There was a world before 2019 and there is another now. I know this has been said many times before. A world before the world wars, a world before the September 11 attacks, a world before a wave of fascism started taking its place back in world politics.
You can go on and on but in the end, this time, instead of turning the television on for a quick update, we were actually living it.
This pandemic turned us humans into weapons. We were no longer as afraid of the masked burglar as much as the unmasked face breathing near us. A six feet mandate that, if broken, threatened to shove us six feet under.
With people losing jobs, homes and all hope of getting over the doom that loomed, and still looms over us, staying home to cope with a microscopic enemy came to be the only viable solution.
Talk about disruption of the normal! Meetings were held in the bedroom corner peering over little windows on a laptop screen. Teachers shed chalk dust off and scrambled to teach real children virtually.
While kids wondered why their restricted “screen time” suddenly became the only time capturing their lives, fully sanctioned and enforced by all adults.
In this ulta-pulta world our existence was literally shrunk to our nBHK abodes (for the lucky few who had an address).
And in my little furnished cave, I chuckled and thought about how my life had already been stuck in ultra-domesticity long before any new age virus peeked its ugly head.
You see I was a new parent and as every reader who has had any experience being one or being near one, parenting is like managing a team of employees who have no experience, no knowledge, mostly unruly, usually noisy and messy, and who are highly clingy and dependent little monsters.
Adorable of course, but imagine being stuck to such a job without pay and no HR to escalate grievances to.
Experience and struggles of a mom working from home
My child was born a near year before the first hum tum ek kamre mei bandh ho scenario gripped the nation and the globe.
Just as she had taken her first steps, we were told to shut ourselves in for two weeks (I wish!) and her little feet learnt to steady themselves within the confines of four walls.
Walls that, over the course of 2 years, have become so familiar that I have names for the various web colonies scattered in those hard to reach corners – from the working class spider dwellings behind the old painting to the posh fine silky webs near the south facing window.
An observation born out of a combination of isolation and laziness. Who had the time to go proactive and take a bull-dozer to the spider colonies (without SC permission, ahem) when there was just so much to do!
And I mean there was just so much to do. I had no idea what entailed real motherhood!
Of course, I had seen my mother do it quite adeptly but when it was my turn to mother a living being that basically felt like soft dough to the touch, I was pretty clueless.
Slowly, but surely, I started building my gyaan, often out of desperation like an untrained intern running around trying to keep a crybaby manager (literally), happy.
And for those of you out there contemplating parenthood and unsure of how to prepare, here is my two-pence.
Relax. No, seriously, relax.
No book can prepare you for this. Not the immense physical exhaustion or the near lack of alert mental faculty in the wake of sleepless nights. This is as on-the-job-training as it can get. So go along with it.
And so we did.
How can a mother balance career and childcare?
It takes a village to bring up a child, they say. Well, we didn’t have a village, the constant presence of a seasoned grandparent, or even a string of paid help that didn’t manage to dump us for reasons ranging from I can’t handle a new born to I won’t handle a new born.
Life was upended and my strife to balance my role as a mother and writer was a bit of a failure, mildly put.
A few hours squeezed on days when a semi-nanny did show up was all I managed. I am guessing people who say motherhood and work can be balanced, are usually blessed with a village to help.
Nothing can be balanced without support. Even with the support of each other as new parents, one needs the third fourth and hopefully a fifth hand to let careers carry on productively without feeling guilty about leaving the child home.
A constrain that was so much more exacerbated by the onset of the global pandemic. A crisis, that with its threat to health and livelihood, also took away the chance to provide and receive support.
Managing career and motherhood in pandemic
As Covid hit the world with an unknown fear shutting everything down in its wake, my husband and I found ourselves locked down with a one-year-old, realizing that life was no longer going to be about balancing the personal and professional, but rather about mucho compromising.
We began, like pretty much everyone out there, with divvying up the chores – clean up and cooking were team “me” while dishes and mopping were his. And the baby took the high chair – literally and figuratively.
As she ambled around in her unsure steps, I found myself straining to focus, wanting to be more around her, trying to compensate for her lack of a normal childhood.
How do you define an optimum balance between motherhood and career?
Is it a 50-50 share between your job and your child? Can you sit down and define your hours by function and hope one won’t encroach upon the other? I struggled, and struggle still.
And in my honest (like there is any other kind!) opinion, there can be no fairness.
I could never disconnect my mind, setting it on “focus mode” to work while my baby sat cooing adorably, or wailing incessantly, in the other room.
Nor did I not feel the obligation to work or at the very least turn to my job while taking care of my child.
Well, my job had always been flexible by nature. So, when the pandemic hit, its flexibility was stretched and tested to its limit.
Where I could write for five hours a day, I managed a bare five a week. When I could sit and dream up plots and ideas, my mind found itself worrying about my little ones’ sniffles and coughs.
My rational brain, with years of training in the sciences, somehow took a back seat to the worrier mother in me who always feared the worst. Sometimes quite irrationally.
There was no happy medium. No optimum balance or satisfaction. Like many mothers who go through this dilemma and often come out with one hard choice over the other, I did too.
Perhaps, a clearer but certainly not easier, choice can be made if necessity trumps it. Like the need to earn a wage to sustain ones’ family over the singular joy of attending to ones’ child full time, can clearly define career as the only option to make.
And just like that, without the necessity to do so, the pandemic made my priorities clear as well – my child needed my full attention.
What did I learn from my experiences as a working mother in pandemic?
I tend to rant more, venting to whoever cares. Sharing helps me have faith in my choices and hope for a more rounded future. After all, someone else in my shoes might have had to make a different choice.
Every story of a motherhood-career balancing act reflects unique situations and equally unique outcomes. All choices made with the simple assumption that it will ultimately work out the best.
However different those experiences though, I am sure of one thing that is common, for all mothers young and old, the worrying kind or not, with or without support, working for a living or not – there is no clear boundary that sets the two lives apart.
And as I am slowly learning to let go of the anxiety that gripped me through the initial years of my daughter’s life, before and through the pandemic, I am realizing that when women set out to achieve it all, the sacrifices are not always tangible.
You can often not weigh them in money or measure them in hours. The act of balancing motherhood and career is an emotional one.
Balancing motherhood and career, especially in times of crisis, can only be achieved with support – physical as well as emotional that can help overcome the mental anguish of bringing up a child while not losing track of ones’ identity as a woman with dreams and aspirations.
Challenges of work-from-home moms and tips to tackle them
- Are you a parent trying to manage work and balance your life on the side?
- Do you have to struggle to schedule your hours as a work from home mom?
- Are you a new parent having trouble to even come up with a routine to balance your work and childcare?
Let’s figure out the challenges and some tips of how you may begin to address them.
1. Postpartum care
This is a hard truth. Recovery after child-birth is a challenge for any mother. But with most child births being pushed towards C-sections, the recovery time for new mothers who have undergone the surgery has become especially hard.
For those who can afford it, usually hire professional help while a majority rely on family. It is absolutely crucial though, for all new moms to understand the need to first recover your health and stamina.
Child care and eventually a balance between child care and work can only happen if postpartum fitness is achieved with diligence.
2. Don’t try to do it all
You are a mother, not a superhuman. Organize your life and make sure you have someone to take care of you as well. If you think you can manage everything right away, you’d be wrong.
Schedule your hours around taking care of your children and make sure that everyone around you is equipped to take care of them in your absence.
3. Don’t be shy to take time off
A mother’s happiness is directly reflected on the childcare. Stress parenting can be harmful for you as well as the child. Children can suffer from anxiety, exhibiting exaggerated dependent behaviours.
Part of alleviating their stress is to not be anxious parents around them. And to handle your own stress (‘coz trust me, mothering is stressful), you need to be able to take your own time to breathe and relax. Schedule your time to pull away from your childcare and working mom responsibilities regularly.
Take a walk, exercise, or simply have a long coffee break with or without a friend. Your state of mind will transfer to your child and translate into your work as well.
4. Aim to make your child independent
Train your kids to do things on their own and not jump to help them all the time. The faster they learn, the sooner you will be able to get back to your working life.
In the post-pandemic world, with schools slowly getting back to track, think about enrolling your kids into day-cares or schools. Keep your child engaged for you to stay engage as well.
Most of you out there already know these challenges and may have already found ways to tackle them. Share your story below and let us all feel each other’s support as we fumble our way to manage work and life, trying to make the best of both.