Tuesday, December 23, 2008

How do you manage?

If I had a dollar for every time someone has asked me that question in the last three years since I went back to work post maternity leave, no one would need to ask that question any more. Because I would have been rich enough to quit this working mom gig and live off said money. However, such windfall being unlikely to come my way, it’s likely I will have to suffer this question many times over till the day I retire or the child becomes a self-sufficient adult.

Just in case that introduction didn’t make it clear enough, I am less than thrilled when these words are addressed to me. Because these seemingly innocuous words are loaded with judgment (mostly of the negative sort) on my choice to be a working mother.

Let’s start with figuring out what might be a valid, genuine reason for asking this question. It could be that the person asking the question really wants to get some advice on how to balance motherhood with a career. But then how does one explain the fact that this question almost always comes from a SAHM, usually one with no intention of getting back to work anywhere in the near future…

Or could it be an indirect way to express admiration for my excellent management skills. Now I might buy this but for the fact that this question is typically followed by one, more or all of the following questions:

  • Does your mother-in-law stay with you?
  • No? How about your mom?
  • So you son is with the maid the whole day?
  • And then, it is very often followed up by a heart-breaking (not!) story of how the question asker could not bring herself to go back to work after her child was born or how she did go back to work but felt that the child was not ‘developing well’ with the maid and so quit her job.

Or maybe it’s their attempt at polite conversation… but then wouldn’t a little more tact and diplomacy be called for so that the conversation can actually be classified as polite? I can say for sure that if it is intended as an ice-breaker, it has the exact opposite effect as far as I am concerned. I know I shouldn’t care but this question always gets my goat and puts me at my irritable and defensive best. Am I over-reacting? Quite possibly so…

Cross-posted over at Parul's - here


  1. Nah! I dont think you're overreacting! Explaining yourself thru this question often enough times, will definitely be frustrating.

  2. Ah...my mom had to go through similar questioning, working moms being even less common then!

    Not only that, people would assume her salary does not account for much and suggest that she save hers for "spending on vegetables and groceries" like a good wife! Whatever that means!

    PS: I think the heartbreaking story of SAHMs you hear is mostly an attempt at gaining some validation for their choices. Tch Tch.

  3. I am also a working mom and I also get that often and I just tell them thats its not that bad. I get my space and baby gets his/hers. Maid is excellent and takes real good care of him. Once I go home, we love to play with each other and be together. It all works out well. I do not have anything against SAHM - its not an easy thing to do. But thats the choice they made and we made ours by opting to work. Both are difficult choices to make and follow through.

  4. My mom was (still is) a working mom. I don't have a child, but I often wonder how my mother did it. How was she always there for me? How did I always have 3 freshly cooked meals (no microwaved quick & easy meals back then.)? How did I always have clean clothes? How did I always have help with my homework?
    It helped that my dad did a lot to help her, but she still did about 70% of the work in the house.
    So it's not with judgment that I ask myself how she did it. It's with wondrous admiration.
    Maybe that's what the SAHMs who ask you this, also feel?

  5. Ro - I would not say you're overreacting. It really does get one's goat.

    Aparna was about 2 1/2 when I took a break from work. But I know exactly what you mean - in that I've been through the same scenario countless number of times.

    As far as people having more tact while handling conversations is concerned - less said the better, honestly.

    And end of the day I used to end up asking myself - Why the hell should I be giving these people explanations of any sort ?

  6. ro u r not overreacting. and more often than not people end up acting as if u r having fun going out for work and the caregivers are taking al the pain..

  7. Gosh, I got into major bitchy fights - and was told that I was over-reacting. This country is full of nosy interfering $#@%@

  8. hey, I have faced the situation very often and I feel like telling them go woman, have a life..... and stop comparing. Also, the fact that makes me feel throw up on such women is when they say such things as how their child always clings on to them though they happen to be SAHMs and how my sunshine is so independent
    (or indifferent). It is most obviously said in a negative manner as i do get the message.

  9. hey, I have faced the situation very often and I feel like telling them go woman, have a life..... and stop comparing. Also, the fact that makes me feel throw up on such women is when they say such things as how their child always clings on to them though they happen to be SAHMs and how my sunshine is so independent
    (or indifferent). It is most obviously said in a negative manner as i do get the message.

  10. [Tharini] Thanks! You saying that I am not over-reacting counts for a lot :-)

    [Cluelessness] Yeah, my mom too. But I don't think she ever felt as upset about it. Hmmmm... maybe there's a lesson in there for me :-)

    [Jyoti] Exactly!

    [Broom] Like I said, maybe I am over-reacting... but honestly, I do get a very judgemental vibe when such stuff is asked. But then again vibes are not very scientific, are they... :-)

    [Gauri] I veer between giving long-winded justifications of my choices or becoming defensive and monosyllabic. Depends on whether I think the person in question is someone I want to get to know better...

    [Itchy/ Sscribbles/ Ritu] Glad to know I am not the only paranoid one feeling this

    [Ritu] You said it!

  11. This is very weird. Most people who leave comments found the question very irritating.

    From my viewpoint (that of a childless unmarried person), the question always sounds nice. When I ask it, it normally is with the sense of ohmigod, I can barely manage to fit it fun activities and office work, how does this person fit in taking care of a kid too ?

    My mom, who was a SAHM often makes the 'how do you manage it' statement to working moms and I know she means it in total admiration / wonder - she claims that she almost collapsed bringing up the house and two kids and cannot imagine having been able to add a job to the mix.


  12. p.s. before people get irritated, let me clarify, 'weird' in the first statement of my comment does not imply freak type weird, more like 'i never would have thought this was the case' kind of weird.


  13. My sister says : Women are multi-tasking.

  14. next time when asked this question try this- "a better ice breaker is - exactly how many drops of bitter do you like in your ice cold vodka"

    you are not over reacting. i have friends who say -now that you have a child you must not be able to do anything- even after seeing the three films i have made in the three years after she was born. I smile and say- no nothing- just can not manage with a child and a life.

    but people are polite now. i used to be accosted by any and every aunty and uncle who would say- "you poor thing- your mum works- you are an only child- how sad and lonely you must be." (they never dared say anything to my mother- she had razor harp retorts ready for anyone asking. unfortunately she did not pass on those precious genes to me!!!

    and merry christmas to you too.

  15. oh well! i ranted at parul's already!

    and dont think you are over-reacting! i dont see why either of us needs to justify our choices?!

    and i wish people respected just that thought and leave it at that!



  16. It may not have negative connotations at all Rohini--may be said with genuine admiration too!

  17. You know, ironically, I get this question a fair amount, too. I usually take it as admiration, even if it somewhat flabbergasts me. How do I manage? One day at a time. One second at a time, sometimes. But obviously, there are many things that I choose to fill my life with that I would leave out if I was less capable as a mother. Or was a single mother, or a working mother.

    To me, it is people like you that deserve the admiration inherent in that question. Anyone who can hold down a full-time job, and still be a great mom, and maintain a marriage, and see their friends occasionally, and keep their sanity--that is the person to be admired.

    Perhaps the follow-up questions are sometimes asked by someone who really wants to know how you can keep your life together as a working mom, when they have a hard time staying in balance when they have already decided to stay home? (Not every time, likely, but sometimes it could be, right?)

  18. http://sunayanaroy.blogspot.com/2008/12/le-grande-finale.html


  19. Did I ever tell you you are my hero. Oh well, heroine. Or whatever. You know.
    Now that I am leaving the brat behind with the MIL I know just the feeling of irritation when asked the damn question. And the critter being all of five. And me working at my own set up sashaying in and out as I please....
    Cmon. Its a compliment. Its all I can do to reach home every evening and not take a chainsaw to anyone who crosses my path.

  20. Rohini, I feel each mom who decides to (1) work or not work, (2)look after child herself or with the help of a maid or two or(3) send child to day care or leave child with maid.....and so on.....
    tries to justify to herself that she has chosen the best path for her child.

    for instance, i could give you several arguments for why i think karan is better off being looked after a creche than by a maid at home just as you could give me arguments for the reverse in the case of ayaan. before you take that as a judgment on my part of your present decision, what i am trying to say is that each of us would like to think that our choices (which have been taken after hour after painful hour of introspection and retrospection) are what is best for our child.

    what screws up the whole balance and makes us judgmental of others is our trying to justify to ourselves that our way is the best way for all kids in general and not just our own! i think we would perhaps be dishonest to ourselves if we dont admit that we have all done this at some point of time or the other....

    I guess what i'm trying to say is that we as mothers should stick together, respect each others' decisions and leave the child rearing decision for each individual child to his or her own parents and not sit in judgement of the way someone else does it just cos we do it a different way!
    i mean isn't it hard enough trying to bring up a sane, happy, decent-mannered child as it is (with or without help, with or without also managing other work) without having to also hear criticisms / judgement loaded comments ad nauseaum on what we are doing wrong?!

    Anyway, from one mother to another.....although I would like to think that my way is still best for karan, i think what you have done / are doing for ayaan is great....given that he clearly seems to be a happy well adjusted kid from everything you have described in your posts! kudos to you for a job well done!


    P.S. Happy New Year and ummm sorry for the very long comment.

  21. Hahaha! If I ever happen to ask you that question it's meant in all earnestness. How do you really manage? I think women who can do both are good at what they do (in work and life). Some women can manage both, some can't! And that's the fact of the matter. And it doesn't make one or the other bad or better.

  22. i got a lot of this when i was working too. i guess it's a mix of everything you've been thinking it may mean :) My mom worked till very recently and I never felt like I missed out on anything at all...it's tough being a working mom! But then being an SAHM is not so easy either! either way, don't let it get to you too much...ike you said the question will top once your child is self-sufficient!

    Happy New Year to you all!

  23. I guess how you manage is by being terribly clear in your head and organised with all little things. And a lot more such stuff. Hence I doff my hat to (at?) you lady.

  24. and I never meant to ask u those questions in a negative way :) I have always admired and would love to have that clear thought process that you are so good at :)

  25. [Zen/ Hillgrandmom/ Talena] I do think that there are many times when the question is genuine - either out of interest or for advice. But very, very often - it feels like it is not. Trust me. You have to be there.

    [Sur] Your mom needs to take tutorials for us lesser mortals :-)

    [Mamma Mia] Thanks for commenting again. Had seen your comment over at Parul's.

    [Sue] Thank you :-)

    [Kiran] Hmmmm.... chainsaw.... now there's an idea :D

    [Lawyeramma] Amen and thank you :-) And hope your 2009 has started off well

    [Big Zed] Unfortunately there are not many people who are really that open-minded, especially when it comes to the Mommy Wars

    [Noodlehead] Oh I definitely don't think SAHMs have it easier. Harder, if anything...

    [Choxbox] Thanks sweetie

    [IBH] I never took you asking it the wrong way. Probably because you are in the same boat as me :-)

  26. yes. the how do you manage question does irritate, depending on the tone. for the last 3 years I got - how do you stay home all day? my brains would rust. implying what? that i have rusty brains? or that i dont have brains so they dont run the risk of rusting?!

    i think the thing to do is hold your head high and say - yeah, its amazing how good a job i do, huh?! :p

  27. a little something for u on my blog. http://itchingtowriteblogs.blogspot.com/2008/12/thank-you.html

  28. I too am constantly asked this question 'How do u managed work and home' mostly from the same people who have asked me the same Q before...

    btw... I have added you to my blog roll list...

  29. First time here, nice posts.

    I plan on being a working mom too :)

  30. I get this question all the time, especially after Bojjandi. But I just choose to take it as a compliment...you should just tell people - 'didn't you know I was superwoman?'

  31. Hi,

    I'm the proud mom of a 2 month old baby, at the fag end of my maternity leave. I am actually wondering - How do you manage?
    You and all the other moms out there. I used to have a tough time managing house along with a 10-12 hour workday. Now I'm wondering how I'll manage with the baby... will have to hire a full time help and cut down on office work I guess.

    But I'd really, really like to know - how do u manage? What are the time saving tips? ;) I started blogging recently, to keep a kind of online scrap book for the kiddo .. and I dont even get enough time to do that!

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  33. Wonder how many dads have gotten that question... to date I haven't heard anyone asking a dad how they manage it all.

    But I agree with comments above that it may not all be rudeness, some people will genuinely be amazed by your superwoman skills.

  34. As it is it gets difficult for a mother to be working, you doing a great job, being a working mom is not easy so people dont need to stress you out

    BPO work from home

  35. I have decided to be a SAHM for a couple of years and then getting back to work. But the questions I get asked are "Don't you feel like getting back to work?" "How come you are so cool about being at home?"
    There are always people out there who are not very happy about the choices they have made and so they like to question yours.

  36. I know I am posting a comment on a post written so long ago..but it is something close to my heart..
    I am a SAHM and believe me I have been at the receiving end of such qs too. At the end its a personal choice one takes that too after much deliberation. So it is not up to others to be judgemental. What works for us may not work for them and vice-versa. But people need something to just exercise their tongues.
    My views here-