A couple of years back, I was having lunch at my cousin’s marriage, sitting at a table of eight or nine people, some of whom were distant relatives. We were having awkward small talks across the table. The conversation revolved largely around how well the ceremony was conducted, various assumptions regarding the price of the diamond necklace and earrings the bride was wearing, the alleged dowry that the groom’s father received in an American Tourister and whether the ginger chicken that was served to us was actually shredded ginger duck.
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 their 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 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 research analyst in a well-established company, I knew I was opting out of an excellent career path. 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 our marriage wouldn’t have worked. Might as well be the machinations of an over-thinking mind; but truth be told, there were more than enough people trying to create a wedge in our relationship. but nothing would have gone wrong if I had still continued in my job.
Or may be, the marriage would have stayed intact without my leaving job. My husband would have come to meet me from time to time, or vice versa and we would have gotten adjusted to that life with time. Yes. People 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. I chose this life. 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 do. 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 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 kids, morning till night. Sometimes I get tired of picking up the mess after them, 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 kids haven’t exactly been easy on me either. I am exhausted and huggard most of the time. Some days, I make sure to exercise, eat healthy and take bath. But some days are bad. The lull in my energy levels translates itself into no exercise, no bath, ordering pizza days.
There are times when I don’t clean the bathrooms and toilets for days. 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 toddler considers, playthings. 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, on the windows, TV screen and computer screen. 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 window sills.
During winters, when I am too tired, self care and basic hygiene goes out of the window. You may find me walking and stumbling like a zombie, in the same t-shirt and pyjamas for two or three days. (I get reminded of bathing, only when my own armpit odour bothers me).
Not to mention my crankiness, when shark week is closing in. 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 kids have passed, the shared ice creams and the shared laughter at the nearby shopping mall were I used to take them each time we went for grocery shopping (*read pre-COVID-19 days) and having other harmless funs. The heart-filled conversations about why Nobita will never get married to Shizuka, the endless singing of all songs from My Little Pony and the petite faces of my kids beaming with happiness each time I dance and lipsync to Ultra luminari.
It is about taking them for a walk through our secret forest (a patch of greenery near our locality, which is hitherto be made into a car park area or apartment complex) and chasing butterflies. It is about answering the endless calling out for ‘mama mama’. It is about encouraging them when they think that they are helping me in cooking, while truth be told, they are 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 other working mothers, thoughts flood in, and I feel a little amiss. Now I don’t have a cool career to brag about. 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 kids’ lives.
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 for a year, during the end part of their careers, 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: I haven’t planned on being a stay-at-home-mom till the end of my time. Who knows, I may become a professional singer or guitarist or publish a book in a few years time. Or I may become a horticulturist. Only time will tell.