Life is a difficult juggle for modern-day mothers, irrespective of their employment status. All they need to run the show smoothly is a little support from the family

Almost 10 years ago when I first began my career, women were rarely such a focal point of therapy. Today, several families seek counselling—not just to tackle their individual issues but to also deal with the independence of the new-age mother.

Similarly, only a few forward-thinking mothers believed in the ‘work-life balance’ concept. Today, several couples approach me to help them balance their personal and professional lives. Family therapy with a lot of my clients has made me privy to the ever-evolving role of a woman and a mother.

These are subtle but sure indications that women—in particular mothers—are changing in their individual roles, as also in the way society is receiving them.

The new-age mom

In the past, women are known to give up their careers after marriage and motherhood to become silent backbones of the family.

But the modern woman wears a fairly new crown—that of a CEO, entrepreneur or business manager. According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, the number of women in the workforce has gone up from 18.4 million in 1950 to 69 million in 2004, creating a force of ‘working moms’.

And the few stay-at-home mothers are no longer ‘ordinary housewives’ doing just cooking and cleaning. Apart from overseeing housework, they also plan the family finances, monitor children’s education, head PTA associations and are active in organising family functions.

Most of these pure homemakers also manage part-time careers. With men putting in longer working hours, mummies need to double up as daddies as well—teaching children before exams, taking them for holidays and disciplining them.

In short, the “full-time mother” who was content to stay home and manage the house and kids is now being replaced by a woman, who wants a slice of life for herself and is ready to take on several more challenging roles.

Mommy at work

The usual question most families face when the woman of the house steps out to work is: “Will she compromise on her roles as wife, mother and homemaker?” Recent research believes not! According to a 20-year survey by the American Psychological Association, a woman’s career does not hamper her child’s development.

In fact, several studies prove that working moms seem to actually have a positive impact on the family.

Children of working moms seem to do better academically, socially and emotionally. Moreover, daughters of working mothers seem to have more independence and a higher sense of competence.A recent study by psychologist Enakshi Kapoor of SNDT University, showed that 80 per cent of urban Indian children actually like and encourage the idea of a working mom.

Moreover, husbands, in-laws and parents, especially in metros clearly want the woman to be actively employed—for increased income as it creates a more independent home atmosphere.However, on the other side of the coin, a lot of women don’t have it that easy.

The flipside

Palomi Kulkarni came to me with depression and anxiety. Her day was a squeezed-to-the-limit schedule of managing three children [one with dyslexia], housework, and the demands of a joint family, along with her job as project manager of a large IT company.

Although her family has been willing to accept the idea of her being a career woman, they were not willing to excuse her from the duties of a homemaker.

Firstly, in families where the woman faces little or no help, she tends to burnout, causing several mental and emotional disturbances in her.

Secondly, if the mother is constantly tired/unhappy/stressed, she is unlikely to be the most patient or caring parent. Her children too could then have various emotional and behavioural problems, affecting their health and schooling.

Thirdly, if the man sticks to traditional beliefs and makes his wife do the lion’s share of the work, it would obviously cause frequent quarrels and strain the marriage, creating a strained home atmosphere.

The bottom line: one crucial factor that makes a vital difference between a happy and an unhappy home atmosphere [regardless of whether mom is working or not] is the ‘support’ the mother can get from her family.

Family matters

Some women are fortunate to be blessed with the unquestioning support of their family. “A woman should have the choice whether to work or not and the family’s support in her decision is extremely crucial. Although I work more for my independence and identity than for financial reasons, without the total backing of my husband and kids, I would never have taken up such a demanding career,” says Rubina Mazhar, director of a Hyderabad-based travel school and founder of SAFA society [which works towards the socioeconomic empowerment of women].

Here are a few practical ways the family can start being pillars of strength for a woman:

Perspective change: The first and most important transformation has to be in the attitude. Both husband and wife should share responsibilities equally, regardless of who works outside the house and who earns more. Similarly, family members who belong to the older generation may need to become more open towards moving the central focus of household duties away from the woman.

Daddy time: Husbands can take over the sole responsibility of the children for one day in a week. This has double benefits: it helps strengthen the father-children bond, and give the mother a little free time.

Divide and rule: The mother can delegate some of the housework, which will not only create a sense of responsibility among family members but will also prevent her from getting resentful of the extra burden.

Emotional support: Most women, working or not, feel happier when their family listens to them and understands their needs. Husbands especially can take out time to just sit and hear their wives vent their feelings. This will not only energise the marriage, but also create an overall happy home atmosphere.

Help mummy fly: Often mothers put their needs at the background, and encourage the other family members to pursue their dreams. So it’s up to the husband and kids to make sure that mummy too gets some time alone. And has the freedom to take up a hobby or passion of her choice.

So let’s go ahead and celebrate the new-age mother who can handle all her new roles with poise and grace. And be there for her for a healthy, happy and fulfilled family life for all.

(Published in Complete Wellbeing on 18 Oct 2009)