“Mother’s Occupation: Housewife”
This was a field that I was so used to filling in my forms that I never gave a second thought about it. Now that I am all grown up and more sensitised to the world around me, I had a conversation the other day with my mother about she felt being an ‘unpaid’ worker in the house and this is what she had to say.
“Ever since my childhood, I was expected to help around the house. We were a family of six, and I partook in activities to support my household along with my sister including cleaning and cooking. Nevertheless, I was among the first women in my family to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics and start working in a bank in 1976. My career lasted for 22 years, but things became very difficult when you were born. Before your birth, I used to do most of the cooking in the house but a child brings on additional responsibilities. Bathing, feeding and placating a crying child take more effort than is given credit. Add that to a bank job where I was routinely transferred to different branches across Bangalore which made it hard to come to be with you in the evenings due to commuting and having to complete all household activities in the mornings and evenings really drained me out. I did put you into daycare and my sister offered to take care of you, but you were quite a difficult child that I eventually had to decide between my career and you. So in 1999, I had to put in my papers and give everything up to be with you and ensure that you are not neglected. However, when I look back upon the situation, I wish there had been more support from your father and other family members. Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed bringing you up as I took it on as a project and probably have no regrets today. I am at peace, and do not wish to be compensated in any manner, monetary or not, for the amount of time I spent in raising you.”
Now, I would like to comment about how it felt to be on the other side as I was indirectly the cause for my mother to give up her job. Through my growing up years, I did notice a sense of bitterness in her. The fact that she narrowly missed a large leaving bonus owing to the difficult decision she had to make stung her then, but maybe it does not matter much now. And to be honest, I personally did not appreciate the countless hours she spent cooking, cleaning and tutoring me until now, when I live by myself and have to do all those chores even if I fall ill. Moreover, in spite of being unemployed in the traditional sense for nearly 20 years now, she also made more than significant financial contributions to my school and university educational expenses with the money she had saved over the years. It would only be right for me to recognise my mother as the raison d'être for my achievements, because without her intervention, I probably would not be the person I am today. I would therefore encourage others like me to give credit to these unsung heroes in their lives.
Moving on the topic of redistribution of such unpaid work in the household, I would not say that my father did not try at all. But given the Indian mindset, men and boys are not taught to perform these chores to the same standard as girls and women have. I have still heard of some of my male friends who proudly proclaim how the only thing they know how to cook was ‘Maggi’ (what even!). Also, there is the Indian practice of a girl living in her mother’s house right after the delivery of her baby which means that the male partners are completely excluded in the initial phases – this could lead to them believing that childcare is not their responsibility at all.
However, that was 20 years ago but nowadays things are changing. I see new fathers helping out more in the home and also eager to partake in child rearing activities, right in my own family. Surprisingly, those that live abroad voluntarily participate in this redistribution of activities without complaints and I am glad that this is trickling down to India. More men should recognise that it is only natural to divide tasks at home in the same manner a team in a workplace setting divides tasks between its members.
I hope that no more women like my mother should have to choose between their careers and families and if they choose the latter voluntarily, we as a society should give them their due credit and respect.
This post was submitted in response to Unpaid Work.