Motherhood Myths – Mothers must be always ‘just there’

Motherhood Myths – Mothers must be always ‘just there’

Last week, I mentioned Prerana, who worried that “My daughters have always topped their class and they’ve also been the ‘Outstanding Student of the Year’ several times. What if my going to work affects that?” This is a pervasive Motherhood Myth – Mothers must be always ‘just there’, that seems to be the norm today.

We’ve heard mothers with children as old as 18 and 20 years ask to work from home, because their kids may need them in the few hours that they’re home from school and college. “What if they need something? What if they can’t find a book? My kids are constantly going “Ma, where is my ….? What will they do if I’m not there, …”.

So, when we heard this theme echo across conversations with indePenn members, we decided to explore it.

The Illusion of Constant Availability

We asked our members with teenage children to maintain a tracker for two weeks by date, about what their children asked them for, how many times a day did this happen and how serious the issue was.

  • Did the issue require medical attention? Seriousness level was 1.
  • Did the issue involve the need to discuss a serious issue they were facing? Seriousness level was 2
  • Did the issue involve missing / unwashed clothes? (“I can’t find my …”) – Seriousness level was 4
  • Did the issue involve forgetting a book/notebook/assignment and needing it to be delivered at college? – Seriousness level was 4
  • Did they need the comfort of mom serving them food and clearing the table? Seriousness level was 5

Any other question or ask could be classified as a seriousness level of 3/4/5 at the discretion of the member.

This is what a sample tracker looks like:

sample tracker

We asked members to report the number of issues by seriousness level after two weeks.

There was not a single issue that required medical intervention (Thank God!). There were two ‘serious conversation’ issues – but both members felt it could have waited a few hours, as the kids had mulled over them for several days before they brought it up to them.

Most of them were a 4 or a 5 – either something a teenager could handle by being more self-sufficient and disciplined or wanting the comfort of being taken care of.

Here’s our perspective:

Being there for our children is good – it gives them a sense of security and comfort. But this should not come at a cost of the mother’s individuality.

Government data indicates that the average age when women get married in India is 22 years. At 22, we are barely into womanhood – we’ve just completed a Bachelor’s degree, maybe worked for less than a year. We have had no opportunity to discover who we are as individuals. We have not earned our own money, lived by ourselves, or figured out what is important to us as individuals.  We have not yet discovered our ‘personhood’.

Rediscovering Individuality

Then we become mothers. We are expected to be selfless beings whose existence revolves around our children. Over a decade or two, we internalize that so well, that even when our children are well able to care for themselves, we continue to treat them as infants and toddlers. They’re our primary focus. It’s amazing that despite women’s liberation and the huge investment in our education; we have brainwashed ourselves to believe that motherhood is the be all and end all of our lives.

We are doing our children the worst disservice possible. Our teenage years are when we learn that choices, decisions and actions have consequences. Make a good choice, you have a good outcome. Make a bad decision, you have a poor result. This is the period of life that shapes whether we become mature, responsible adults. If parents make the choices and decisions, the child has no accountability or ownership of the outcome. Everything that goes wrong is mom’s fault (and rightly so, as the decision was hers); anything that goes right is the right of the child.

Our recommendation:

Mothers cannot always ‘be there’. Let us let go and allow our children the space, both physical and mental to make choices, succeed and fail, and grow up to be self-dependent adults.

And in the process, you find the time and energy to rebuild the career that you stepped away from and finally become the ‘person’ you were always meant to be!

Fostering Independence in Children - indePenn

What do you think? Do share your thoughts in the comments.

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.

This is the third post in the series. If you haven’t read them, here are the first two of the series Motherhood Myths – A Mother must be Selfless and Motherhood Myths – Children of Working Mothers are Neglected

indePenn coaches and prepares women on a career break returning to work, to present themselves as confident professionals.

Visit us at and Sign Up – we’ll handhold you through the process of getting back to work.

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