Image by storyset on Freepik

Many years ago, when I left my job with a major software company where I was working as a Corporate Business Skills Trainer, it was for purely personal reasons. Hari was flying to the US for a deputation and honestly, we knew that it was kind of like the last chance for us to travel freely, given that we had planned to start a family once we came back to India. We did exactly that and travelled a lot. In the few months that we came to India for a break in between, we got our own home, got the interiors done, had our housewarming ceremony and stayed in our brand-new den for a couple of months, before heading back to the US for some more fun and travel. Just as we had planned, we started a family soon after settling back in India.

In all those years, during the travel across the US at which time I couldn’t (obviously) get an extended leave and during the initial years of both my girls, I was on a self-induced break from work. That came as a shocker to many who had known me from my student and corporate days, and had the impression that I was a thoroughly career-oriented person who would never put my career on the back burner for anyone or anything, not even my kids. As flattered as I was that I had given out that impression with the kind of work I had always put in, I had a difficult time explaining to people (unnecessarily, I believe, just as I am doing with this blog) that staying at home with my kids until they started school was a deliberate choice that I had made and I had zero regrets about it.

I have always admired working mothers who are able to transition from one role to another like superwomen. And I have never once judged a woman for choosing to work and finding alternate care for their kids while they were away, so that their career never got affected. I have seen the kind of stress and guilt that they go through every other day, juggling these roles and second-guessing their choices and actions, being harsh on themselves. I have often told those working mothers in my life how proud I am of them and how they need to go easy on themselves, although quite often it is an advice I have to give myself too. And I have always meant that in the sincerest way possible. Anytime I have heard someone pass judgmental comments about working mothers for not giving up their career, I have always made it a point to say that we have no right to judge them for their choices or label them “bad mothers.”

However, in my time as a stay-at-home mother, I haven’t always received that courtesy from many people. While there have been quite a few who glorified my decision as a “sacrifice” I made as a “supermom,” there were many who shamed with me an unimpressed look or comments about how I was wasting my skills and my education by staying home doing things that others could very well do for me. My decision to stay has been neither – not a “sacrifice” and most definitely, not a “waste of skills and education” that I am ashamed of. For me, this was just something that I had always wanted to do, all my life. Even as a person who wasn’t all that “child-friendly,” I always knew that when I had my own kids, I would want to soak up every minute of their initial years and just be there with them. And I always knew that when they started school and needed my time and attention a little lesser than before, I would happily take up a job that made me feel content and valued, while making sure that the said job would be something that I can handle while still spending lots of quality time with my little family.

I do realize that my decision comes from a place of privilege, where I can afford to make this decision in every aspect. And honestly, I’m grateful for that. However, I have never felt guilty or ashamed of doing what I wanted to, especially when this privilege allows me to do it. It has made sense emotionally, mentally and I would be lying if I didn’t acknowledge, financially. For me, it was simply a way of making sure that my girls got what I never got as a kid all my childhood – my parents’ time.

My dad worked abroad and I got to see him for a month every two years or so. My mom who stayed with me worked full-time and I saw her even lesser than my dad, although the lack of time for me didn’t stem from her job completely. I hardly saw her in the morning or late in the evening after she came home – understandable from a kind-of single mother’s perspective. But even on the weekends when she didn’t work, I was forced to socialize with relatives and cousins, either at my dad’s place or my mom’s. The end result was that I hardly ever saw her at all – ever. We never had any time to ourselves – just us, talking or playing or doing nothing in particular – she never even thought that it was a basic need for a child. She never knew what was going on with me or my life. And me? I never trusted her or even knew her well enough to go to her with what was happening with me – even when there were grave, dark secrets I just wanted to tell someone and which ruined a good part of my life. The result? I don’t have any memories from my childhood with my mom. We were simply two people living under the same roof and that is my only childhood memory of hers.

As I explicitly mentioned above, I don’t blame my mother’s job for this – it was more about priorities or the lack thereof. However, that loneliness and the dark consequences of the loneliness was probably what made me want to make my decision of wanting to be home with my babies. And I have made a conscious effort to ensure that my childhood doesn’t affect my parenting in a negative manner, making me an overprotective mother who has to do everything for my girls, every second of every day. While I admire and applaud the working mothers, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to juggle the roles and stay sane during those initial years of their life. I’m glad I made that decision and I will never apologize for it or feel ashamed of it.

Now that my kids are both going to school and I have more time at hand than before, I have started taking up freelance projects where I get to explore my interests and hopefully, make a living. In the last one year, even before my little one started school, I translated two Malayalam books to English, putting all my heart and time to it – while Vedu was at school, Taaru was taking a nap and after the kids’ bedtime. I have spent months on the editing and corrections, getting a foreword for the first book and researching on avenues to get it published. I have maintained my blog religiously and passionately, irrespective of hits and likes, with my blog count now moving closer to 400. I have been pursuing multiple avenues in the meantime so that I find projects related to different aspects of writing on a consistent basis. Although not many, there have also been blogs and online magazines picking up my blogs as guest posts.

The above paragraph is not a brag, it is simply a summary of what I have done with my life and what I look forward to as a career. However, this is where I have faced the next kind of shaming – a lack of acknowledgement of all that I have mentioned above, particularly from my parents. I keep seeing them respond to “Is Radhika working now?” with “No, she stays home with the kids. She is terrified of the job stress and busy schedule of other working mothers. So she hasn’t taken up anything at all.” I do realize that they are not saying this with any malice at heart. Probably their idea of a job is very different and that’s all there is to it. But the last time my mother told me this while narrating a phone call with one of our relatives, a smile on her face, I had had enough. Something just snapped inside, especially so, since I had shared the details of my literary translation projects and even the updates of how we were trying to land a publishing deal for the first one, after which we could focus on the second book which was almost done etc. etc.

I didn’t want them to gloat about these or even talk about these. I have always known that they are both not fans of my blog and never read them (I won’t blame them for hating it considering how they don’t feature in the posts in the most positive light). I would still have loved it if they at least acknowledged the fact that I have in fact been working for the last one year or more. I might not have a permanent employment contract with an organization, or a steady monthly paycheck, and it might be months before my books get published. But none of that factor in to the truth that I have worked my ass off on something I love – writing and everything related to it. Saying “Nah! She doesn’t do anything” is literally negating all the hard work and all the passion I put into this job – yes, a job, a freelance one at that, at least for now. And that stings! Just the way it did when someone shamed me for choosing to be with my babies.

But now I know that shaming is going to be a permanent part of my life, no matter what I do. This way, or that way – there will always be someone who tries to pull you down or make you feel bad about what you do or don’t do. So I am putting my former “Trainer” profile to good use by training myself to shrug off all the shaming and focus on doing what I believe in. Oh! And for those who are confused what I really qualify as now? I am a freelancer who works from home on projects related to writing, while happily carrying on the roles and responsibilities of a full-time mom to my girls and bestie to my husband. And I am damn proud of myself!

Also published on Medium.