"What do you want to be when you grow up?" was one of the questions I was asked very many times during my childhood. I loved answering the question for one reason. As a growing child, I could change the answer at whim, and it would still be correct! So, my responses took me from being a doctor, to a genetics engineer, to an entrepreneur, to a lawyer, to a sportsperson, to a police officer, to an artist, to a designer, to a cartoonist, to a global best-selling author, to a private detective, to the show business, to a motivational speaker, to the creator of the first human robot for personal/home use, to an alchemist in the quest to find the elixir for all problems of the world.
Today as an adult, I still love this question. Not to answer myself, but to hear answers from children. Any kid I spend time with, I almost always ask him/her "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Irrespective of their age, the question makes a child think, time-travel to the future and then articulate the response. Their answers never cease to amaze me. Children of today are aware of their interests, self-confident and articulate in their communication, and knowledgeable about numerous career options, possibilities and opportunities.
No prizes for guessing that after I became a mother and my baby started talking, I've asked this question a zillion times. For several months, the response I received was "I want to be like you!" That answer always made me swell with maternal pride, and a sense of responsibility. It made me cognisant of the fact that I need to be a live example of what I want her to emulate from me, and that inspires me to try to be better today than I was yesterday!
However, for the past several months her response has been different. "I want to go to office and I want to be a mummy" she says. The first time I heard it, I was pleasantly surprised. In hindsight, both the answers are similar. Just that "being like me" now equates to "being a working mother" in her mind, and rightly so, as that is what I am today.
On one hand, I am happy to hear this. After all, like most mothers--I do want my children to be healthy, happy, well-educated, balanced, independent, financially stable and blossom in life to achieve their full potential.
But on the other hand, I wonder and worry about how things will be in the future, especially for women at work and for working mothers. Because I know from personal experience that it is no easy ride. Multi-dimensional variables are part of the complex life equation for any working mother, and there is no one way to solve that complex equation.
Firstly are the issues of the self--things like one's core belief system, personal values, mental conditioning, interests, priorities, self-confidence and views and importance associated with work and family and the balance between the two. Secondly are the issues of family--how we raise our sons/daughters, the respect we give for the girl/woman in our lives, education of the girl child, expectations from a women, family history and traditions, decisions around marriage [Yes/No? Who? And When?], spouse and children(s) support, financial status, socio-economic standing, physical location and living environment/standards all affect the life of working mother. Thirdly, are issues of society which include aspects like history and evolution, culture, public safety, reliable transportation, infrastructure, public policy, type of child-care available, availability of support-staff for home maintenance, governance, law and order. Lastly, are the aspects around workplace policies, processes, flexibility, support during times of change during the key phases in a woman's life, equitable compensation based on competency, capability and work performance and fair career growth opportunities for working mothers.
Just writing these down was mid-boggling. Just imagine living it every day as a working mother?
Can all these be changed or transformed overnight? Obviously, NOT. We have a long way to go on very many fronts. But...
We can make a start today. We can consciously try in our small way to make a positive difference in the life of any working woman/mother we know. Just acknowledge her, appreciate her, help her, listen to her, be nice to her. If you have nothing to say/do that can help, then be quiet. Don't judge her. Don't compare her. Don't make it harder for her. Just let her be as she finds her spot under the sun. It all adds up I assure you.
And till there is a systemic long-lasting change, I can only dream, wish, pray and hope that things are better in every way so that the next generation of girls/women/working mothers have it safer, easier, simpler and better than it is today!
And just as I wrap-up this post, I couldn't help but ask myself "Why was it important for me to be a working mother?"
Here's why--my work defines me in more than one way; motherhood completes me in more than one way.
And I realise that in life, we all need things that define us and complete us.
May all the young girls of today, and possibly the next generation working women/mothers find their balance between definition and completion.
This post is dedicated to my daughter - Baby N