Over the past two years, we’ve spoken with over 300 women who have decided to restart their careers. Over 90% of them are mothers who have taken a career break to care for family. Some themes recurred in over 80% of the conversations, and we thought we should address them in a series of blogposts titled Motherhood Myths. The first of the series is “Motherhood Myths – A Mother must be Selfless”. Do share your thoughts in the comments.
Mathangi has a Master of Computer Application (MCA) degree and worked in IT Services as a programmer for 5 years before she took a break a few years after her second child was born. Her husband is well-paid and is a rising star in his organisation and is supportive of her building her career as well. The family has conservative views, and she is one of the few women in her family who worked outside the home. Mathangi considers the women of the previous generation as her role models. After all they’d raised her siblings, her husband and his siblings, and her well. Her grandmother cooked, cleaned and raised five children without domestic help. Her mother did the same with three children.
Mathangi felt that since she was choosing to stay home, she should emulate the older women. She did this for several years. At a school reunion, she met many friends who had built careers and her interest in her career rekindled. She was referred to indePenn by a classmate.
We spoke and her concern was that she had no time to research career options or upskill herself. I was puzzled and asked her to describe her day.
She said that did not employ domestic help. She took care of her kids, cleaned the house, cooked meals, packed lunch boxes that tempted her kids to eat at school, washed and ironed clothes, served meals, cleared the table, washed the dishes, and so on and on, every day for many years. At the end of the day, she was exhausted.
She said, “I used to think that as a mother, I have to make sure my kids are happy and have everything they want. I should not think about myself and sit around trying to study like them, no? That’d be selfish. My job is to put them before everything else”.
In Mathangi’s mind, she didn’t count. She did not have a place in her own priority list. Her role in life was to be there for others.
In other words, mothers must be selfless.
I asked her about what she wanted to achieve by returning to work. Her response was instantaneous – “I want to feel confident when I’m with friends and that I’ve achieved something. I’ve raised two kids, but my friends have also done that and they’ve built a career that they’re proud of. It’s late, but I want to start with a job that will become a career. On the other hand, it would mean that I can’t do as much for my children – would I be a bad mother? I’m confused. Should I do part-time? Work from home?”.
There are many Mathangis in India today. What is your opinion? Should she start her ‘back to work’ journey? Or should she continue to be the ‘selfless’ mother?
Here’s our perspective:
Domestic help is still available and affordable in India. This is because family circumstances and mindsets did not provide many women the opportunity to study beyond school. They do not have mentors and sponsors who helped them to learn a monetizable skill. They’re however more than capable of cleaning and cooking. The salary that they earn using these skills could be a blessing to run their own families, send their children to college, etc. In turn, they would make the lives of professional women easier, so that they could do what they have been educated to do.
Let us make the most of the situation. Let us make our lives better by using our education and by empowering another woman to use her skills to earn a living. The time and energy that we have can be used to spend time with our children and be a role model to them. We would be contributing to the GDP in two ways – our own income and the income our helpers make!
And one other thing, let us put ourselves on our own priority list.
Mathangi went back to work after completing several certifications as a Cloud Engineer. She is exploring Generative AI in her ‘spare’ time. She cooks when her kids ask for something special – the bonus she says is ‘posting on Instagram’.
indePenn coaches and prepares women on a career break returning to work, to present themselves as confident professionals.
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