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How to combine a career with

Sunita Maheshwari
Sunita Maheshwari
Doctor and Entrepreneur, Teleradiology Solutions & RxDx Multispeciality Clinic
Dr Sunita Maheshwari is a doctor, entrepreneur and a socially active human being. She was nominat... more>>
As a childrens heart specialist with an upwardly progressive career graph, I seemed to the outside world to be the true "career woman". Working 14-hour days, taking call,writing research papers, always on the phone when at home.A few years ago,children seemed like an anomaly that happened to other people. However, when the maternal instinct overwhelmed me, they arrived and changed my life. Having a child was a joy beyond belief and I felt that if I never worked again, I would never miss it. But the "career woman" in me couldnt be contained and I returned to life as a doctor, attendant with all the guilt of being a working mom. However, over the years, I have tried (not necessarily always successfully!) to do justice to both. How does one do it, is the question I often ponder.

Some basic principles:

Remember that you love your child deeply even if you are not around all the time.Make sure you show that to your child when you are around so that they know it too.Never allow your child to feel or know that you feel guilty that you work because they will figure out how to manipulate it or you.

Some tips:

Work part-time!
There is a general fear among women that if you ask for part-time status you will be replaced by a man who can do the job all the time. Eradicate the fear. If you are good and can ensure that when on the job you will give more than your best, an employer should be satisfied. After my second child, I negotiated for Wednesdays off. Its the perfect day to be home. It gives the kids a midweek break with you; its a school day so you can do "mommy" things like getting them ready for school or dropping them off etc. I find no matter how late I have to work on Monday and Tuesday it doesnt matter because I know Wednesday is around the corner.

When home, give them your all

On my days off I do not schedule anything that does not involve the kids. If invited out for lunch, I go only if kids are part of the package. Try and do something special with them the days you are home-an hour at the playground, playing hide and seek, cuddling up under the blankets in the afternoon and telling stories, planting a sapling, a little bit of arts and crafts, playing horsey-horsey, taking them to a folk festival, a surprise trip to the ice-cream parlor, a little walk to the corner store for a bar of chocolate. These special times serve to strengthen the bonds and make the child feel special.

Forget household work
We spend so much of our time keeping our homes spotless and churning out fabulous meals. For what? Therese a quote I read in the US when I had my first baby and I was still fanatical about the house-trying to keep the house clean when the kids are growing is like trying to shovel a driveway while it still snowing. I gave up after that. Keep the home clean but not spotless, make a good but quick meal, change your lifestyle to include leftovers, hire help. The time saved can be used to spend quality time with your kids.

Involve the kids

When you have to do household chores, get the kids involved in your activity. Give them the rice to wash or the eggs that need to be beaten or the cake dough that needs to be mixed. When I cook, I bring the kids into the kitchen, put a little table or a mat down for them, give them a coloring book or plasticine or blocks etc. So they are there with me, we can have a conversation, they dont feel they have been deserted for household work and my work goes on. Similarly, I involve the kids in my fitness program. I invested in a bicycle with a kid seat in the front and we go up and down the street humming tunes-I get my exercise and they get a fun ride.

Socialize late
When invited for dinner sans kids, we make it clear-well come but only after their bedtime. Leaving while they are still awake seems to traumatize them more. Once the kids are tucked in it doesnt matter to them where we are and they dont spend the rest of the evening feeling abandoned.

Get help
Dont try and do it all. You wont be able to do it without getting cranky and irritable. Invest in good domestic help, treat them well and pay more if you can to ensure long-lasting loyalty. If grandparents are an option have them around - nothing like grand parental love to make the life of a working mom easier.

Involve the man in your life

When we were in the US with 2 busy jobs the rule of the home was whoever got home first cooked! Now the same rule applies to the kids - whoever gets home first, starts their dinner and their bedtime routine. So if I get home late and energy-less all I have to do is enjoy them without the rigors of food/bath time/pajamas etc.

Ask for space
When at work its work and when at home the kids. Although one can try and involve ones kids in all ones activities there are times when one needs space. When I feel the need, I dont hesitate to say-okay mama needs 1 hour of email time or a short nap to rejuvenate herself or whatever. The break is the key to sanity!

At work

Try and call home at least once a day and speak to your child. Ask them how their day was, what they are doing, tell them you love them and you miss them very much. Tell them when they can expect you home and give them some suggestions on how they can spend the rest of the day-suggest a friend, remind them of an old toy in the closet, suggest a painting they can do etc. This ensures they feel you are still involved with their lives even though you are not physically there.

Try and bring them to work with you when feasible

On Saturdays, I try and keep my schedule light and take my older one with me to my hospital for part of the day. We pack a bag with a snack, water, little toys, her books and painting equipment. She comes on rounds, attends conference, and sits in my clinic when I see patients. It serves 2 purposes 1) she feels like shes been with me and 2) she sees what Im doing and she knows I am not just "goofing off" when Im not at home. This way if I call and tell her Im ballooning the valve of a sick baby, she knows its important and she doesnt mind if I am late. On occasion, she asks me about the kids I saw during the day and gets follow-up on them!

When I need to travel for conferences or to give a talk, I try and arrange it such that they come along. This way we get the traveling time together and they experience the adventure with me.

Dont let the post-work irritability get to you

When you get home from a hard days work and the kids are all over you, irritability comes easily. If you get angry or grumpy with your kids, and there are times you will, go into another room, take a deep breath and remind yourself of how much you love them. Once the love fills you, return to the situation and deal with it differently. When you get home what your kids need is love, some time with you and attention. Drop everything else - no cell phones, no emailing, no trying to do dinner, no "I need a rest" for the first hour when you return home. Just the kids. Lots of big hugs and loud smacker kisses and expressions of "I luv u soooooooooo much". Once they have had their fill of "mommy" you can move on to other worldly matters.

And lastly, forget what others say and what you think they are saying

Do your best to juggle the chaotic but not impossible adventure that is the life of a working mom. At work, I deal with comments about Wednesday being my "holiday" and how my career wont progress if Im involved with this "parenting business". And outside, the stay home moms think I am the "bad mom" who leaves her kids for hours on end with a maid. Basically, you cant win either way! So dont even try!!

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