In a Forbes interview recently, Indra Nooyi trashed the idea that ‘Women Can Have It All’. Speaking about her own experience balancing personal and professional life, she said,
I don’t think women can have it all. I just don’t think so. We pretend we have it all. We pretend we can have it all. My husband and I have been married for 34 years. And we have two daughters. And every day you have to make a decision about whether you are going to be a wife or a mother, in fact many times during the day you have to make those decisions. And you have to co-opt a lot of people to help you. We co-opted our families to help us. We plan our lives meticulously so we can be decent parents. But if you ask our daughters, I’m not sure they will say that I’ve been a good mom. I’m not sure. And I try all kinds of coping mechanisms.
The internet erupted in a fashion similar to the one witnessed when a Washington high flyer had written about quitting her job and deciding to stay home. Back then, there had also been an interesting perspective by a male columnist about how men also don’t have it all. I do not wish to add anything more to this never ending debate. What I want to focus on though are the following lines from Nooyi’s talk :
But if you ask our daughters, I’m not sure they will say that I’ve been a good mom. I’m not sure.
You see, I was somewhat that kind of a daughter and so were some of my friends, male and female, who were the few who had working moms in an era when it was still catching on. My mom only spent half a day away as she was a teacher but even so at times I remember resenting it. Now when I look back at it, I find it extremely silly, because it wasn’t as if mom wasn’t there when needed.
So why did this feeling even arise? Also, wouldn’t Nooyi’s children have got the benefits of the many perks that come with having a corporate rock star for a mother? So why is it that still they should feel cheated of a good mother, if they do feel that at all. After all, why do we as kids, feel so entitled to our mother’s time, indeed her entire life and personality?
The answer I believe is partly cultural. If every mom worked in the society, no one would actually ask the kid if he/she feels left out because mother wasn’t there. In fact, working is a way of life for farmers and labourers who are women. No one I guess would ever ask their children if they were emotionally damaged or felt abandoned because their mothers worked.
But I do remember questions and assumptions from those around me about my ‘working’ mother. I also remember the few times I’d be home alone while the neighbourhood auntie was with her kid. However, none of my major needs were ever unmet by my mother. So the only explanation for this kind of feeling that me or any of my others friends had was this cultural notion that we as kids also bought into the cultural trope our mothers loved us only if they were always around us, if they made gaajar ka halwa, mined Tarla Dalal’s treasure trove every weekend, were always at our beck and call and put aside everything for our homework (though most mothers do this last one).
A good level of engagement with the child is necessary when the child is an infant and can’t meet most of his/her needs. Of course, there are some really self absorbed and careless mothers who scar their children. But most women are just trying their best. There is no need to have the black and white good mother, bad mother categorisation. Even a home maker cannot be hovering over her child every moment. It just isn’t possible. It is necessary to change our cultural dialogue in such a way that children also see their mothers as human beings, people liable to make mistakes, people who have their own dreams and interests other than being a mother. It is time that being a mother and wife is demoted from the position of a full time job, so that a working woman can go work at hours that suit her and a homemaker can have a girls day out without the guilt of being a less than perfect mother.
For a man to be labelled a bad father, he needs to be a wife beating, severe alcholic/spendthrift, good for nothing. For a woman to be labelled a bad mother, she just has to be 5 minutes late in coming from the kitchen while the child is crying in the living room. That needs to change.