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Working mother versus stay-at-home mother debate | ParentEdge


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Does liberation for women impact the quality of nurturing and care children receive?

Working mom vs stay-at-home mom

Source: Google Images

This blog has been contributed by Kesang Menezes, Faciliator, Parenting Matters

I am currently deeply immersed in reading “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook). It’s a fabulous book in which each chapter is an eye opener about the conscious and not-so-conscious ways in which the world holds back women and how even women hold themselves back. The book inspires me to stand on the rooftops and cheer for women to lean in. Living in India, where the oppression of women is really not subtle at all, the book inspires me to fight hard for women to reach leadership positions, as it is obvious about how that would change the world. I totally share Sheryl’s dream of a world where “our sons and daughters could choose what to do with their lives without external or internal obstacles slowing down their choices”.  A world where men could be respected and supported if they choose to do the important work of raising children full time. And women could be respected and supported if they want to work full time outside the home.

Also Read: Mothers – Aim for the Moon!

My only issue with Sheryl’s worldview is the lack of importance given to the job of parenting. I am a parent educator and I feel very strongly about the fact that we as a society do not pay enough attention to what the task of raising children involves. Don’t we realise that it is the way we raise children which finally determines the kind of society we have tomorrow? And I believe that when children are brought up with immense sensitivity and compassion, when we deepen our awareness with regard to meeting their needs, when every child feels heard and understood and cared for, we will see a society which is just and compassionate.

This is not just my view but that of many leading economists who are now showing us how the quality of care that children receive in early childhood has a direct impact on many social and economic indicators.

Sheryl says that she used research to help her feel comfort in her decision to have other caregivers help her in caring for her children. She quotes research that concludes that “children who were cared for exclusively by their mothers did not develop differently than those who were also cared for by others”. I don’t have the details of the development outcomes and how they were measured, but I can only say from my own experience and my work with parents that it is very, very hard for any parent (man or woman) to do justice to a challenging, high-pressure job and be an effective parent at the same time. In my experience, these are for all practical purposes, irreconcilable. Indra Nooyi, CEO Pepsico, recently made headlines when she spoke publicly about how “We cannot do it all” (parenting and career achievements).


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ParentEdge is a bi-monthly magazine for discerning Indian parents who would like to actively contribute to their children’s education, intellectual enrichment and stimulation. The magazine’s premise is that learning is a continuous process, and needs to happen both in and outside of school; thus parents have an important role to play in shaping their children’s interests and intellect.

8 thoughts on “Does liberation for women impact the quality of nurturing and care children receive?

  1. Jayaram

    Very well written article. I agree with the author 100% . It’s always the kids who suffer in this battle. If chasing dreams is so important for both partners just don’t have children. Nobody in this world can have it all, so people really have to desire less, be less ambitious and just be happy. It really is the truth but people get all worked up because they just can’t let go of trying to prove something to themselves only because they feel inadequate without being ‘somebody’. Role clarity is key whether at home or at the workplace. Today role clarity has gone for a toss on the home front with spouses fighting over who is going to do what daily.

  2. Sia

    I think raising a child is literally the mother of all management project. Juggling and balance is a way of life with each day bringing in a new issue to be tackled, IMMEDIATLY. Each mom has her own problems which have to be tackled in their own way.

  3. Kritika Srinivasan

    I don’t think there is a solution Kesang, or rather there is no one right or wrong answer. Each person chooses what is best for her child and her. While I agree that no one can possibly care for a child with the same devotion and feeling that a parent or grandparent can, I don’t think children who go to daycare or are cared for by nannies turn out badly or are ‘deprived’ in any way, as long as parents make an effort to be involved in their daily lives. Communication is key and I know a lot of working parents who manage to stay updated and in touch with their children’s daily details in many different ways.

    As India moves more towards a western way of thinking in all areas, we need to ensure that women are not left behind. Why is a woman less important than a child? Unless she is happy, how can be her child be happy? Why is it that women have to ‘sacrifice’ their ambitions and aspirations? Is that even a good model for a daughter to see? I would not want my daughter to think that she needs to give up all her ambitions when she grows up to raise a family! That is not what I am educating her towards.

    There are many moms who choose to be stay-at-home. I myself am a work from home mom but that is a choice I made, and gladly at that. But if I wanted to work fulltime tomorrow and I was confident of managing my child as well, surely that should be my choice as well?

    Of course parenting is one of the most important things that you do, but it is one of the important aspects of your life, not THE most important aspect. And in a country like ours, touting parenting as the most important task of a woman (or man, but let’s face it, it’s still about the moms), can become yet another very good excuse to keep women out of the workforce and at home.

    At the end of the day, the best thing a child can have is a happy family (any variation, single parent, extended, nuclear), which means parents who are happy with their choices and are doing what they truly love or what they need to do.

  4. Aparajita Bose

    I loved almost every word of Kesang’s blog because I’ve learned certain truths through some bitter experiences in my own life. That doesn’t necessarily mean everyone has to believe in that. Similarly everyone doesn’t have to believe in what Sheryl Sandberg has said in her book ‘Lean In’.
    I’ve seen many working moms going through rough days for years because the children are just not developing the way their potential should allow. Some of them quit their jobs knowing that they have achieved certain amount of success, a fraction of which their children may not achieve if that crucial decision of quitting is not taken at the appropriate time. A few of them have been lucky to get some sort of stability in their children’s life with the help of a loving relative. Some of them are still on a dilemma, hoping things would normalize, like a working mom recently told me, “I love my work immensely. but I also love my children……I haven’t wished any harm on anyone; so I hope God will see to it that my daughter too would turn out fine even though I can’t give her enough time.”
    Whether a child would turn out fine isn’t known to anybody in advance. I myself grew up away from my parents during the tender years of my childhood. My affectionate Granny disciplined me as well as loved me, but sadly couldn’t fill the lonely hours in my early life when I felt lost as I couldn’t express certain strange feelings of emptiness at times. Maybe I was very sensitive as a child. Academically I turned out fine and professionally too though I was always emotionally poor till the time I met a friend’s family and first experienced what family bonding actually means.

    What do moms hope as the final outcome of their decision before they take that decision?
    Child turning out fine? – The mom is not essential for that as long as a constant source of love backed by solid academic support is there.
    Mom having a great life of her own owing to her job even after the child has flown off the nest? – Moms not working would never experience that bliss.
    Adult child maintaining a loving-caring-sharing relationship with old parents? – If a mom invests time in her child un-grudgingly, in all likelihood she is going to be rewarded with a similar relationship with her adult child many years later. But is that what every mom today is concerned about? How many of us think along those lines? A friend who has been dealing with children for some years told me, “When one nears the end, it is the family that comes to one’s mind and the old man or the old woman begins to feel a craving for that love. How can the adult child now be expected to give time to or empathize with the old parent who had not spent enough time with the child decades back?” That left me wondering, “How many of us nowadays even think that as something important?”

    It is completely the parents’ choice of what they want in life. For some, career is most important which may not leave them with enough time with the child or time with the child WHEN THE CHILD NEEDS IT (a child psychiatrist told us very bluntly during a recent session at a gathering of parents, “Do you think your child is going to wait for you and open up when YOU are finally ready to spend quality time with her? Be available for your child.”). Raising a child doesn’t give some parents the high that accomplishments in professional life give. They are ambitious. They have goals which are alien to some moms for whom raising the child with love and ample amount of time is the highest priority. But, whatever it is, the consequences of one’s decision taken decades back have to be accepted gracefully.

    Every child is different and one can’t say for sure what would work best for the child and what would harm her permanently. It can be realized over time. Also, every adult human is different. I know a few people who have grown in loveless hostel environment of residential schools, but have surprisingly been dutiful children to their parents and have had no disconnect with them all through. I have come across a few people who have been raised by loving and caring parents but strangely have little emotional bonding with them. I also know moms who quit jobs because they had had working moms and have felt that their children should not miss out on what they themselves had missed out as children. I know moms who have seen their own moms not having financial independence and thus suffering silently despite having had good education – these moms don’t want to repeat the mistakes they felt their moms did.

    But I would ask a few questions.
    Who has a greater ability to think with clarity, express and manage one’s feelings and emotions and frustrations? A child or a parent?
    Does a child really have adjusting power as many working moms claim or is it that they get puzzled and shut their mouths, not knowing what is bothering them or not knowing how to express it all?
    Who is biologically more endowed with the qualities needed for upbringing of a child? A mom or a dad?
    How many decades would it take for a society to cordially accept a temporarily-stay-at-home-dad? Can’t a mom and a dad decide to take turns to take one’s career forward with full enthusiasm so that when one parent is chasing her or his dreams, the other parent is taking care of a good upbringing of the child? One part of India is moving very fast while another part is not moving at all when it comes to thinking on these matters.

    An honest confession – I would love to see my daughter do well in her career just as I would want to see her own child turn out fine in all ways. (Would it still be a huge challenge to balance it all for her then, years from now?) I may not feel good about my adult daughter quitting a good job for the sake of her child because of the time and energy I’m investing in her today, but that is a decision I’d rather let HER take without any brainwashing from my side. My daughter would always be mine, but the life would be HERS. She, and not me, would have to face her adult child some day. I would not feel good if I’m still around then and see my daughter lamenting (God forbid) that probably her greater involvement in her child’s life at the right time would have helped him or her do well in life.
    The simple truth is that a mom who quits a career to focus on her child doesn’t want to leave the child’s development to chance and adjusts her life according to the needs of her child. “The rest is in God’s hands. I won’t ever have to carry the guilt of not having done for my children what was needed,” said a friend, who has recently taken up a part-time job after having spent years for her kids’ emotional and skill development. On the other hand, a working mom makes her child adjust to her calendar and timetable – if the child falls in line easily it’s a win-win situation for all.
    What saddens me is that many working moms and their spouses today don’t try to understand what their children are going through, sometimes despite what the teachers tell them subtly. Such is the power of media and the western way of thinking and the fascination for a great life style that calls for a double-income-family!

  5. Kesang

    Kritika… I fully agree with you that in the interest of the child we cannot hold women back. I think society will need to go through that transition where women come into the workplace but it will be a while till men shoulder equal responsibility for child care. Its happening but slowly.
    My argument is not that women should not work or that children whose parents work suffer in any way. Its also the nature of the work that matters. I still hold on to my position that it is very hard for two parents with very high pressure jobs to do justice to parenting because they cannot be mindful of what is happening in the child’s life.

    If we accept that a child needs at least one parent who is not in a stressful job , then couples can together make the decision about who can play which role.

  6. Kesang

    Aparajita… really loved the depth with which you have gone into this issue sharing your own life experiences. I have two daughters who are 17 and 13 and we have many conversations about this. Of course as you said its their life but along with all the other values I choose to give them it is the value of how deeply important the responsibility of bringing up another human being is and so if they even choose to be a parent I think they would give the highest importance to this task ( in partnership with their spouses ) .

    I was struck by your comment :Who has a greater ability to think with clarity, express and manage one’s feelings and emotions and frustrations? A child or a parent?

    That should give us the answer about whose emotions should be given greater importance.

    For many years my husband was in the fast track and I actually felt sorry that he missed out on the children’s growing up. Now he has quit and stays at home and totally involved with the children will I work crazy hours. It has worked beautifully not just for the children but for him to get this chance to know his daughters deeply.

    As you said there is no “one size fits all” but let us not diminish the needs of children since they are the largest silent minority!

  7. Aparajita Bose

    Yes, Kesang, the children form the largest SILENT minority! How many of us make time to think of why a child is behaving in a certain way that is not acceptable to people around? How often do we do that? We usually expect children to be easily mouldable, forgetting that some of them are very sensitive and need to be listened to when they are silently crying to be understood, to be hugged, to be reassured.


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