Thursday, June 19, 2008

Working Moms?

I usually stay far away from any remotely serious topics, and am not particularly interested in controversy - I just don't have the energy or time to deal with it regularly, anyway.

That's why I've always been a silent observer of the entire Mommy debate - the 'Working Mom' vs. 'Stay at Home Mom' thing.

I had a good long set of months to observe this debate too, when I was on maternity leave with Peanut. It was a very much-needed break for me and I focussed totally on the baby - and realized that I need to work - actually, I want to work. It's just that I needed to find the right support system to let me do it, and also, to find work that I would really enjoy. Both of these happened when we decided to move to Delhi.

Of course, when I started work after the long break, I had a lot of things on my mind as to how it would work out - I hadn't actually left Peanut for more than a couple of hours - was continuing to breastfeed her, and she was still very fussy about taking solids regularly. I thought she would continue to be on my mind all the time, and that I wouldn't be able to concentrate. I also thought that my restricted travel could prove to be an issue. As would the coming back in the middle of the day to feed her. And so on.

Well, it looks like it's all going to work out, and has been working out just fine for the last couple of months. A lot of things have helped in this regard:

- Having a boss who is a Mom of three kids and openly supportive about my needing to go home at lunchtime to see Peanut. Being able to see her in the middle of the day is a very big plus, for both Peanut and me.

- Having family around for support - even though they all work, I know my mother and sister can be called upon to come home a bit earlier than usual on the rare occasions that I get late. Oh, and Vijay too.

- Having a maid who has been with us for a quarter of a century to watch over Peanut. I can't actually imagine trusting Peanut with someone new or unknown. I suppose one would have found a way to survive without her, but I'm glad I haven't had to.

- Breastfeeding. It is very relaxing, and ensures that Peanut and I get some alone time together at regular intervals of the day - before and after work, and even during lunch. I was planning to wean her at 1 year, which is just a month away now, but I actually see no reason to now. I'd like to hear from the moms who continued beyond one year, most of the mommy bloggers I've read seem to have stopped at 1 year or earlier. 'Benefits of extended breastfeeding', anyone?

- Having work that is engaging, and ensures that I don't sit around thinking 'Why am I here and not with my baby at home, sniff, sob'. It's not easy to leave her every morning, especially when that quivering pink lower lip and those frantically flailing chubby white arms come into play. I'd hate to be pining away for her while I was at work. But it doesn't really happen - I'm always glad to be back home, but I'm never dragging my feet to work either. ( Except that post lunch sleepy time is a killer for a few minutes, of course!)

Anyway, the point I was eventually hoping to meander around to - I was slightly - okay, very - inflamed to read an article on some study in Australia or New Zealand or something - which said that a recent survey showed that working mothers are treated as 'relatively unskilled' and given far less preference in their fields of work than their non-maternal counterparts. The time they spend on maternity leave, or if they choose to take a longer break, all goes against them when they do decide to go back to work.

I don't know about this. I have myself faced some slight bias in this regard. Even though my previous company gave me an enviably long maternity leave, I know there was some khit-pit ( a better word escapes me right now) about my wanting to work flexi-time. And this, when I worked on a branch of marketing which involves a lot of thinking time, and is eminently do-able out of home. Plus, I've done well for years at work and was rated fairly highly. When I finally decided to move to Delhi and quit, I was asked a number of times to reconsider but I really didn't want to reconsider anymore. I was told I was a highly valued resource but I didn't feel particularly valued. I was asked to give an exit interview, and I was very candid in my feedback. My candour probably had the HR person's ear hurting by the end of it. To be fair to him, he was very supportive as a person, but I think it was just a larger thing, a very real thing : there is this - in varying degrees of intensity and openness - bias against working mothers.

And even though I don't really face this in my current role, I think a large part of this comes from having a boss, who by virtue of being an effective working mother of multiple children, is just very understanding about the whole deal. What about other working moms, who may not be that lucky?

In short: it kind of sucks! What's your take?


  1. Hi ,

    Glad to see you all settled in your job and home. I work full time and have a 3 - year old . I haven't faced any discrimination directly but that's probably because I was cautious not to give any reason to.I didn't declare my pregnancy till I was about 6 months into it ( Being overweight has its advantages - everyone thinks you're just bloating ! ha ha ! Boo hoo ). By then, I had already proved I could actually manage by putting in only 8 hours in office and a couple from home if needed. I took 6 months off work and apparently, when I was gone, all the men bickered for my job. When I came back and was told not to take up my old responsibilities but wait for more "exciting" opportunties, I pointed out to my boss that the client ( fortune 500) will not take discrimination against a mother well, specially one that is obviously going to make it work. Boss buckled , I am still here and the rest have flown the nest.

  2. i continued breast feeding until almost 18 months. it is a good idea to keep at it for as long as you are upto it.

    and am glad you are working in a place that does not see a mother as only having half a brain- the other half obsessing about the child!

    and yes, its an easy choice if you love your work - and your basic support systems are in place.

    and i am glad you gave your HR guy a good talking to. would so love to hear the details.

  3. Youngest kid was breast fed till about a year and a half, kind of weaned off pretty naturally- the occasional night comfort feed continued for a bit longer, but it was painless. Older kid had severe diarrhoea at about 11 1/2 months, was advised to stop nursing him and only give him ORS. That was horrendously traumatic and painful. They didn't even give me anything for the engorgement.
    Year and a half they kind of self-wean, since by then they've also discovered loads of yummy stuff!

  4. touchwood to all things good! :)

    thankfully i too have a boss who understands, not immediate one, but the big one does!

    even i got 6 month leave without any hassles and i know step in late since most work happens in the 2nd half of the day.

    i am not particularly ambitious, but i do need to get out and work. have got a decent maid and M's flexi hours always help.

    am sure some amount of discrimnation does happen esp when the job roles involves putting in late hours etc.

    i guess that fight will continue...



  5. I discovered I was pregnant 2 weeks into my first job. I took my manager into confidence immidiately- do not think it was
    the best of decisions.I had a hard time at work through the initial months of a really difficult pregnancy with little
    support from home. I was granted only 12 weeks of maternity leave and when I returned, almost forced to quit the job. I fought back and worked really hard to succeed in it- now 15 months down the
    line I am still working at the same place. It is not that I need any extra consideration- I never asked for it- I don't think my
    manager will understand even if I ask for it. But sometimes I wonder if the first impression had been diffferent, things
    would have been different for me. Previous history of good performance might have made the difference. A different physical
    condition might have made differnce. I remember slogging for 12-14 hrs in office and then getting to hear comments- from
    other women(!!)- like- "you are going ona vacation for 3 months!!" Sometimes,I wonder if I should simply quit- but I like the
    work, and even like the people around me- but the experience of the first year still, though I want to have
    a second child, I am not so sure that I will be working in this organisation when I am pregnant again.
    Funniest part is I have heard several such stories inthe organisation- other ladies being made to quit- similar circumstances-
    overall, really very sad.

  6. I have been kind of lucky. Can't say about not getting same responsibilities when I cam back because -

    1) Company doesn't have another person who could carry my responsibilities, and
    2) I am the "shrimp" - bottom feeder. That means, at the lowest rung of corporate ladder - so there was no way for my poor supervisors to send me any lower :P

    Seriously speaking - just recently a coworker commented on how women returning from maternity leave in our company need to be very afraid since the company figures out that work goes on even int heir absence. Two have already left the company, I am contemplating it (for different reasons) and another one who has just come back seems nervous. Sucks, really!

  7. I'm reading your blog for the first time. My little one is 12 months and still breastfeeding...and showing no signs of stopping. One of the great benefits that I've heard of for breastfeeding a toddler is that they continue to get the great antibody protection from your milk. Less sick days is always a plus. Plus all the nice warm fuzzies that go along with that:).

  8. There's always someone ready to tell you you're not doing enough na? Even with SAHMs - we always get the vibe that 'how hard can it be?' and "why are you wasting your education and talent ?" etc etc. I dont think there's any situation where a woman is told you're doing enough and more. There's always that some place we ourselves or someone else will point out to say - if I could only get that (FITB) done too......
    It sucks big-time that the corporate world thinks our capacity to work just as hard or be just as creative goes to pot the moment we have children. It's either a ultra competitive woman or insensitive males who are seinding that vibe out from the higher ups.
    C'mon Y - we need more women (with families)on top and women oriented companies.

  9. good going on the breastfeeding y, keep at it for as long as you can. i woulda if i coulda. oh well.
    going back to work, hm, if i was in your place, i would have stayed on too (maybe) but the work i do isn't particularly appealing and nor am i super-good at it. i'm definitely one of those women who sits at their desk doing work and forlornly thinking, i'm away from my baby for THIS? that kind of thing.
    and i'm quitting to stay home, atleast for a while! i'm psyched about it.
    about discrimination, there was no such thing when i came back - but i asked for it. i turned down a promotion, said i wanted to work fewer hours and wanted no new responsibilities. it worked well.
    my bosses have been awesome, very supportive, very flexible and understanding. so no discrimination there :)
    anyhoo, glad everything is going well for you. yay!

  10. Y - This is going to be a long comment, okay?
    Before S, I always thought people who breastfed for 1year plus were weird. Hold on before you start getting upset. And then slowly over the last few months I changed my mind. I was only feeding her in the morning and in the evening. She was well into her solids as well. And like you I felt, if I could continue for longer then why not? The real reason was that I needed to feed her, it was our special time together. But somehow I felt that I wasn't lactating enough and that doubt just made it difficult for me to keep b'feeding. So, I stopped (not by plan) just casually just after her 1st birthday. And she doesn't miss it.
    Having just gotten back to work, I can totally relate to what you're saying. Since I joined a new firm I have none of the baggage of returning from maternity. However, I am conscious that I am the only one who leaves on time. I work a couple of hours from home 3-4 times a week but no one knows that unless I tell them. So, I'm worried that despite all the hard work I'm putting in, it's going to be a bit of a waste because people are going to think that I sack off. I do think working moms have to work harder that they are as good as non-moms, and then as good as men. Sigh it never ends!
    Now I need to get back to work! Sigh...

  11. i stopped bf the brat at one year because i was planning a second - i couldnt see any additional benefits.. and i needed my body to be as fit as possible before i got preggie a month later.

    he played up hell but learnt to take the bottle. since i am anyway home with him i dont mind not having that special one-on-one time.

    with the bean - she got teeth early like him adn just bit me to death. with both kids i left them at a year with my parents and went on a break with the OA so they had to be weaned. was engorged for TWO Frickin months after i stopped feeding the Bean. BF sucks.

  12. I had never planned to stop/continue bf when my baby turned one... hell, I hadn't planned to bf when I was expecting! It wasn't an enjoyable experience either the 1st couple of months... but, here we are with Chicklet turning 16 month old and the bf saga continues... for a couple of selfish reasons... one hers (she just needs it to fall asleep) and one omine (I think, I have lost my prego weight mainly 'coz of bf)!
    I am not planning to quit at least for the next 3-4 months.

    When it comes to work, it really depends on where you work, what your rapport with the boss is, and what kind of deal you struck before going on leave... I, for one, foolishly agreed to full time work after the leave was over - with a 'not so supportive' support system at home.... needless, the situation turned sour pretty soon (at home and at work) and I just had to quit.

  13. The Bhablet was breastfed till 14 months, I think, and beyond nine mornths or so, it was mainly for the comfort factor, both his and mine!

    Keep it up as long as it suits. Doesn't do any harm at all, and can only do good.


Hi there. Go on, say it. Well? WELL?