Raising a child is perhaps the only fulltime job in the world that doesn't require formal education or a degree certificate. This job is as difficult and challenging as any high-pressure, corporate job. It is also the only job without a monthly salary, promotion or increments at the end of the year. Your child is at once your senior and your junior. And yet, just like we have to succeed in our professional lives to have a reasonably good lifestyle, we have to succeed as parents to have a reasonably good life as a family. Before having a kid we have to decide-should we work or take a break to raise our child? More often than not-and I'm not saying this is convention or that it's right or wrong-this decision falls on the mother-to-be.
Keep in mind that times have changed since our parents raised us. It makes you wonder how our working parents managed to have us and our siblings, manage the home, spend enough time with us and still work hard to afford us a good education. However, aspirations and expectations have only gone up since our parents' times, just as income and expenses also have. This is the fundamental difference between parents today and our parents when they raised us.
Work or family?
As with most things in life, timing matters. Your success at balancing work demands with family commitments also depend on where you are in your career graph. Early on, you have to deal with bosses and later on you become a boss. Work pressures may not reduce, but you might have more freedom to balance your time as you move up the corporate ladder. That's not to say you should have kids late. It just means that the decision of when to have a child also depends on a couple's career goals. The ongoing slowdown in the economy has a twofold effect on employees across professions: On the one hand, people are getting laid-off because companies are downsizing, and on the other, hiring-freezes mean more work on existing teams. Who and where you are in your organisation will weigh in on the time you get to spend with your child. More importantly, as a mother, if you are planning to take a break from your career, do remember that going back to a full-time job later might involve a compromise in designation and remuneration; unless, of course, you are lucky enough to work out a deal with your company that leaves your position vacant until you return.
Assuming that, as middle-class parents, you have an EMI to pay for your house and car, credit card bills to pay off and a reasonably comfortable lifestyle to support, it is likely that both parents would have to work after having a baby. No parents want their kid to have less than the best. This would mean a lot of financial planning for future expenses such as education. And then there are the annual family vacation, birthday parties and weekly visits to the movies and mall. Yes, raising a child is an expensive enough affair for both parents to continue with their careers to support the family as a whole.
Mothers as jugglers
Mothers are fantastic jugglers. They are great at multi-tasking and are so good at making the most of limited resources that they don't need a six-sigma or ISO-level certification for their Boss-level of awesomeness. Working mothers juggle their family and work commitments as if they are born to the manner, but behind this sheen of perfect parenting and perfect career is a story of support, compromise and adjustment so as to get the best of both worlds. So whichever way the mother chooses-staying at home or going back to work-the decision involves a lot of change in the life of parents.
Here are a few ways to help the mother-cum-juggler manage her work and family better:
It's great to have family support around and there's nothing like having grandparents offer their love and support for their grandchild. If you live with your parents, it's easier to navigate your work schedule and your child's routine. If they stay in different locations (different houses in the same city, different cities or even different countries), you would have to coordinate and figure out how best to manage your work and your child. A lot would also depend on whether they have the energy to take care of kids that tend to be hyperactive. But grandparents are tremendous support systems for new parents. Seeing your kid play with his/her grandparent is an amazing feeling. There are some truly heart-warming moments of bonding. Grandparents also help to instill the values that you grew up with in your kid and it all helps in raising your child to be the kind of adult you want him/her to grow into.
This would depend on the city you stay in and whether there are safe daycare centres or crèches close-by where you can leave your child for the better part of a day. The concept of daycare is still relatively new in India, and so these facilities are predominantly available in metros and large cities only. You will have to check out the daycare facilities in and around your house and see if their timings suit your needs. You will need to check whether the facilities are satisfactory and whether the teachers and caretakers at the daycare center are to your expectation. Also keep in mind that daycare facilities aren't exactly cheap and you might have to hunt a little before you find one that fits your budget.
This is not a full-time solution, but more of supplementary help. Obviously, you cannot leave your child alone with the domestic help while you're at work. But if you and your spouse adjust your work timings a little, and add to that the times when the grandparents can pitch in, you might actually be able to work out a balanced schedule that allows you to go back to work. Bear in mind that domestic help isn't permanent. Like us, they can quit their jobs when they want to. And like us, the best can be expensive.
In CNN Money's 2012 '100 Best Companies to work for' list, one of the most-valued perks is onsite childcare. This is indeed the most convenient support that a working parent can have. A full-time childcare facility within your workplace provides the parent with enough time to check on his/her child and adjust daily work schedules accordingly. The practice isn't prevalent in India yet, but companies could look at providing such facilities as an attraction and retention tool for their prospective and current employees.