My thoughts about work-life integration
I became a mom in May 2017 and life has never been the same! It’s a whole new experience and nothing can help you to be prepared for being a parent. As a person, I like being prepared so I was armed with apps, books and advice from other new moms, elders. My goal was simple – recoup physically and emotionally post pregnancy, enjoy the initial phase with my newborn, start planning my support system so that I can get back to work. I always wanted to be a mom. Having a child was both my husband and my wish. Luckily for us, the company I worked for had just introduced a 6-month paid maternity leave policy. It couldn’t have been at a better timing, I thought.
One of the unanswered questions inside me was how were we going to look after the child and what happens when I must resume work? It was just the two of us in Bengaluru (300 miles away from home where our parents and in-laws lived). What if we don’t find a good nanny? My parents and mom-in-law had their own lives and careers back in my hometown. Is it fair to ask them to uproot themselves from their base just so that I could get back to work in peace? 6 months is a good enough time for us to figure out the missing pieces on childcare and support system I thought and brushed across these thoughts when they came to my mind.
Holding my son for the first time was one of my life’s best moments and watching him grow made life feel so satisfying. I spent the first 3 months of my maternity leave doing just what I had planned to do – recoup post pregnancy and bond with my little one. From the 4th month I knew we had to start working on the unanswered questions. I started researching on daycare options, called agencies dealing with nannies, called other new parents in our circle in my quest for these answers. What I found was there was no single answer to the question, yet everyone’s answer had elements that hinted they were lucky that somehow things worked out. We moved back with my child to our home in Bengaluru with the hope that things will work out. I tried hiring a nanny during my maternity leave to see how it works out but it lasted 25 days and I found my answer – I would not be comfortable leaving my child with a nanny without a family member supervising at home. So, I took a leap of faith – enrolled him in a daycare and waited outside his classroom every day for 2 weeks watching him on the CCTV camera app. Strange as it may sound, things worked out and he naturally fit into the daycare ecosystem by the end of week 2.
Lesson 1: Everything is a learning process – you must go through it and find your own answers.
The week I enrolled my son to the daycare coincided with the week I was supposed to resume work. I made the decision to take unpaid leave of additional 8 weeks that my company provided for new moms. In the first 6 weeks in daycare, my son had contracted all possible illnesses that he could with the sudden exposure to viruses. From hand, foot and mouth disease, to fevers to colds we had faced it all. If there was a moment of guilt, it was this phase where I blamed myself for all the virus exposure that I was putting my son through. He was the youngest child in the daycare which also added to the guilt. Should I take a sabbatical and look after him was the question that was eating me up. Deep down I could not imagine my life without my job. I had worked hard to build up a career in IT sales and was handling a sales territory at that time. The number of women in IT and in sales are so few that it wasn’t very encouraging. A career in sales is demanding (always-on mode for your clients), stressful due to time-bound achievement of steep revenue targets and involves moderate to high business travel. My husband stood beside me like a rock and said Don’t Give Up. He volunteered to be the primary contact at the daycare which means – pick and drop our son every day, the parent that gets the call every time there’s an emergency. This gave me the confidence to go back to the same role post my maternity break. My mom has always been my strength and sounding board in those times where I had moments of self-doubt and kept me going. One of the senior women managers in my team shared her story from 16 years ago where she faced the same thing leaving her daughter in the daycare at 6 months of age and gave me the words of encouragement. I had to take up an international business travel and be away from my son the first time. He was 12 months old and we had just started the night-weaning process. My mother-in-law took time off her work and came over to help look after my husband and son when I was away on travel.
Lesson 2: Help is a conversation away. Don’t be afraid to speak up and share what you are going through. You’ll be surprised at the number of hands that volunteer to support you.
It has been 17 months back to my corporate sales job. There are days where I start my day at 4 AM and finish only by 11 PM due to outstation travel for client meetings. Those days I don’t get to see my son wake up neither do I get to kiss him goodnight and tuck him to bed. The responsibilities of parenting falls solely on my husband and he must manage everything at his work and our home. I feel guilty for not being there to share childcare responsibilities with my husband, not being there to watch my son sing and play. While I constantly juggle between my responsibilities as a mother and as a technology sales specialist, there are days where I ask myself am I doing the right thing? Have I been there enough as a wife in our relationship as a couple? Have we been spending enough time as us? When was the last time I spoke to my brother, my father, my best friend, my grandmother? Have I been spending enough time in upskilling my technical skills that’s needed for my next job? When was the last time I spent time with myself? I am still discovering the delicate balance between motherhood, career and personal responsibilities. It has been an enriching journey so far.
Lesson 3: Most women are victims of their own high self-expectations. Take it easy. It is the intent and awareness to be there in the lives of people that matter to you, that matters.