Leaning in – Travel

A great opportunity has come up for me at work. It involves kick-starting a new project, expanding the scope of an engagement and working with a new group of stakeholders, and huge learning on the data analytics side. The assignment is with a marquee client and I cleared four rounds of interviews with them. Yesterday they said they want me on board. Everyone is pleased to hear the news. But I don’t feel a sense of achievement. Instead, I feel terribly guilty for being good at my job because it means I need to travel onsite for a couple of months. I have to leave my family (read son) behind.

In the larger scheme of things, I think it’s ok. The Hero will not be traveling when I’m gone. Even if he is, it will only be for day trips. Chotu will be with his dad and his grandparents who will be staying with us while I’m gone. The other set of grandparents will be visiting frequently. I’m sure the first couple of weeks will be hard but knowing Chotu’s temperament, he will settle in quite quickly. I will probably miss him more than he misses me. This is the rational side of me speaking. This is The Goddess who’s confidently reassuring nosy concerned colleagues and friends that Chotu will be fine in my absence.  The other side of me wants to sob into her pillow.

Now let’s take a moment to think. The knee-jerk reaction to the situation would be to say, “Would a man refuse an assignment that involves travel? Neither should you.” However, is this the right question to be asking? I don’t think so. The question implies that daddy won’t be missed as much as mommy if he travels or that men’s families just have deal with the inconvenience of travel. The question also implies that I need to “think like a man” in order to be successful in my career. Well, both those assumptions are wrong. I’ll tell you why.

Firstly, there’s been a gradual shift in attitudes. One of my male colleagues, for instance, would prefer not to travel because, I quote, “I would miss my boy too much.” The Hero isn’t particularly fond of travel either. Thankfully, his job involves very brief travel rarely extending beyond a week or two. I’ve observed other men who have taken a similar stance.

Secondly, if women end up approaching work/life balance the way men traditionally have, men would have to step up and become homemakers to provide the stability women traditionally have. Or, you’d have to outsource childcare completely to a third party. There’s no way around it. Two people cannot manage between them two careers on high gear and parenting. It’s just too much work.

If we choose not to outsource childcare beyond a point (a very personal choice) and we both want fulfilling careers, there’s only one alternative. We need to take turns to scale back on the career front and take up more responsibility on the home front.

Over the last (close to) four years The Hero and I have worked our butts off to build a family where both careers are equally important and all of our relationships are equally important – Chotu and mom, Chotu and Dad, The Hero’s and my marriage. We’ve worked hard to build a world where both mom and dad have to work and both of our jobs are equally important. We’ve done our best to structure our days such that one of us is spending time hands on with Chotu when he’s not in school.

Sure we’ll grow slower than we would have otherwise. The Hero might publish fewer papers or file fewer patents. I will not land a fast track a promotion. But he will publish. I will eventually get promoted. And we will do good work meanwhile. More importantly, all of us will have our needs met.

Of course it’s going to be rough on all three of us if I travel. We’ll all miss each other and it will be much harder for the boys than me when I’m away. But still, we have to try. We’ve laid the groundwork for it. Now we just have to see how it goes.


Introversion and stay-home parenting

 Picked for the week of 24th March 🙂

I’ve always known I’m not really stay-home mom material and this vacation is just reinforcing that. Let’s pretend I put in all the standard disclaimers about loving my baby, etc, etc and get to the juicy stuff, shall we?

Staying home with a curious toddler all day is the equivalent of having a conversation that never, ever ends. Or even pauses for breath and a snack. Here’s a sample conversation when we were reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar for the 763,897th time*:

Source: Wikipedia

Chotu: Where is the caterpillar?
Amma: The caterpillar became a butterfly
C: How?
A: It made itself a little house and turned into a butterfly
C: Why a butterfly?
A: That’s what happens when a caterpillar grows up… Babies become boys and girls then men and women. Caterpillars become butterflies.
C: Who makes caterpillars?
A: A caterpillar comes from the egg
C: (thankfully doesn’t mention where eggs come from) Who makes the butterfly?
A: God makes the butterfly**.
C: What does God make?
A: God makes everyone. People, butterflies, doggies, cats, everything
C: Who makes steam engines?
A: Erm, people make steam engines
C: Why? Why not God? What if God? (totally lacking the vocabulary to express himself but making do with emotion)

Two thoughts that keep going through my head: How amazing is it that this little person can learn so much without getting exhausted? There should be some sort of cheat sheet to answering these questions. How am I even qualified to be answering these questions?

I’m completely exhausted by the time Chotu lunches and settles for a nap. I need to watch 4 episodes of 2 Broke Girls back to back before I can even get to Seinfeld. And then I need a few episodes of Seinfeld before I can function again and get a few chores done. By the time I’m done with my chores and ready to really relax, Chotu is up and it begins all over again. Introverts are not wired for such levels of intensive conversation with anyone. Even my lunches with friends end in shopping, silence, and small talk after an hour or two of extreme conversation.

So what does this mean? Am I a bad mother because I don’t have what it takes to spend 8-10 hours alone with my son each day while his dad is in office? That’s what everyone would have you believe but let’s be honest. We all know how much real work happens in an office.

How can a parent be expected to do so much more uncomplainingly? Not only does a stay-home mom have to be present for her child(ren) the entire day, there are other things to be done. Laundry, cooking, general tidying up, other chores, you know, the entire logistics of living don’t come to a standstill just because you have kids. Anyhow, I digress. That’s a different soapbox altogether.

The point I’m trying to make is that… I don’t know what point I’m trying to make. No, wait. Here it is. There’s nothing wrong with being a mother who needs a break from her kid(s) during the day. Not being able to do it all alone is not a sign of bad parenting. It’s a sign of honest parenting. We all have very finite resources and… No, that might not be the lesson. It remember it was something catchier.

Let me try again. Parents need to support each other the way The Goddess and her Hero do. The Hero makes sure I get some down time when I need it and last weekend I handled everything but Chotu-care. All men should learn from The Hero… No, that’s not it either.

This is the lesson: kids need school and play-groups. Only qualified professionals and other tiny human beings can keep toddlers occupied without going insane. Now I remember, this is the lesson:

A pox on all viral infections**!

If you’d like to read another introvert-mom’s perspective read the last post by noob mommy.

* The Hero prefers to take the genes activating approach. Peh, geek!
** We’re keeping Chotu away from school as a preventive measure because a particularly nasty viral seems to be going around there

Dear Indra Nooyi

Thank you for reminding us that a degree from Yale and being the head of a Fortune 500 company does not equal shedding regressive expectations about gender roles. I wish I could say something insightful here but I suspect that your definitions of “having it all” and being a “good mother” don’t match those of my generation.

Link for those living under a rock (and peeking out only to read Simbly Bored)