Spice of Life: Confessions of teenager’s working mother’s guilt
The handbook has been more reassuring than any self-help book and helped me wriggle out of the guilt of being inadequate mother because of being a working professional. I have circulated it to younger colleagues sailing the same “mom-guilt” boat!
As a soon-to-be 16-year-old’s mother, I have been introspecting on my role, as also, the lack of skills that this huge charge requires. The dictionary meaning of “mother”, the romanticised filmy version, many wonderful and varied examples within the family and among friends has left me feeling most inadequate. My anxiety is mirrored in my Google search history. It varies from, “Is this behaviour normal?” to “College admissions” to “Gen Z slang”!
When congratulatory messages and success stories of other teens are shared on social media and WhatsApp groups, I further doubt myself and the self-deprecating working mother’s guilt sets in. Being a weekend mother makes things worst. On a typical weekday, I send more than 20 text messages to my teen, some are answered in monosyllables and most are ignored. These are all generally to check sleeping or awake status and whereabouts during the day. Living in different cities and the long distance creates a void but I reassure myself that the weekend will makes things better.
Conversations with the offspring are put off to the end of the week, with a promise (to myself) to be calm. These conversations start from school, subjects, friends, screen-time, books to read and inadvertently end at banging doors on each other. The lessons from self-help books on dealing with teens, concentrated deep breaths don’t help. The week’s guilt is now full-blown remorse. For being away, for not doing enough and sub-consciously feeling the people around are being judgmental. Of course, I’m being judged – more by myself than by anyone else.
On one such day for immense self-doubt, comfort flowed in from the most unexpected quarter. The Supreme Court recently released a “Handbook on Combating Gender Stereotypes”. It’s a brilliant document that identifies stereotypes, offers alternate words and phrases and further discusses why certain common reasoning patterns based on gender stereotypes are incorrect. One label that I strongly relate to has been identified and discussed in detail – the working woman. It illustrates the stereotype as, “Women who work outside of the home do not care about their children.” It goes on to explain that this in incorrect and states that: “Working outside of the home has no co-relation with a woman’s love or concern for her children. Parents of all genders may work outside of the home while also caring for their children.”
Chief Justice Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, in his foreword to the handbook, has expressed hope that it will be widely read by all members of the legal profession in India to ensure that legal reasoning and writing is free of harmful notions about women. For me personally, the handbook has been more reassuring than any self-help book and helped me wriggle out of the guilt of being inadequate mother because of being a working professional. I have circulated the handbook to many younger colleagues sailing the same “mom-guilt” boat!
We do love our kids as much as the filmy mothers and do hope to contribute as much to their future as the stay-at-home mothers do.
But, dealing with the teenager continues to be a challenge, as it must be equally for any other parent. The search for a perfect solution to thousands of situations, events and issues continues. But that’s another story.
The writer, a Punjab-cadre IAS officer, is deputy commissioner of Fatehgarh Sahib. She can be contacted at email@example.com