Rahul Sharma works in a very senior position in a chemical manufacturing company in the Middle East. He is 40-years-old and a father of two school going kids. His wife and kids live in Mumbai. He visits them once a year after accumulating his yearly leaves and comes down to India for two weeks.
He was working in Mumbai but got a very good opportunity to move abroad. As the kids were aged 12 and 14 and it was a crucial time for them in terms of their academics. Rahul and his wife decided it was best that the kids continue their education in Mumbai.
While it’s always tough living away from your family, it is Rahul who often gets sympathy with people cooing around him – “Oh it’s so tough for you living away from your family, just once or twice a year you meet them. You must be missing your kids so much.” His wife, Seema, who is a homemaker and who is the sole parent to their kids during his absence, strangely does not get acknowledged as much. People do remark that it’s not easy for her but often follow it up by a callous statement- “But you have your kids with you, you are not alone.” Well that’s true but little do they realize, taking up sole responsibility of two kids is not easy. Rahul cringes for he knows how tough it is for his wife to be taking this up single-handedly but there is little he can do at the moment, this arrangement has to go on for a longer time.
Natasha works in a technical role in one of the leading IT companies in India. She is a doting mom of six-year-old Preesha. She is an ambitious woman, passionate about her career. A supportive spouse who is always taking pride in his wife’s achievements – culinary or corporate – is what propels her to go further. She is also blessed with a mother-in-law who is like a god mother. They get along like a solid team. Grandma takes up full charge of the house and the grand kid on weekdays while Natasha is occupied with office work. On weekends the role switches as Natasha takes charge of home and her mother-in-law sits back and enjoys.
Recently, Natasha got a dream opportunity of leading an innovative project as a team lead in Sydney. The duration of the project would be two years and she had to relocate to Sydney. This project meant a lot to her professionally. She was involved in it right since the nascent stages and this opportunity meant a promotion, better pay and would alleviate her career in a big way. The only roadblock is – she would have to move to Sydney without her family. Her hubby couldn’t leave his job nor does he have any such opportunity in the same city. Her daughter is schooling and her mother-in-law would not be too happy moving to a new country where she knows no one. Besides, this project was only for two years. She was uncertain about the outcome after that time period.
Would she be asked to stay back longer? Would she like the city, the people? If she took her daughter and they had to come back to India for some reason, re-adjusting would not be as easy for the child. She did not want to coerce her mother-in-law to accompany her. Her parents had health issues and could not baby sit her child. Her hubby and mother-in-law backed her in unison – this was a big opportunity she should not miss it. She would come home once a year, a home coming vacation was paid by the company and one more vacation she could happily take at her own expense. She had to battle the guilt of being a selfish mom, these questions plagued her but her mother-in-law and hubby helped her comfort her fears and look at things practically.
Finally, she mustered courage and decided to go. Her daughter was comfortable living with Dadi (grandma) and Papa. Her hubby was also quite a hands on Dad. Things sailed smoothly, except for this reaction which she was never prepared for. As soon as people heard that she had left her family behind and moved to Australia for a job, they gave her looks of disdain and disgust. Some look shocked, some scorned and some simply gave an expression of, “Ah! I know you career minded woman, what a selfish mom. Think of the poor abandoned child and hubby back home. How difficult it must be for them?” Never did they realize that it wasn’t easy for her either. But sometimes decisions need to be taken. Without knowing the facts and circumstances of her case, she was being judged.
When the same situation of staying away from the family for work was considered acceptable, in fact, was looked at as a sacrifice by Rahul, why was Natasha being labelled selfish. The fact is that it is tough to be a single parent while the spouse is away for most part of the year. In Natasha’s case as well, her hubby got more praises and sympathy as compared to Seema who was in a similar situation. Why the bias?
I recall, when I was younger and in my earlier days as a CA student, I had a friend whose dad lived in Saudi Arabia since the time she was a little girl. He came just once a year. I remarked to her, “It must be so tough for your dad to live all alone so far and see you, your sister and Mom just once a year.” She glared at me and said, “Well, it’s equally tough for my mom but just like you, no one seems to realize that. She is a house wife, her world revolves around us, it’s not easy being both mom and dad to two young girls. And when dad comes he is the hero. All the relatives, friends, parents want to hover around him and create a fuss, feed him the best of food and you find mom silently running around from kitchen to the hall attending to guests, cooking and cleaning. To tell you honestly, I hate his visits for I see mom so stressed out and tired and he is the center of attention.” I was kind of shocked to hear this confession but what struck me was that I was being judgmental. It was tough for her dad but it was equally or rather more tough for her mom, something that I had overlooked.
When we see a hands on dad who is at ease changing baby diapers, feeding the baby, helping his wife with household errands, don’t we all coo about him and exclaim, “Wow what a perfect hubby and dad he is. Such an exemplary person, imagine being a man and having a full time job, he still help his wife in the kitchen and with the baby.” Well, in reality he is just doing his share of work which unfortunately many others are not. Is there really a need to glorify him as much?
In a contrasting situation if you see a woman who works late in office, is career minded and aspires to do well professionally, don’t we often judge her as being a bad mom and wife. How can a woman, who is supposed to take care of child rearing and of the house as the primary goals in life, harbor any other passion?
The irony is you often find women judging women, asking them to take it slow career-wise when they have a baby. That’s none of your business frankly.
Although this is not a universally applicable rule, there are exceptions of course, but based on my observations, my interactions with people and the various articles I have read, I find we are usually very judgmental (heck I am a part of this lot as well, but of late I find myself making a conscious attempt to step back and stop myself from judging anyone, it’s their life, their situations, their reasons, who am I to judge?).
I do hope we can make a conscious attempt to be gender neutral and realize that whatever decisions people make, though they may seem undesirable to us, are their own and for their own. We are not walking in their shoes. Let’s not judge and worse, lets not use gender as a pretext for altering our way of looking at the same situation.