Mother’s dilema

My timelines and feeds recently went on a sharing frenzy of the PepsiCo CEO’s interview, where she states the overstated candidly “Why women can’t have it all?”

If you haven’t already read it, reading further may not make much sense.

Read it here.

I am not outraging here. I might have, on multiple points, IF I had read her interview before becoming a mother; The internet and my timelines have raised questions on why a male CEO has it all,or why no one really has it all or even a more personal prodding of “fair-marriage” questions and concerns that stem from the interview.

I won’t go into any of that just yet. Her responses, to me, a mother who is also juggling a fulltime job, have resonated two points.

First — “Biological clock and career clock are in total complete conflict with each other”

Let me pause. Let me let you read that again with an open mind. If it has irked your inner feminist, who believes no one must tell you when is the right time to have kids or if you must even have one, read again. If you believe a woman’s career goals must not be defined or discriminated by her biological clock, read it again. Read it again, till you have vent your outrage for what the sentence doesn’t stand for.

A woman’s fertility clock and physical-grit for sustaining pregnancy and labor may not understand or wait for a suitable time until her career has taken off satisfactorily. “IF” bearing a child is also on her mind, she may at some point in her life, have to juggle the two together, losing and gaining on both ends, until it evens out.

It is not gender bashing, but until men can also bear a child, birth a child and breastfeed a baby; the onus of choosing and acting on the right time, in one’s life for all of the above, falls on the woman in the relationship. Try denying that as you might!

Which brings me to the second point –“you have to cope, because you die with guilt”

In my son’s first year of his life, I went thru “I want to quit my job and stay home to take care of him” thought every alternate day. His grandparents were taking care of him and not a stranger at day care. Yet, the overwhelming guilt swallowed me day and night.

Again, it is tough to deny that in the initial months or year of a child’s life, the child needs its mother the most. So the bigger brunt of the post-partum child care does fall on the mother more than the father, immediately after birth.

So what happens, after that initial phase of mother-needing and transcending into a fair distribution of child care responsibility between partners?? Here is where I notice a gender stereotype that has been created in our minds by societal functioning for ages.

Fathers probably feel the guilt too, but, society has dictated for years that a man never stays home. He is the eternal bread-winner. So for most of our men, even the idea or thought of quitting and staying home with the children doesn’t figure. Not because they won’t do it if necessary, but because, there has never been a need to!

But mothers on the other hand, are constantly judging ourselves and letting the guilt wash us over. It primarily stems from the fact that women have for eons, stayed home to take care of the family, for many of us, our mothers did the same. So that creates a feeling in the back of our minds that, it is a viable and accepted choice, if I ever have to make it. And for many of us, like me, who couldn’t decide between the two ends, here is where Nooyi, makes her point – We have to cope.

I don’t know when and how i coped with mine, but I know I couldn’t have done it without the support of my husband.

Whenever we feel guilty for making a difficult decision for our son; be it letting him stay in day care for 8 hours a day or letting him sleep in his own room, we remind ourselves that “we are a family; all the members must co-exist. We are building a life together and not a life that revolves only around a few members”

We are still figuring the parenting thing. And a few mantras like this have helped us cope.

And as for the “Do we have it all?” question, I say define your ALL and be willing to change it as you go. And probably there you may find the peace to go with it!

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Guest Post — Lessons in management

I have often mentioned about appa’s stint in the rural village in maharastra, in my posts. He narrates a story from that time and a few others! Do read.

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(Recently Published in the house-magazine of the Bank, my father had worked for over 30 years)

I am going to narrate a couple of stories elucidating certain useful management principles which I learnt without the help of Peter Drucker and /or other management Gurus. One of the stories has been told to me by my grandmother in whose presence I used to spend the best of summer holidays during the childhood. A real life incident is also given alongside.

The first story goes like this…….there was a nampoothiri priest who was very regular in going to the village temple for performing the rituals there. He died due to old age. And his young son was set to assume the mantle. Before the son took charge as the temple priest, his mother started giving him her views about how he should perform the rituals and behave with the devotees and other officials. On the first day when he finished his forenoon rituals and started his return walk home, the lady of the house in the neighbourhood told him “the food ready. Please honour us with your company for lunch today”. The young priest refused the offer politely even though he was hungry.

He came back and narrated the incident to his mother. Mother immediately replied “you should never lose the food in the neighbourhood” for which he nodded in agreement. The young priest used to get the offer from the neighbourhood on a regular basis and he excused himself in one pretext or the other. The mother also kept reminding her son about her piece of advice not to lose the offer for food in the neighbourhood. The young priest sometimes wondered why his mother was reminding him about this more often.

After a few weeks, one day the young priest was on his return journey from the temple. The lady in the next door invited him and even complained about his refusing to oblige not even once. Reluctantly he accepted the offer and ate his lunch there. It was a bit late when returned home. His mother was as usual waiting for his arrival. By looking at his mother’s face writ with anxiety, he quipped “you used to tell every day that I shouldn’t lose the offer for food ………..I didn’t lose it ………I ate it today”.

The mother was very disappointed. She was upset because her son did not get the real meaning of her advice. She explained to him that she never wanted her son to lose the offer for food from the neighbour. The offer would cease once it is accepted. She always wanted her son to stand head and shoulders above the rest.

My grandmother had not studied in any high school, leave alone college or management institute. But the principle she wanted to drive home was relevant from any style of prudent management. In the present day management jargon we may say it as “there is no such thing as free lunch”.

The very idea of taking anything free was not acceptable to me when I started my career in the Bank. Asking for a favour from a customer was the last thing I would do during the initial days of my career. As an young and ambitious Bank officer with ideals of serving the poor and down trodden accepted as the “karma” to followed, I too started working in rural branch in the coastal Maharashtra during the seventies. It was a branch in the thick of the bazaar area full of hustle bustle during the day time and fairly calm in the night barring the regular call to prayers delivered through the loud speakers fitted to the minars of the next door mosque.  I was staying in the manager’s residence provided just above the branch. I used to get back home late in the night only after finishing the daily chorus sitting in the branch just below the residence. My wife was not very happy about my spending most of the time in the bank. Sunday used to be kept for a leisurely routine. It was a day for late rising, forenoon swim in the nearby beach, a late lunch and a short slumber thereafter. Generally it used to end with a drive to the nearby temple in the evening.

It was a Sunday morning. I was shaken out of bed with loud sound of the calling bell which rang continuously for about thirty seconds. It was only about six in the morning. The room was still dark. I had to switch on the light to find my way through the stairs to open the door. I was half asleep. I wanted to know who put an end to the most comfortable early morning sleep in the month of December. As I opened the door, there was a man in his forties with folded hands and an earthen vessel with its neck tied with not so clean piece of cloth placed in front of me. He was a farmer who availed a loan for a buffalo the other day. He had come to give me the news that the buffalo had calved. He had brought a vessel filled with “Kharvas”* for me. With folded hands he thanked me profusely and requested me to accept the sweet specially brought for me. Even though I could understand almost all that he talked in the local language, I could not reply to him for two reasons. I was really furious for having lost the sleep. Secondly he had brought me something in return to what I considered as my duty. With a frown face and fairly loud voice I sent him back slamming the door on his face. I returned to bed. But I could hardly sleep. Half an hour later, the bell rang. This time it was the same person along with my colleague agricultural assistant Gaikwad. Mr.Gaikwad tried to convince me to accept the sweet which I again refused. After a series of exchange of words, I stood my ground and ultimately told that I would pay the market price and take it for distribution among all the staff in the branch. The farmer fell on my feet and requested again seeking my forgiveness. I could see tears rolling down his cheeks. He was very much upset over my offer to buy the sweet. He repeated that it is out love that he had prepared it with the first milk after the delivery and I should not refuse it. My wife who was watching the whole episode called me inside and requested me to relent. At last, I accepted the vessel with both hands. A piece was cut and given to him and Gaikwad. I too ate a piece of it. The farmer returned after thanking me and my wife with folded hands. To cut the story short, throughout the tenure of my posting in the branch, my wife purchased milk from that farmer. Even after leaving the village branch, we used to exchange letters for a long time. Needless to add that it all ended as a relationship beyond banking.

The story had also taught me many a lessons. Just as “all that glitters is not gold”, all that is given is not bribe. Similarly love and reverence cannot be priced or bought. Respect can be commanded and not demanded. In almost every posting, I could learn new lessons and today I can proudly claim to be a better human being, thanks to our Bank.

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*Kharvas — A typical Maharashtrian sweet made out of the thick first milk after calving, jaggery, grated nutmeg, cardamom etc..