Friday, December 12, 2008

Dilemma

I am an urban woman - well-educated, career driven & financially independent. And unmarried to boot. I’m adept at juggling the demands of work with the stress of living on my own; have been doing so for the past five years. I am also 28 years old & getting ready to celebrate my 29th birthday early-ish next year (yes, birthdays are a big deal :-)

Over the years - say between the age of 23 when I first started working and 28 - I have seen a significant change in myself, in my opinions & my views on issues that affect women, the choices women have to make in life etc.

As a 23-24 year old, I used to be fairly certain – make that absolutely certain - that I wasn’t the types to make sacrifices for husband & children, if & when I do get married. I found no reason to do so. Always believed that if a man isn’t expected to make sacrifices for his family, why should a woman be expected to? But as all of you women who’ve been there before me would know, age mellows you down :-)

As you grow older, you tend to re-evaluate your opinions, particularly your stand on various issues assailing the women species. I think the major reason behind this is the events you see unfolding in your social & professional circle. You see your female friends & colleagues, who are just like you (career driven, ambitious), getting married and making certain choices that would seem contrary to their personalities.

I have seen this happening more in my family than outside. My aunts are all over-achievers. One is a lawyer in Chicago who studied law at Columbia & Northwestern Universities – some of the premier law schools in the US. She got picked up by one of the top law firms in Chicago and was well on her way to becoming a partner at the firm when she realized that her kids, who were between 5 & 10 years of age, needed more of her time than she was able to give them with 13-14 hour workdays. Her kids were growing up with babysitters - who to their credit were doing a good job - but the kids needed “mom-time”. So, she decided to go part-time which obviously meant she had to give up on her ambition to become a partner - something each lawyer covets.

Another aunt (IIM-C graduate, did a Master’s in IT from Berkeley & went on to work with Oracle & then Morgan Stanley) too gave up her job because she felt she needed to give more time to her kids. The third aunt, a psychiatrist by profession, too chose to give up her job when she had her second child because she felt she was not able to do justice to her first, as she had to divide her time between him & work.

One might wonder what the big deal about this is? Women, particularly Indian women, routinely make such sacrifices without batting an eyelid. Fair enough. But the big deal - at least for me - is that it’s happened in my family, where every woman is brought up being told that she needs to be financially independent when she grows up. In fact, I don’t remember my parents or anyone else in my family ever telling me that choosing not to work when I grow up is an option too!

Let me just clarify, I don’t belong to a fascist family, in case you’re wondering :-) It’s just that since my grandmother downwards, every single woman in my family has been a working woman.

The interesting thing about my aunts is that all of them went to the US as students in the 1990s, without financial backing from their parents, which meant they had to struggle and survive on stipends for as long as it took them to complete their education, so they could have what they thought was a better life as compared to what they could have had in India in the 1990s. And they reached a point in life when, just like that, they gave it all up!! It was not an easy decision for them at all, as they all admit, but one they NEEDED to and WANTED to make. It was a big step for them and had many implications not only on their financial standing but also on their psyches, but they took that step nonetheless. And that really made me sit up & think.

I’m still undecided on what I would end up doing if & when I do have a family. Would I keep working as I am currently…or go part-time…or quit working completely? While on the one hand, I do think it’s important that kids get quality time from at least one parent (which one of the two it should be is a matter of endless debate :-), on the other hand I also know that I would be miserable if I had to depend on someone else for money. I’m interested in seeing which way I swing and how long I can sustain it.

Point is….you should never say ‘Never’ in life!

6 comments:

Moonshine said...

You know these thoughts are not restricted to a "single woman"!!! I am much married woman (proud to announce that i have been married for 2.5 yrs now :)).. but these thoughts still plague me!!!!!!

Scarlett said...

I didn't mean this issue assails single women only. That was mentioned as an aside, and sorry if I offended you. Didn't mean to! What I meant was that these are things I've started thinking about.

Moonshine said...

No offense taken.. :)

The knife said...

This post makes me feel old.

More seriously my Mom always advocates that women should continue working. She did take a break after I was born (I wonder why as I was quite a fat and docile baby) but she had begun to work after my brother was born. My father passed away a year after that and she raised us by herself.

This is of course an extreme scenario but she strongly believes that women should be independent.

Of course its easier said than done. I wonder if its easire to be a working Mom in the West than here despite the cheaper cost of labour

Scarlett said...

Errr..She probably went back to work b/c she realized that by staying home she was over-feeding her kids. Lol. No offence! You asked for it :)

I too am an advocate for being financially independent if you're a woman...what I meant was that I would probably look for something that's more flexible than a 9 to 8 job...such as becoming a consultant or going part-time maybe. The ideal thing, ofcourse, would be to have my own thing, but the stakes are very high in that.

As for Western vs. Indian moms - Things are definitely easier for Indian moms I feel b/c they have the help of their parents, in-laws etc. Nannies are cheaper & so are house helps too. In the West, only the very rich can afford full-time nannies who come to their homes & take care of their babies. Usually the kids have to be left all day at the creche, which means dropping them on your way to work & picking them up on your way back. I've seen my aunts do it & it's really stressful.

santosh@IITM # CDAC said...

Nice post..!!
You mentioned women side very well...but what about child who needs mother time. The most important thing what mother can give his child no one other can give. Other thing Women can start work after 2yrs of child age...its just my opinion..!!