A working mom's guide to being successful while staying sane
“It’s okay to not be perfect”
“I have been getting a lot of love but also some hate for getting ‘back to work’ so quick after having a baby,” confessed Radhika Nihalani on her Instagram page. Going back to work two months after delivering her second child, or responding to e-mails after her delivery because the anaesthesia hadn’t worn off and the pain hadn’t set in yet, might sound shocking to most people, but that’s what this public relations entrepreneur chose for herself.
“In fact, when my gynaecologist told me that I was going to deliver the next day. I rushed to work to spend time with my team. I wanted to be in office because I knew I wouldn’t be back for a while, and that I was going to miss it terribly,” she recalls.
Nihalani’s controversial decision to go back to work will no doubt split readers into two camps. Those who feel that stories like hers put undue pressure on women to ‘bounce back’ after childbirth— scientifically one of the most traumatic experiences the human body goes through. And those who insist women should have the right to choose for themselves, with proper medical advice and hopefully, a strong support system.
“We expect women to work like they don’t have children, and raise children as if they don’t work,” writes author and journalist Amy Westervelt in her book Forget Having It All.
While Nihalani being the boss of her own company gives her the luxury of choice — “There are many moments in the day that I feel so overwhelmed that I can’t function. Do I wake up wanting to do the same drill again? Absolutely.” — a lot of women find themselves going back to work after having a kid as a necessity.
Regardless of the reason that motivates a working mom to divide her time between the office and her baby, there’s no doubt they are at the receiving end of vishesh tippanis from every living soul who crosses their path. A working mom receives more unsolicited advice than the towers of dry fruits that arrive on Diwali.
That would explain the self-defeating emotion that unites the female species — working mom’s guilt.
In a conversation with Tweak India, CEO Mom and publisher Chiki Sarkar recalls her first day back at the office: “After I had my first baby, I went back to work in two months. And the first time I left him, I remember closing my flat door and bursting into tears because I felt so upset about leaving.”
“You don’t just feel bad about letting your kids, team, or boss down; you also feel guilt about practicing self-care, remorse for not helping ageing parents enough, or embarrassment about telling a friend how stressed out you are— as if you don’t have a right to feel this way,” writes Dr Sheryl Ziegler, therapist and author of Mommy Burnout: how to reclaim your life and raise healthier children in the process.
She adds that “having to find solutions for education and child care” during the pandemic has added to the already disproportionate expectations society has from a working mom.
Which makes it a more important time than ever to turn things around and cut yourself some slack. “It’s okay to not be perfect. Sometimes we can’t help certain situations, and the best thing to do in such times is to be kind to yourself,” shares Nihalani of the mantra that keeps her sane while parenting a three-year-old, a 60-day-old, and two companies.
What every working mom needs to say to herself a few times a day
It’s OK to ask for help
There is a widespread notion that women need to do everything for their baby themselves. Well, you will not turn into an octopus and grow eight extra limbs the second you become a mother. And there is an even lesser chance of you knowing exactly what to do. So, channel your inner school girl sitting cluelessly in chemistry class, and ask for help, whether that’s personally or professionally.
Film producer Ashi Dua says that while multitasking is a crucial maternal skill, the “second thing I’ve learned is delegation. Find the right people to work with you, who have the same kind of work ethic. Delegate effectively so everyone can do their respective jobs well.”
Making the decision to seek support instead of bearing the whole weight on your own shoulders might just result in a community that you can fall back on for years to come. “Asking for help takes practice, but once you take a vulnerable step in doing so, others around you will start doing the same,” writes Ziegler.
You just have to be “good enough”
As per research, a healthy parent-child relationship doesn’t require a parent to do as much as society might have us believe. Being emotionally present, being able to comfort your child, being attuned to their feelings, expressing happiness upon seeing your child, and being supportive are the boxes you need to be ticking.
CEO Mom Mallika Sadani of The Moms Co admits she went through a phase of doubting herself as a mom because she wasn’t able to spend much time with her daughters. “Over time, I realised that it wasn’t the number of hours that mattered, but how we spent that time. We would spend an hour a day together, reading a book or watching their favourite film. The time we spend as a family doing these activities helps us bond,” she says, adding that her daughters’ pride and admiration for her work helps keep mom guilt in control.
Sarkar approaches the guilt the same way “one might look into the mirror and wish they had longer legs or a smaller ass. Well, you don’t. What are you going to do about it?”
She believes the trick is to use your time doing exactly what you want – it could be working, exercising or spending time with your kid. “When the decision is based on what you want to do, the guilt is less.”
A great way to do this is to remind yourself of why you chose this path to begin with. “Every time you think to yourself, “I feel bad about __” replace that with, “I made that decision because ___” and then move forward,” advises Ziegler.
And if you feel like Humpty Dumpty after he fell off the wall, maybe follow entrepreneur Naiyya Saggi’s advice: “Lately, I’ve started giving myself a timeout: When you’re so emotionally, physically, financially invested in something, you have a clear vision but sometimes it gets hard to communicate it.
So when things get too intense, I take a timeout. Go stand by your window, get a cup of coffee and look out at the crows, parrots and hold back your reactions until you’ve had time to think.”