So if it’s not my child who’s asking for my every single waking moment and it’s never been the norm anyway, why am I so darn upset about it? Am I trying to prove something? Why? To whom? To what end?
I wanted to do a more objectively researched post but I didn’t have the time to finish it so I’m going to share my story in hopes that it answers some of those questions. Nitya, I hope you’re reading. 🙂
I look at my mommy guilt as three phases.
Phase One: An overly open mind
When I first got married, I received detailed advice on how to conduct myself as a wife and daughter-in-law from no less than five or six women from both my family as well as The Hero’s. (My mother-in-law was obviously not among them). My MIL was frequently held up as a shining example of a career woman who never let her successful career stand in the way of what is “truly important” – personally handing coffee to guests, packing dabbas for her family, and running her home efficiently. Delivering a hundred babies a month and saving women’s lives be damned, the dabbas are what’s important! Let’s just say I still tried to meet all those expectations for a while. Let me rephrase that. I at least had the decency to feel guilty that I was not meeting all these expectations.
I still remember the moment the switch flipped. I was nine months pregnant and a guy in the lift very sanctimonious told me to make sure I banked my kid’s cord blood. I was furious at his sheer audacity. The more I thought about it the more evident it became that every single person around me wanted me to live a certain way and follow their advice because they “meant well”.
All of these people were so supremely confident about my life while I was always so unsure. I used to take that as a reason to listen with an open mind. Once the switch flipped, I’ve taken that as the precise reason not to listen with an open mind. I’d always been a feminist but let’s just say that was the moment I stopped being just theoretical about it.
Phase Two: An overly closed mind
As a born-again feminist*, I had all the answers just like all my nemeses. I was sure mommy guilt was an external pressure created to make women feel bad about themselves. The expectations to cook, clean, and run a home were definitely external too. The pressure to be likable was classic HBR study and so on. People stopped messing with me. I was assertive. I did what I wanted to. I was on a roll. There was just one problem. I had traded one set of unrealistic expectations for another.
I just am a domestic, sort of maternal, unambitious (career-wise) feminist. I always knew at an intellectual level that the terms aren’t mutually incompatible but I always imagined I would passionately argue the right to choose not to be ambitious in an abstract, airy way not personally out of experience.
So my Mommy Guilt evolution was all upside down. I started off trying to deny it all and ended up admitting to myself, sobbing quite dramatically, that I need to take care of home and child and keep my bed-sheets stored a certain way in order to feel complete. I then neatly walked into the every single minute trap leading to a new state of imbalance.
First world problems they might be, but they are still problems.
Phase Three: Searching for balance
I then took a break from work and everything but Chotu for three months and I finally figured out what’s important to me. (As always, I have intellectually grasped all the answers but my emotions are still playing catch-up).
One, I don’t want societal guilt. I don’t want feminist guilt either. I want no guilt. It’s important to me to cook at least one meal for Chotu everyday and spend X hours a day with him on weekdays and Y hours a day on weekends. Sunday afternoon pakoras are a bonus. This is too much for people who think I’d be better off redirecting my energy from housework to career. It’s too little for people who think I’m neglecting my child. It’s ok. It’s just right for us.
Two, even if I do manage to win a lot of approval (not likely) there will be no room left in life for anything beyond work and family. Personally serving coffee to every visitor takes its toll. Can I imagine shutting down Simbly Bored** for the next fifteen or so years until Chotu leaves for college?
Three, I’m loving and maternal and homely but I’m not overly likable. Screw it!
@Nitya and anyone else reading. What’s your story?
* This experience with feminism is personal to me. Please do NOT extrapolate from one data point to conclude that all feminists are whatever-mental-model-you-would-like-to-reinforce.
** Conservatively, I spend about 15-20 hours a week maintaining this blog. A part-time job!