Gone are the days when we used to hear about our mothers who stayed at home, waiting lovingly for children to come home from school. But today, aaj kal, working mothers are always busy and have no time for their home and children. Children don’t get the love and care as we used to get in the past.
Well, this is a narrative which all working women from urban areas have to deal with on a daily basis. It is problematic -- for, it doesn’t include women with children who work as maids all day in affluent homes and those working in fields from sun up to sun down with their children in tow.
Our society is good at inducing guilt. There is this constant humdrum about how in old times mothers stayed at home, how they stayed at home to take good care of their homes and children… Ok! Fine! But what about those slogging in rural setting or those sweeping floors and washing dishes in urban centres? How do they manage their children?
When I reflect on my extremely busy routine, I am reminded of my childhood. My mother was a domestic person who used to manage a large household, comprising not only family members and domestic helpers but also cows, goats, hen, deer, cats, and dogs. She used to take special care of her pets. Gave them medical care. Milked cows and churned yogurt to make cheese and lassi for the whole household. She was around me all the time.
When my son Zain was born, I was working in a private university in Lahore. I remember my first task after his birth was a field trip to Aimanabad. Carrying two-month-old Zain in a baby sling and explaining students the architecture and history of the place was extremely tiring yet stimulating.
A friend gave me a great tip on mothering and career. She said, "if you want to be a good mother, be a happy person first". It encapsulated the whole dilemma of a contemporary working mother -- the guilt of not being a good mother.
Another important lesson I learnt about life was during my frequent air travels. After Zain’s birth, I started paying extra attention to the safety demonstrations conducted by airline crew. They instruct us to use the oxygen mask in case of low air pressure first, and attend to our child later. The idea is ensure your safety first so you are able to secure your child too.
I juggle every day between making breakfast, preparing Zain for school, driving, teaching and other administrative tasks at the college, then attending to my parents, giving time to my in-laws and at the end of the day, not to forget, to read a story to Zain before he goes to bed.
These tips helped me design my routine. I take out time for myself. It is important for me to have a cup of tea in the morning with my husband, when we discuss the day ahead, share our work experiences, remember to water the plants or just sit on the terrace for some time before starting the long day.
These lessons have taught me to manage my walk routine and Zain’s playtime. He plays football while I walk.
Listening to FM radio while driving on the streets of Lahore helps me forget, momentarily, the stress of traffic and the gloomy political situation of our society.
So often, after a long day, when Zain asks me to read him a bedtime story, it’s a killer. But I remind myself, oh, yeah! I wanted to read this story as a child. And thus it becomes ‘quality’ time spent with my child than a drudgery.
The hardest time was to be with Zain in London in 2008-9 while I was doing my PhD at SOAS. It was tough to live with two-year old Zain and study too. To keep a balance between his wellbeing and joys and sustaining the stay financially, I had to practise art-making. But not at the cost of sacrificing the joys of my toddler’s age. I wanted to enjoy every moment, all stages of his growing up to full, but not give up my dreams (or rather my father’s dream) of pursuing a PhD.
So, I opted for the middle route and took him to London with me. The hardest part was to divide time between babycare centre and a demanding schedule for studies. In the course, I developed a taste for baby food which I used to make for Zain, because I did not want to make another dish for myself. I started to meet friends and art curators in the parks on weekends so that Zain could also play in the rare London sunlight.
I learnt all the routes to parks and museums by foot, pushing the baby stroller, enjoying the beautiful banality of life. Although it was hard to work, to imagine a life without Zain in London was impossible.
Then going to a culture conference to Brazil with Zain further proved that I could carry on with life…
Now, back in Lahore, Zain is seven years old. I am privileged to have my family around, who are always ready to take care of him. My husband, sisters, their children, and my in-laws’ cooperation is instrumental in helping me carry on with the heavy work routine.
The tips have made me a happy person and Zain a gentle social being who enjoys people around him.
The writer is an artist and a teacher at National College of Arts. This article appeared in The News on Sunday on March 2, 2014 with the title The balancing act