The Angst of a Working Mother

What does a working mother really want? To know that her child is taken care of while she is at work. And really it is as simple as that. I am no different than that labourer across the street carrying bricks at the construction site. Or my maid who works from 6am to 12pm everyday, cleaning dirty dishes in 5 homes. Or even a high flying corporate honcho like Schauna Chauhan.  And even Aishwarya Rai who has flown to Dubai with her daughter to meet a client commitment. We all want to work. We all want to earn a living. Have a career. But with a child in all ours hearts, minds and lives we need a support system that ensures that the baby is attended and take care of.

Soon after the news of my pregnancy broke out last year the congratulatory messages kept pouring in. Once they lost their steam, given my crazy work hours many asked “How will you manage?” Really, how did I think I will manage? With a nanny of course! I thought it was the easiest thing in the world and wondered why people worried about it so much! And so, I got down to looking up agencies and doing a preliminary round of calling to see how this thing works. And I was appalled at the pseudo-professionalism some of the agents reeked in. Worried to the core, I gave up the hunt soon enough, telling myself that I’d need a nanny only when the baby is born.

My son was born six months later.  At my parents’ house with a bevy of house helps moving around, I didn’t feel the need for a nanny because I didn’t trust anyone with my son. From massaging, to cleaning, to bathing, feeding, burping and putting him to sleep I did everything myself. My mom insisted that someone else wash his nappies and so I let her have her way. 4 months passed like this. I was happy and elated to be able to do everything for V. And then I had to get back to Delhi…to my home.

There are a few liberties that a new mom can take. Especially if she is living away from her household and living with her parents and in-laws in another city. I really didn’t have to worry if the maid or cook didn’t turn up. I didn’t have to look into the pantry. Worry if the nappies or medicines ran out. Everything was taken care of. But back home I can’t escape anything, can I? Add to the pressures of domesticity is the impending need to go back to work. I work in an industry and an organisation that does precious little to make the life of a new mother easier. Really, television is harsh on women! I have had my share of leaves, paid and unpaid…adding up to a lot many months, much more than what my sister-in-law in the US has had! But then one can’t keep me on their payrolls till my son grows up and I am ready to go back to work. So what do I do? I look for a nanny.

And I did find one. She came from an agency that has been highly spoken about. Heavily recommended and many instances of ‘trained nannies and governesses’ who help kids with their studies! Wow! It reminded me of my grandmother who had British  governesses as a child…I was dreaming about V having an English speaking governess a few years from now. But this mirage soon washed away!

Two months back, I brought her home. An aged, almost 60 woman who is battling a heavy debt, a grown up son who doesn’t care for her and a life without her husband. She has two other daughters. One married with a child, and another who studies at her uncle’s. She tells me about her growing up. The only child, how she lost her mother when very young. She was her father’s pretty princess who wanted her husband to come home and stay with her! She has clearly fallen on bad times and one can feel only sorry for her and her state of being. She has cataract in both her eyes, and until I asked her to measure V;s medicines she didn’t know she was slowly growing blind. Years of washing and scrubbing have left her with terrible rashes in her hands, enough to leave V with gashes on his baby skin. Water makes it worse. She is nice to V. She sings to him, makes him laugh. But is tired when she has to carry him for more than five minutes. She can’t massage him. Can’t bathe him either. He is too restless when she feeds him. And she can’t clean him well enough during a nappy change. V’s a wriggly child and she isn’t quick enough to handle his constant moves. She accepts her short comings. But that hardly solves my purpose!

I pay a salary for which I need to earn mine. I have taken her to doctors. Got her new glasses, eye drops, creams, lotions and a new soap for her hands. She still forgets to wear her glasses and her hands are hardly better. So what does she really do? She washes his clothes and irons them. Washes his toys once a day. And makes his food. And for all of this I pay her an obscene amount that the agency charges! And it worries me to the core! I can’t  leave them together because it is beyond her to take care of him alone. And despite all her niceties the one thing that pinches me the most is that the nanny herself needs constant looking after!

Where does one find a nanny?

One week and two stories of employers (incidentally both doctors) abusing their house helps  has grabbed national news space. Add to that the existence of dubious, shady agents who deal with trafficked girls from impoverished districts of Bengal, Orissa, Jharkhand and  even across the border. In this state of affairs there is very little hope for someone like me! How will I convince an agency that I will take care of the nanny? How will I know that I am not being handed a raw deal, again? Agencies tell me that unmarried girls are better. They don’t want to go back to their families. Some others tell me that unmarried girls are in ‘demand’ why do I want a middle aged woman! They are ‘fast’, not just in their work but also otherwise. Some tell me I can leave her locked inside the house when I go out with the rest of the family. Nannies come in all shapes and sizes too. One who insists on getting into the bath tub with her high heels. Another who refuses to eat what’s cooked in the house. I also found a Nanny who would take over your child. Decide what he will eat, what toys he needs, what clothes he’d wear! She’ll take over everything…your child, your home…hopefully she’ll leave your husband alone!!

The agency from which mine comes has gone beyond the rosy picture that I had seen. They are rude. Refuse to speak to me. They are only interested in international clients who will pay them in dollars. Their philosophy is simple…”A working couple with a baby? They’ll pay anything to keep a nanny!” In all this time no one has bothered to call up their nanny and find out whether she is alive or even dead!! Not one phone call. I am taken for a ride. A ride that has taken me all around the country and dropped me in a jungle with a thud! I am just an inch away from naming the placement agency. And I will do so in due course. Perhaps launching an online attack on them? Or even lodging a case against them.

And I am not the only one here. I am not the only mother in this universe looking for a nanny for her child. I have countless other friends who are equally hapless. Looking for that one lead that will help them find a nanny. Some have put their careers on hold. Some others are making do with a mediocre crèche somewhere. Some others are handing over their babies to their grandparents. And then there are also those who don’t want to live and share bringing up their kids with their in-laws. Sometimes a nanny, an outsider is better than a blood tie! But what does a mother really want? Can a mother be really replaced? No…but then to know that her child is taken care of in her absence is a huge blessing. I for one WANT to see my son grow up. I don’t want to miss his first crawl. His first step. His first coherent words. Nothing…but then what can I really do?

They say a woman’s ‘priorities’ change. Everyone’s does. From time to time, at each stage of our lives we change what we want from our lives. To claim that women are different species is really unfair. Yes, motherhood is a blessing. Yes it is the most beautiful phase that a woman goes through. But that doesn’t make us a weakling? We want our careers, but then none of us want to miss seeing our children grow up? And don’t they grow up so soon?? 

Today I am at that juncture of my life when I have cried my eyes out. For not being able to spend more time with my son. Even looking for a nanny sends me on a guilt trip sometimes. For being cheated by an agency. I have never felt so vulnerable in a long, long time. It’s like someone has found the weakest link in me. For wanting a career and a life where I can still earn and hold my head high. For wanting to give my son the best that I can. For being considered ‘unprofessional’ and totally dispensable.

The choices for a modern day mother aren’t too many. I never wanted to regret having a baby. And neither do I today. But then anyone who plans to have a baby in the near future, a word of advice…sort out your child care options before you have a child. It will kill you later if you don’t!

P.S: If any kind soul who reads this desperate plea from a hapless mother has leads to a ‘placement agency’ or an experienced nanny, please help. I will forever be your slave!


16 thoughts on “The Angst of a Working Mother

  1. Now..doesn’t that story seem all too familiar.I could relate to everything you said.have gone through the same phase and somehow managed to hold my head above the water and you will too.sometimes it’s all about choices that one makes and one is happy provided that there really was a choice in the first place!

    • How predictable we women are, aren’t we? The same stories, the same problems and same knack of finding solutions. Of course, making a choice is easy but sticking to it and never regretting it is the tricky part. Thank you for dropping in. It gives me hope that I am not alone.

  2. She’ll take over everything…your child, your home…hopefully she’ll leave your husband alone!! This one sentence explains it all.

    You said that working women carry a guilt of not being with their babies all the time. The home makers carry a guilt of not doing anything good in life. Example is me. I don’t even want to nourish the thought of me working someday as I am too scared to leave my three year old in other hands. Working woman or a house wife, guilt is one thing women cannot live with!

    Many of us face this problem but you could put it in words very well.

    • Pinky, when I was a child most of my friends’ mothers were teachers. Mine was a housewife. Somewhere along the way the ‘hussif’ made way for a homemaker, women started listing it as a career. And believe me watching my mother as she tidies my house even today I thank God for a mother who stayed at home…for me! I have Yes, she shares the guilt that you mention. She feels guilty for over using the credit card that my Dad has given her. She feels guilty for even wanting to buy a new suit that she well doesn’t really need now but that she likes a lot! As a working woman I have never thought twice before indulging myself but she would still say “ask baba”. That’s how mothers are too. I respect that and trust me I know what you are talking about.

  3. I am in the same boat as you; didn’t realise its impossible (I have actually given up now) finding a nanny. Placement agencies actually fleece you…none of the agencies I have come across in last 3 yrs has given me a maid who would work without tantrums and stay. If you get any recommendations pls let me also know. As an alternative, I am now looking at flex working options for myself

    • Well yes, flex working is all good. But unfortunately very few industries and organisations allow it! Bosses will cluck their tongues smile sympathetically at you and not do a thing about your state of being! So…a nanny it is that you have to settle for. What a disgruntled lot we working mothers become! Never at peace anywhere…

  4. Can understand & empathise with everything you’ve written. Will talk to Ishita, who is a Paediatric Cardiologist & runs a nursing home. She delivered twins and got a lady from the same agency as yours. We saw this lady at their Allahabad home – Mary Poppins would be a fade away ! Will ask her for HELP & ADVICE.

    • Sushweta Aunty, CARE has lost its sense of responsibility! Your reference is what I went by beside another friend who has taken Nannies from them. In fact before I got mine I went ahead and gave their reference to another friend. She too hired a nanny for her 7 month old daughter. She had a chronic cough which she transfered to the baby!! I am disgusted that an agency is taking advantage of another person’s ‘need’! Only because I am a working woman and I want a nanny to look after my baby and that I can pay 10k a month DOES NOT mean ill take whoever they send me! I am not expecting a Mary Poppins, but really for a working middle class young couple 10k is too huge an amount! Today I don’t have any privacy and have to watch out for her at every step!! CARE has clearly lost its steam if it ever had any, I am just this much short of lodging a complaint against them!!

      • I agree with you 100% & you should complain. It all depends upon “the individual” and Ishita & Bambi have got a marvellous person, albeit by chance.
        1. I was going to ask that lady personally if she could suggest someone “like her”.
        2. My friend in Salt Lake Kolkata hires from another organization called “Uposhom”. The lady who takes care of her bedridden father at present, is excellent. But this happened after 3 attempts. I got my domestic help from there. She’s young & a little slow but a diligent worker.

  5. I suggest that you do lodge a complaint against them. That will bring them back to their senses. Or kick the nanny out, write a few emails to the company (to which i am sure they won’t respond) and then just kick her out and find someone else.
    I don’t claim to know anything about babies, i’m just 22, unmarried and very ambitious, I probably won’t have children simply because I am not willing to give up on my career right now. Maybe once I’m set in my career and I can hire someone from my native.

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