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A Woman’s Dilemma: Family Before Career Or Career Before Family?

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Editor’s note: This story is in response to Youth Ki Awaaz’s topic for this week – #WomensDay to start conversations on how we can achieve a gender equal society. If you have faced gender-based violence, sexism or misogyny, would like to propose policy reforms or write about what families, friends, workspaces and partners can do to ensure gender parity around them, write to us here.

A very interesting article was being circulated on a site recently. The article was about choosing a life partner wisely, since a woman’s career depends on it. The author goes on to explain how she was offended on hearing that a woman’s career depends on her spouse.

However, as she delved deeper into the facts, she realised that a spouse plays a major role in the wife’s career. Some of the relevant questions that she raised are:

“Is he willing to let you work after marriage?”

“Is he ready to share the housework?”

“Will he relocate for your sake if you find a better opportunity?”

Of these, the third question caught my attention because I am currently in a similar situation. I am a chartered accountant and I have been working with a multinational company (MNC) for the past 7 years. This was my first job. I persisted with my job mainly because there were limited opportunities in the city that I lived in for 10 years.

Moving out for a change of job is a big decision. If I had been single, I could have taken such a decision without much ado. I have been born and raised in Bombay. It’s a city which always lures me.

By a turn of events, however, I moved to Bangalore and have continued living there due to my job. Moving out of Bangalore was never a constraint for the ‘single’ me.

After my marriage, however, things changed. Because my husband runs his own business, which is based in Bangalore, I knew that moving to a different city would become much more difficult. A few years down the line, I had a strong urge to move out of the city to advance my career. However, I couldn’t do so because my husband was in no position to move out of the city.

Then, I became a mother and decided to focus on the baby. I resumed working only after four or five months, after having resolved that I would take things slowly while also focusing on my daughter’s upbringing.

But after a few months, I started struggling. It was a matter that I could no longer ignore. I could no longer keep complaining of things not working out, or consoling myself that ‘one does not get everything in life, there will be ups and downs and that it’s ok to be mediocre sometimes’. I realised that none of this struggle was making any sense. I badly needed a switch, but then again, my husband’s inability to shift bases acted as a deterrent.

Finally, when things seemed to be going out of hand, I decided I must at least go out and assess my worth. I discussed the matter with my husband and my family. They were aware of my situation and they all agreed to this.

My excellent academic credentials notwithstanding, facing interviews after seven years was scary and a challenge in itself. Somewhere down the line, I had lost the confidence that I had during my first job interview. In spite of this, I was well-prepared and things turned out well. I was offered the job, but in a different city.

My husband and I then spoke at length on what I should do next. Both of us decided it was in my best interests to take up the job. It was an excellent opportunity and I could leverage my experience here. I decided to shift with my mother and daughter. My husband would keep shuttling between the two cities.

It was not an easy decision – living apart after four years of being together. However, we both knew that this move was essential – and if delayed further, would only make things more difficult. Our daughter is still young but once she starts going to schools, moving between cities will be much harder.

Although we had taken a well thought-of and conscious decision, and I moved ahead – the reactions of people, when they came to know of my move, were shocking.

Almost in the same breath came the next question – “But what about your husband?”

“Yes he will also join us, but will shuttle between the two cities for now. This will go on for some time.”

“Then why are you moving? Why don’t you stick on to your job or shift your base within Bangalore?”

“Why would make such a move when your husband is here?”

I wonder if the questions would have been as intense and probing, had my husband initiated this move? For it’s perfectly fine if a man desires a ‘career move’ which might require him to relocate. In fact, it would be looked upon with an air of appreciation. He would be termed as ‘career minded’ and ‘ambitious’. People would take it for granted that his wife and kids will either move with him or stay put. But that is perfectly fine when it involves the man, because his career is the deciding factor here.

When it comes to a woman though, questions loom over everyone’s head:

“Is the couple facing issues?”

“Marital discord? Is that why they decided to part ways but don’t want people to know?”

“If not, then she is surely a selfish, career minded woman. Which married woman would think of moving away from her hubby? She places her career over her family? What’s the use of money or position if your family is not with you?”

The husband of one of my closest friends asked her about me when he got to know of my move : “Why is she going when she knows his business is here? What’s the meaning of marriage then?”

Firstly, I did not ‘part ways’ for money. I wouldn’t say that money is completely unimportant and that I would settle for a pay that is lesser than what I deserve. However, the main reason for my move was ‘career growth’, which I felt had come to a standstill in the previous organisation. Given that the sector in which I work is niche and that there weren’t many openings in the previous city, this move was necessary.

This does not mean that I do not value my family. Neither does my marriage cease to exist. We are very much united and still in love. Arguments and differences are a part and parcel of relationships. So why the hue and cry when a woman is living away from her husband?

I know a colleague at work. She and her husband live separately due to their jobs. However, they meet and spend time together quite frequently, visit their families and take vacations. Does this mean their relationship has issues? Or just because they do not live together, we presume that something is amiss?

To truly empower women and give them opportunities to progress at the workplace, it’s important that we create an environment conducive to them. This support should not be limited only to the workplace. The support should also be rendered with regard to a career move or a job switch which a woman may think about but hesitate to commit to because of lack of family support or fear of what people think.

When such moves are perfectly acceptable, in fact commendable, in a man’s case, then why should they not be acceptable in a woman’s case? Why do we hear those voices at the back of our minds, telling us “career minded woman, what about your family”? Do you think that a woman does not think carefully and decides on such moves based on her whims?

The next time a woman tells you that she is going to another city or country for her career, hide your surprise. Just smile and tell her that you are happy for her – happy that for once, she thought of herself, her dreams and her aspirations. A saying that always resonates with me states that apart from your mother, you are the only person who thinks about your own career.

It’s not easy to move out of your comfort zone, shake off all the dust and complacency and take up new challenges in a new environment with new people. The fear of the unknown and ‘what if I don’t get it right’ always looms over the head.

Additionally, this also presents challenges on the personal front. I am yet to see what’s in store for me, but I take each step with optimism and look forward to an enriching and rewarding future. I am aware that this means spending lesser time with my spouse and child. However, I am willing to do this because moving forward, having a sense of accomplishment and mental satisfaction from my job are imperative.

So for all the gossip mongers – yes we are very much together! And guess what – just like a man thinks of progress in his career, so does a woman! So, the next time you come across such a situation, stop yourself from passing judgements. And do not blurt out insensitive comments if you know nothing of a woman’s situation.

And woman who is on the threshold of making a ‘career move’ or not, all I can say is – think of your family, but also ask yourself these pertinent questions:

“Am I working just for time pass?”

“Is my goal only to earn some money so that I can help my husband, but nothing beyond that?”

“Do I work because it gives me a sense of independence and self-fulfilment?”

“Do I feel valued at my workplace?”

“Are people taking me for granted just because I am a working mother? Do they feel I will stay put and not want a big change, as a result?”

“Am I ready to take charge of my career and willing to walk that extra mile to make it work for me?”

Once you honestly answer these, I am certain you shall take the right decision.

This article was first published here. It has been published on YKA by the author’s permission.

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Image Source : Prasad Gori/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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