Mommy Guilt – My story

The last time I wrote about Mommy guilt Nitya left a very sweet comment and wanted to hear a little more about these questions I ended with.

So if itโ€™s not my child whoโ€™s asking for my every single waking moment and itโ€™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. ๐Ÿ™‚

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!

Source: Pinterest
Source: Pinterest. I <3 Tina Fey

@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!

TGIF! – Arranged marriages with a twist

Disclaimer: I don’t intend to offend anyone (except if you’re against same sex marriage. in that case offence is kind of intended) so if you do find something offensive, please be gentle and I’ll be happy to correct the mistake.

I heard something positive on the radio when I was driving to work the other day. Here’s A matrimonial ad with a difference. Read carefully!
Arranged marriages are India’s big normalizer, I think. The universal experience has already cut through class, caste, and religious barriers. We’re now working on sexual orientation.

The news went to Rajini and he was all…

Why should only brides have all the “fun”? If it’s an arranged marriage, as a gender equality champion I would like the wedding to look like this:

Once the first couple of arranged marriages work out, methinks more moms will jump on the bandwagon and be all be like…

The sons will all be like…
Because the beast must extract its price from all those who pass through its shadow. We can still go on with our IIT-IIM-social skills optional groom obsession though it might get tricky if two women want to get married and we enforce the “no working after marriage” rule. It’s ok, we’ll work out something.

Once the movement gathers momentum, Alok Nath will look at all the weddings happening and be all, “Goody!!” He’ll be all, “Kanyadaan is a state of mind.”

Someone will make a comment at some point (maybe even something like the vadai are good but I didn’t care for the appalam) and then Arnab will get all…

The news hour debate will reach incredible decibel levels before everything will be settled for good like this…

Seriously, if we’re even seeing matrimonial ads, Isn’t it time we stepped into the Century of the Fruitbat and actually legalized what should never have been illegal in the first place?

obligatory: Lavanya Mohan’s piece. Gotta balance the Iyer view with the Iyengar ๐Ÿ˜‰

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The moment to walk out of a relationship

The latest post on IHM’s blog is a heartbreaking story of abuse. Once a person is deep in an abusive relationship, they can’t really get out so easily. Their self esteem is broken, their movements are curtailed, and even their life is at risk. Yet, given how common abuse is, why don’t parents and daughters ever have a conversation before the wedding*? Why don’t parents ever tell their daughters up front, the doors are open if you need to walk out? Why don’t daughters ever tell their parents what they need or expect?

This is my list of red flags and the issues I discussed with my parents before I even agreed to an arranged marriage. I don’t think how a woman chooses her spouse makes a difference to the list, however. These are also conversations a woman needs to have with her partner before living together or getting married. A couple needs to set expectations from each other.

Before the wedding:

  1. Any mention of skin colour or appearance or mention of socially acceptable standards of beauty. Some people would ask my mother if I was good looking. My mother’s stock reply was, “Beauty is a personal opinion. How can I not call my own child beautiful?” We never called any of them back.
  2. Any subtle (or not) probing into my family’s financial status was unacceptable because it was none of their business. Some were interested in what my brother earned.

The wedding itself. I was clear that I would break an engagement or even walk out of a wedding at:

  1. Any mention of the word dowry, gifts, gifting of saris, demand for customs, expectations from the scale of the wedding and so on and.
  2. Anything at all said against my parents or any expectations from them because they’re the “girl’s side” before, during, and after the wedding would not be tolerated.
  3. Unwillingness to share expenses was a massive red flag indicating entitlement. I couldn’t convince my dad as much as I would have wanted to but it was still progress from my aunts’ weddings.
  4. Any mention about me quitting work or relocating without having an equal discussion was out. A dependent visa was out. If I moved to another country, I’d move on my own visa.

After the wedding. Cause for separation, if not divorce:

  1. Any hint that I need to change anything about myself after marriage because I’m a woman including coercion to wear symbols of marriage I didn’t want to or giving up contact with male friends or any restrictions on my behaviour, movements, finances, etc.
  2. Any implications that I “belong” to a certain family or not.
  3. Any expectations that I need to perform a certain traditional role because I’m a woman including the kind of chores I’m expected to do, unwillingness to share household work, etc.

Would result in me walking out without a word:

  1. Verbal abuse including name calling by anyone, not just the guy
  2. Any hint of physical abuse including something including grabbing my hand with too much force by anyone, not just the guy
  3. Forced sex/marital rape. This I did not explicitly discuss with my parents but they knew what I meant by physical abuse.

The most important relationship we’ll ever have is the one with ourselves. Everyone might have a different line for what verbal abuse is. What’s more important is deciding for ourselves – before we make a lifelong commitment to a spouse – what our limits are and to honour ourselves and those limits.

It’s not one sided. A man can feel equally stifled by a jealous or insecure spouse. He can feel pressure to earn more or be more “manly”. He needs to be upfront about it. In fact, when The Hero and I were engaged, the level of frankness in our conversations alarmed his parents and mine who thought it was too much honesty to last. This was only based on what was reported. ๐Ÿ˜‰ But that’s how our marriage works to this day. The Hero and I can get passionate and argue loudly about the silliest of things and make the most ridiculous of statements and fume (him) and cry (me). Then, we can just shrug it off and go out for ice cream because we’re secure that we agree about the things that truly matter. That approach might not be for everybody but everybody needs to know what they need.

* Yes, yes, not only women get abused but let’s stick with the woman’s side of the story this time, eh?