I remember three years back, I was having lunch at my cousin’s marriage, sitting at a table of eight or nine people, some of whom were my distant relatives. Since we were all sitting at the same table, we made small talk with each other and across the table. The conversation revolved largely around how well the ceremony has been conducted, various assumptions regarding the price of the diamond necklace and earrings the bride was wearing and whether the butter chicken that was served to us was in fact ginger chicken. The middle-aged woman sitting across me at the table asked me a question out of the blue. ‘Where are you working?’ Pat came my reply: ‘I don’t work. I am a Stay-at home-mom.’ Suddenly, all conversations at the table stopped. With there jaw’s dropped and eyelids raised in patronizing superiority, all of them looked at me, as if I was an alien being. ‘ Ohh…staying at home and being a what? Your parents are still working, aren’t they? asked the woman with disdain. So, what do you do all day?’
‘Yes. My parents are still working. But I am a stay-at-home- mom. Does that make me a criminal of sorts? I guess not.’ No. that wasn’t my reply. That was me thinking silently.
In my generation, you just don’t hear about Stay-at-home moms anymore. Considering that both sides of my parents’ extended family are brimming with scientists and engineers, intellectual ambition and lofty careers made for a person’s identity, rather than cooking, cleaning or raising kids. And people belonging to my parents’ generation of working class, in there disdain for stay-at-home moms, stereotyped such women as miserable and insecure,TV serial- addicted ladies, low in brain power, but always ready for gossipping and shopping.
‘Why forego a career when you can hire a nanny or baby sitter, or even send your toddler to a daycare?’ This is a question that many in my family have asked me.
My counter-question to them is, ‘Is it shameful to be a stay-at-home mom?’ When did raising children become so unimportant when compared to having a career? While many daycare institutions and pre-schools offer state-of-the-art care, I don’t think it is equivalent to a mother’s care. It doesn’t matter even if the so-called mother has a Ph.D in Financial Economics. A mother is never too ‘over-qualified’ to take care of her child. (Disclaimer: This is strictly my personal viewpoint. You need not agree with it.) My mother still regrets about not being there for me and my brother when we were little. I regret my parents being so caught up in their office work that they never got to spend any quality time with me. I still do.
When I opted out of my job as a financial analyst in a well-established company, I knew I was opting out of an excellent career path. (Its been almost six years..Yes..I’ve been unemployed for the last SIX YEARS !!! I know some of you may be frowning at that thought).That was the time when I felt that I would be missing quality time with my husband if I didn’t compromise on my job. (As I have already mentioned in one of my earlier posts, my husband is an army man, and if I had continued with my job, I would have had to stay away from him for a considerable part of the year).
It wasn’t easy for me. I was happy at work, hovering over excel spreadsheets and studying new business models. But then, I made the difficult decision. I left my job half-heartedly and with a lump in my throat. But it was my personal decision and it took a lot of courage to leave my first, hard-earned job. If I hadn’t left my job (which was in one State) and moved in with my husband (in another State), may be , well maybe, our marriage wouldn’t have worked out the way we wanted it to be. Of course, that is just a perceivable threat, but nothing would have gone wrong if I had still continued in my job. Hubby dear would have come to meet me from time to time, or vice versa and we would have gotten adjusted to that life with time. So many working women do that.
But I am not a multi-tasker like some of my staying -seperated -from -husbands -and -working-friends are. From the time I had known myself, I have always given more preference to matters of the heart than head. Some of you may call me old-fashioned or even chauvinistic, but here I am. I made myself more ‘available’ to my husband, and after our daughter was born, more and more ‘available’ to her. Every woman has a specific set of circumstances in her life, and a specific set of skills to tide over those circumstances that life presents her with.
Since I decided to be a SAHM, there were sacrifices to be made in our lifestyle what with living with only one income. It hasn’t been easy for us.
Being a SAHM is nothing spectacular. In fact it is the most thankless job in the world. You don’t get a paycheck every month for the work you have done. You don’t get appreciated for what you do, on a daily basis. Most of the time, your family takes you for granted. Its about being sort of trapped in a self-made world of sameness and monotony. Its about being dependent on your husband for each and every thing that should be bought with money.
I can’t remember the countless times of running out of patience and losing my mind with all that whining and screaming that I hear from my child morning till night. Sometimes I get tired of picking up the mess after her, the endless changing of pee-soaked bedsheets, the puke-smelling burp cloths and washing at least three to four buckets of clothes stinking of pee-poop-puke every single day.
Am I good at being a SAHM? Well, to tell you the truth, I am not Mary Poppins. My little one has not been an easy child either. I have spent much of the first two years of my life after my kid, exhausted and huggard, with a depressive lull in my energy levels.
There are times when I don’t clean the bathrooms and toilets for days on end. There are times when I don’t sweep or swab the floors for days on end. Our living room is always scattered with toys and bits and parts of anything and everything that my child considers a plaything in her hands. After countless times of arranging everything in order and then the next minute finding it scattered the same old way, I leave it as it is. There are those greasy little hand prints on my fridge, on the microwave oven, on the windows, phone, TV screen, computer screen and even on the touch screen of my phone. I am tired of wiping it off, on and on. And since cooking is THE bare minimum thing that I HAVE to do, I do it. Sometimes, there would be a half-inch layer of dust accumulated on the windowsills. Most of the days, when my husband comes back from office, he would find me walking and stumbling like a zombie, in the same dress that he had seen me in the morning when he had left, meaning, I had forgotten to take a shower the whole day. And we both would realize that good housekeeping had gone for a toss. Not to mention my mood swings, which are equivalent to the waxing and waning of moon. Each time I look at my husband’s concerned face, I would feel guilty of not being able to become the perfect SAHM, the one who would clean the house to spotless perfection, cook a seven course lunch and dinner and all the while, take care of her skin and her looks and presents herself beautiful for her husband. I am not such type of a woman. I can’t. There you have it.
Though I am not the best of SAHMs, I still get some reward points in the form of, being there for every precious milestone that my kid passes, the shared ice creams and the shared laughter at the nearby shopping mall were I take her everyday just to have some harmless fun and of course the ice cream, the endless storytelling and heart-filled conversations about why Dora the Explorer or Peter Rabbit did what they did and the petite face of my child beaming with happiness each time I hug her and kiss her and tell her that mama is there for her always. It is about taking her for a walk in the rain or going to the nearby park whenever she wants it. It is about answering the endless calling out for ‘mama mama’. It is about encouraging her when she thinks that she is helping me in cooking, while truth be told, she is causing more trouble for me in the kitchen.
Having a job made me feel ‘liberated’ and ’empowered’. And I quit it. Sometimes, when I see my friends who are working mothers, old memories flood in, and I feel a little amiss. Now I don’t have a cool career to brag about or get my own pocket money from. But then I focus my mind in the now of life. I just don’t want to miss out on the first few formative years of my child’s life.
I am the one who is always available to help an ailing member in the family, or volunteer for a hospital-stay for somebody, for a couple of days, since everybody else, invariably have to go to work and can’t afford to take leave. Or, like, when my parents got transferred from Kerala to Assam recently, I was the only one ‘available’ for them to help out with all the settling in and setting up a ‘home’ out of a rented house while they were busy going to their new office from Day 1 onwards for their 9 to 5 government job routine. . For a SAHM like me, being taken for granted is an occupational hazard that comes with the job profile. But I try not to get too antsy about it.
P.S: Look. I haven’t planned on being a stay-at-home-mom till the end of the world. I may try for a job, when my child is ready for school.