not only in terms of time, but also energy. Women spread themselves really thin trying to juggle work life and home life. They will have to consider the stress factor of the job because it is not easy to cope with the pressures of a high-stress job and the demands of a baby. Women should also discuss their decision to work or not with their spouses because they will need their support. It may help to find a job that has flexi-hours. It will make it easier for mothers to be able to stay home on days when there is no other caretaker for the baby or to leave early if there is an emergency.
Sushmita Roy gave up a lucrative career as a management consultant with a multinational and started her own web design firm so that she could work from home. She says, "After Tara was born, I decided that I couldn't go back to working at a job with such long and erratic hours. I didn't want to miss out on any special moments in my daughter's life. But at the same time, I didn't want to be a full-time mother because I really enjoyed working. Working from home was the only option."
Some women have no choice. Veena Marathe had to start working because she and her husband realized that his salary would not be enough to live on once the baby arrived. Veena started working as a receptionist when her baby was one year old. She says. "I felt terrible leaving my baby at such a young age, but I had no choice. It's not easy being a working mother. I come home tired from work and I have to look after the baby and cook and clean. I get so irritated with my husband and I have even begun to resent the baby's demands and I know it's because I'm so tired. To make things worse, I don't like my job. I'm just doing it for the money. "
Suhasini Mehta dreams of becoming a partner in the law firm she works for. She says, "My job is high-stress and I have to work long hours, but I am determined to make it to the top. I live with my in-laws and both they and my husband are very supportive. I know that my in-laws will take good care of my daughter so I can work with a clear conscience."
When to return to work
Mothers often worry that their babies will forget them once they return to work. But they need not fear because babies recognize their mother's voices right from birth and are not going to forget even if their mothers are away for the whole day. The question then is when is the best time to go back to work? According to Dr. Sushma Mehrotra, "Ideally a working mother should only return to work when her baby is at least one year old. Otherwise, there is a danger that the baby may develop separation anxiety." Experts feel that mothers should wait till they have bonded with the baby and feel confident in their new role as mothers. For women who don't have a choice, it really depends on the amount of maternity leave they can wangle.
Spending quality time
According to Dr. Mehrotra, it is not the quantity of time mothers spend with their children but the quality that matters. "A working mother who spends one hour of quality time every day with her child will probably establish a better bond with her child than one who is home nagging the child all the time."
In Dr. Mehrotra's view, "Working mothers definitely have less time to spend with their children than the mothers who are at home. But it's not that a housewife is a better mother than a working mother. Even if the working mother is pressed for time, as long as she spends quality time with her child it is enough. Sometimes mothers are around the house the whole day but they don't even look at their children. They provide them with food and other facilities, but their involvement with the child is minimum. They think their presence is enough. But that is not true. It is quality time and the way you interact with your children that makes the difference."
"For instance, if a working mother takes the trouble to find out what her child has been doing the whole day and accepts the child's reply, she will probably have a better bond with her child. On the other hand, a child may feel rejected if a mother who has been home the whole day has not bothered to see what her child is up to. It really depends on the kind of communication and bonding that mothers have with their children. Mothers must talk to their children, they must interact with them and must accept their children."
Quality time does not imply that the mother must cram a hundred activities in the little free time that she has to spend with her child. It is enough to just spend time together doing routine things like eating together or just cuddling each other. Mothers should talk to their children telling them about their day and asking about theirs. Given the fact that time is of the essence, mothers need to prioritize household chores and only do those that are absolutely essential on a daily basis. Mothers should try to tune out distractions like the television, radio and telephone calls when they are spending some special time with their babies. Quality time should not be restricted to the mother and baby alone. Mothers shouldn't forget the fathers and should make it a point to involve them in quality time activities.
In the long run, in a situation where both parents are working and not spending enough time with their children, it can have an adverse effect on the child's development. Dr. Mehrotra feels, "Children may feel neglected and seek stimulation outside the house. Servants can look after a child's basic needs, but they cannot be responsible for the child's intellectual, social and emotional development."
In her experience, Dr. Mehrotra has found that very often, mothers who have to go back to work are not happy leaving their child at such a young age. They feel guilty and anxious and their anxiety is transmitted to the child. The mother will phone home ten times a day to find out what is happening and try to give instructions over the phone. This can make the whole family develop neurotic tendencies. "When a mother is anxious, she makes everybody anxious."
"Often working mothers succumb to children's demands very easily because they feel guilty. They feel that they can compensate for their absence by giving their children money. But a child's needs are not material. Children want warmth and emotional security," says Dr. Mehrotra.
Probably the best thing for women to do if they want to work is to either work part-time or to get a job that has flexi-hours or to work freelance. However, in cases where mothers have no family at home to leave their children with, a good creche may be an option to consider. Ideally, a person running a creche will be educated and experienced with children and definitely a better option than leaving children to their own devices or with servants. But mothers must be very careful about checking the credentials of the person running the creche and speak to parents of other children in the creche before they take a decision to send their child to one.