I stepped into a very caustic conversation some days ago. Four moms I know were having some kind of semi-heated discussion. One of them was a working women and the other three were stay-at-home mums. I believe the conversation started when one of the moms who went to work reprimanded her child for hitting another. One of the moms informed her that this was a regular occurrence. The child came down most days with the maid, who settled him down with his toys and parked herself in a corner with her phone, while the child hit other kids, bullied and refused to share his toys.
The mother concerned was visibly mortified. Possibly not just at her son’s sudden and surprising aggressive behavior but also at the maid’s failure to mention the incident to her. As she walked back home with her son, the conversation among the rest veered towards how working moms tend to miss out on so many things. Everyone had a working mom fiasco story. Someone’s cousin worked and once her kids found no one present at the bus stop; one has a friend who is a working mom and whose kids apparently live on chips and coke…
I bumped into the ‘working mom’ after some days. We spoke about the hitting/bullying incident and apart from other things the lady also mentioned how she had felt very ‘poorly judged’ by the others. “It was in their tone.”
It made me think why we would need to make the Working Mom/ Stay-at-Home Mom division at all. Does anyone look at my husband and think, ‘working father?’ Do we feel the need to ask men whether they work ‘full time’ or ‘part time’? Or being ‘homemakers?’
It’s time we stop asking that question to women too and create that divide in our heads. I’m never able to answer the question anyway. Am I a working mom? Well sort of, I tell people. What about my friend who runs several voluntary initiatives in our apartment complex, from garbage segregation to moderating the resident’s group mail and also puts in a few hours of what we look at as ‘real work?’ Does she work ‘full time’ or ‘part time?’ And what is real work anyway? One that gets you a fat pay packet and a fancy designation?
Is it because we are conditioned to equate success and intelligence with something official looking? Perhaps years of TV ads have dulled our senses enough to think all stay-at-home mothers do is make Rasna for the entire neighborhood, look forward to soaking clothes in Surf and discuss the merits of Horlicks vs Complan. The SAHM is automatically seen as someone who is always around for her kids and knows their quirks in and out. The WW is seen as someone who is simply missing out. It’s the perfect recipe for playground bitterness.
But then, the boundaries are blurring. The term working woman isn’t restricted to the office space anymore. “I work out of home three days a week. For two days, I report at work but am back home by 4.30, when my son comes back. I don’t know what to call myself really. And honestly why do you even need to?” Manisha Ganesh, who works with an animation company and is mom to a five-year-old, counters me.
She isn’t the only one. A friend in Mumbai freelances as a writer sometimes and is an active member of her son’s Parents Teacher’s group. She volunteers in her alma mater’s office twice a week and also helps out in a school for slum children near her locality. “There’s no question about it,” she tells me. “I am a working woman if you have to classify.”
Is there really a need to?