Divya Kumar: Raising Strong Girls
Being a woman is not easy, I was told. Being a mom is not easy, I was told. Being a working mom is not easy, is what I saw. Being a stay-at-home-mom (SAHM) is not easy is what I know (now).
I have been sitting on this story about my decision (albeit temporary) to stay home with my two girls for weeks, months actually. It is a tough one, trust me. I am raised by a very career-oriented, successful working mother and a very dedicated father, who could put his children before his own career. Although I always considered myself lucky to have a mom for a role-model for my professional life but from the start I was torn about being a full-time working mother.
Certain important life decisions lead me to the life I have now. I started working when I was barely out of college, making an unusual career choice for women back in the day. Growing up in India I never thought I was smart enough to pursue a degree in STEM, that kind of stuff is for toppers is what I told myself -- liberal arts, too easy, not challenging enough (silly me!). So I chose to straddle the middle ground and did my undergrad in business studies. Little did I know that my love for reading, writing, travel and culture would land me in journalism.
I started my professional journey with passion in my heart and dreams in my eyes. I gave 12 years of my youth chasing my dream and achieving some milestones. Switching from print to TV to radio to web and everything in between, doing it all. I was winning at this whole career-thingy, I was financially secure, independent, confident. I was interviewing Bollywood stars, traveling to exotic locations, sitting on the front-row seats at fashion shows, music concerts - you name it!
Even though I did not go on to become a bureaucrat like my mom, I was pretty proud of myself. Then life happened. What was supposed to be a brief sabbatical, looking for change of career turned out to be a life-altering decision. I moved from India to London to work and from London to New York to study. While all this was happening, a critical element of my life was missing. For the most part I was single or in ‘complicated’ relationships that taught me a lot. I always knew I wanted to have a family.
"Working, living and surviving many big cities, I realized that being a woman is tough, but being a single woman is tougher."
Working, living and surviving many big cities, I realized that being a woman is tough, but being a single woman is tougher. Especially in a profession like media, women in journalism (and some other professions I am sure) are exposed to a lot of unusual situations (traveling alone, interviewing at odd hours in odd places, long days, all-nighters are common). I had to be strong to deal with unwanted and unsolicited attention and advances.
Then began the next chapter - I found my ideal man, got married and within two years welcomed our first baby girl. I was already facing immigration issues and post-recession job scarcity, I had to be a stay-at-home-mother. Let me tell you, it is the toughest job I had done. Few months into it I was dreaming of a graveyard shift and week-long reporting assignments in remote locations. But then life is what happens to you when you are busy planning it. A couple years later a new job and a new baby almost coincided.
I did the whole dropping two kids at daycare and picking them after 10 hours thing for a year and it was a long, tough year, I worked in an extremely old-fashioned set-up with little flexibility… There was little challenge and littler scope of growth in my role. I wanted to resurrect my career and not just do a job (there is a difference and sometimes we don’t see it). I took a pay cut and started working from home and then it happened. I was let go. The company downsized and this came as a blessing in disguise.
At first I was shocked, borderline depressed and very sad. I allowed myself a brief period to wallow in my grief and be mopey about it. Then I picked myself up and started seeing the bright side - I was spending way more time with my little girls. Isn’t this what I always wanted? Flashback to my own childhood, I missed my mom terribly when I was growing up! I am proud to pieces of what she is achieved but I missed having her around! Lo and behold I pulled the little one out of daycare, yay to fewer episodes of colds, fevers, runny nose, diaper rashes and for the first time I realized I could do this, happily.
Everyone around me, including my parents, in-laws and friends have questioned my decision to do so. But my husband stood by me like he always does during testing times (immigration issues, health, postpartum blues). He often nudges me to stay focus on my growth, as a result I have used this time to also focus on my hobbies and love for art and to learn a new skill set, I signed up for online classes in digital marketing and social media.
It has not been an easy decision, especially living in an expensive city like San Francisco but I am thankful that with careful budgeting and planning we can do this for a bit without totally rocking the boat. I am using this time to bond with my girls, to teach them life skills, to be there for them. To be there for my husband and anyone who needs me. This experience gave me time to reflect on my life, I have new-found respect for SAHMs and working moms. All moms are super moms, all women are superwomen. We are all uniquely strong in our own way. I do want to work again and soon, but I know this time it will be different, or at least I hope so. I hope to be the role model that my mom is to me, I may not be doing it all perfectly but I hope they find something right about the way I did it when they grow up.
So here’s to strong women - may we know them, may we be them and may we raise them!Written by Divya Kumar