09/11/2015 8:11 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

The Dilemma Of The Stay-At-Home Mom

Mother playing with daughter (6-7) on sofa
ImagesBazaar via Getty Images
Mother playing with daughter (6-7) on sofa

For the longest time I didn't know what "SAHM" meant -- not until I became one myself. For the uninitiated, it means stay- at- home-mom. In our quest for simplicity we have a habit of abbreviating cumbersome words -- so your husband's mom is your MIL, you her DIL and you wish her HBD when she touches 70 but insists she's still 65.

The new educated me no longer responds to "h r u" with a "what?" I simply say FTW.

I'm always amazed when women say "I'm just a housewife" when someone asks them, "So, are you working?" As if a housewife doesn't work. As if being a housewife is shameful and you need to sound apologetic. So sorry, that I chose to stay home and take care of the family.

"The 2010 census had very kindly placed homemakers in the same category as beggars, prostitutes and prisoners. They weren't too off the mark."

Personally, I find the term homemaker more comforting. It sounds spiffier and definitely more "productive". The woman of the house who makes the house a home -- yes, that's me!

The government doesn't seem to agree. The 2010 census had very kindly placed homemakers in the same category as beggars, prostitutes and prisoners. They weren't too off the mark. We do serve our men in more ways than one and often complain of being prisoners of our own fate. At a certain frustrating time in our life, haven't we all muttered -- I feel like a maid, driver, cook rolled into one!

In 2010, I was still working. As in, I was running like a steroid-fuelled athlete, fuming, screaming my lungs off, inhaling chalk dust and trying to convince adolescents that studying is a better option than sipping coffee in the canteen. And I got paid for it. I am still working, fretting, fuming -- but I don't get paid for it.

When you are an SAHM, what you do throughout the day is the biggest secret unknown to mankind. Nobody knows because they are not at home when you're working your ass off. Nobody cares to know because they are convinced that you are having much more fun than they are. You are not allowed to crib because nobody asked you to climb atop ladders and clean bookshelves. It's all your fault that you prefer to fill your day with needless errands and chores, when you can simply sit back and read a book.

It's you who's responsible for your own misery. The house is perfectly capable of taking care of itself.

From what I have observed, quite a few women have the innate need to make themselves indispensable to their family. They pamper, fuss around their kids, and when they're away, the family feels like a sinking Titanic. As a wife, as a mother, they feel it's their duty to serve their family. Unfortunately in the quest for doing a job well, their own happiness is the first casualty. I know many women who live their lives through their family. Their kids' achievements mirror their sense of self-worth. There's a thin line dividing obsession from concern.

"I refuse to let my sense of self-worth be measured in terms of how much I don't earn."

Of course we are the core of the family. But the core deserves a life of her own as well. What will you do when your kids grow up and seek a life of their own? What will you live for?

I am not suggesting this is the norm, and there are many happy exceptions to the rule -- strong women who keep the family together and nurture them to be responsible human beings without being cloying.

I grew up in a family of working parents. Every second Saturday of the month, Paa would stay at home and cook for us while Ma would leave for work. She only got Sundays off; he was slightly luckier. He would lovingly make pulao and egg curry for us. Yes, the same menu every month, the pulao embellished with dry fruits and the egg curry with cream, lots of it. After a while I started dreading that time of the month. Come morning and I would start whining, "I'm not really hungry, do we really have to eat?"

I have memories of Maa cribbing about office politics, while Baba would listen to her in complete silence. A few decades later I was doing the same thing.

I had never imagined life as a stay-at-home wife. I'd never done it. Both of us would leave for work together and come back around the same time. We would lie on the bed, completely drained, eyeing each other, waiting to see who would get up first and make tea. We had conjured up an imaginary Ramu and would often order him to get pakoras with the tea. The pakoras were always crunchy, the chutney lip smacking. The imagination never lets you down.

I didn't want to leave my job, but I did. It's been nearly five years and I've never felt like going back. I still wake up early, not out of compulsion but out of choice. I am still stressed, grappling with a never-ending to-do list. But I'm finally doing things I've always wanted to. And what's more, I am happier.

So, am I working? Hell yeah! I work for myself and my family. I may not always be happy with my appraisal reports and the bonus I get but I refuse to let my sense of self-worth be measured in terms of how much I don't earn.

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