The guilt of a working mom is a real thing. A very, very real thing. I define this as
A working women feeling guilty about not spending enough time with her kid when she is at work and then, not giving her 200% at work because she has a kid to look after.
There are several things flawed here.
The first is that women are conditioned to feel this way. The environment we are in and the world around us does that. We put people who have achieved extra ordinary success in their career on a pedestal and worship them. How often do we take the effort to learn about their character traits, their habits and the skills they developed? How often do we get exposed to the true story of every sacrifice they made, everything they gave up to be where they are? Very rarely I would say. However, these women become role models and we try to emulate their professional success. Unaware of their situation, we beat ourselves up for not achieving heights of professional success and increase our efforts at work. If we are unable to do that, it just adds to our stress.
On the other hand is the idealistic definition of a perfect mother. Can you define the perfect mother? let me help you. Close your eyes for a moment and think about the early images of mother you were exposed to. Yes, I am talking illustrations with nursery rhymes or kids story books. I am talking charts and stickers in kindergarten when relationships are first explained to children. What is the picture of the mother you recollect? In most cases it would be a demure looking lady in conservative clothes with a backdrop of a well kept home, a neat and happy child in her arms or lap. She could be feeding the kid or helping them study. You know what I am talking about. Right?
Working moms are trying to chase both these goals at the same time – A highly successful career woman and a loving, nurturing perfect mother.
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The PTAs, the school plays, the storytelling sessions, the music recitals, the football practice, the basketball match and every little activity the child does must have mom’s attention. The homework, projects and exams need to be managed with the same attention to detail as meetings, deliverables and team management at work. On the other hand, as we grow in our careers, going that extra mile to make an impression, assignments turned around faster than expected, taking on projects not in KRA, late evening overseas calls, early morning breakfast meetings all these require adjustments that get tougher and tougher to balance. This is what I mean by showing 200% commitment to your job. Because these days, 100% just isn’t enough.
In my experience, women have to continuously prove at the work place that they are dedicated to their jobs. Men on the other hand, are assumed to be so just because of their gender. It gets even tougher for a working mother because everyone just assumes that the child is her first priority. Even though she gives no indication, it is assumed that she is tied to the city, the office and the role because she has a family and a child. Without asking her, it is assumed that she won’t be willing to travel, won’t take risks and pass up opportunities that are challenging. Hence the need to show extra dedication intensifies in the head of the working mom.
To top this, any flexibility given to a working mom is passed off as a favour. It does not matter that she delivers all that her KRA demands. It is the use of this flexibility and how grateful she should be that takes precedence in her performance evaluation; thus making a case against a good pay rise or a level change. This widens the pay gap between genders and firmly affixes a glass ceiling on a working mom’s head. Can you imagine the stress this causes? Can you imagine what kind of anxiety this creates? Beyond a point she starts questioning the point if all this and wonders if she is better off giving up her financial independence. She starts to believe she will be happier letting go of her ambitions and surround herself with kids. Isn’t this a big reason for women dropping out of the workforce? If she chooses to battle it out, every day is s never ending hustle of juggling multiple priorities, of multiple tasking with several different hats at the same time.
But you know the biggest problem here? It is the judgements she gets from people around her. Now it is all very well to say one should not care and live life the way they want but if you stay surrounded be people, you do care about how others perceive you. But going through it on a daily basis can break down even the toughest of women. I firmly believe that she needs a very strong support system around her to function effectively.
Working moms need unwavering support from their spouse, extended family and friends to function. They can function better as mothers and career women if we take off the pressure of excelling at all things all the time
I am lucky to have this kind of support. And all those who do, must be grateful and never take it for granted. To every one else, please support working moms in your world. Even if it is an encouraging word telling them that they are doing a great job, it can do wonders to their morale.
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