By Shilpi Madan
Just like her books, Shunali Khullar Shroff is brilliantly unassuming. The author and compulsive reader has penned two books, Battle Hymn of a Bewildered Mother and Love in the Time of Affluenza, netting in rave reviews for her pithy, humour laced style of writing, replete with generous inputs from real life parenting experiences of her gorgeous teen and pre-teen Zara and Rania, whom she raises with her husband Shravan Shroff.
Excerpts from a conversation with Express Parenting:
From a full-time working professional to a full-time mom to now an author-mom, are you happy?
Yes, I am in a happy space now. As I feel one parent needs to take a step back on the career front, to be around for the children (not that my husband offered to stay at home!), I chose to stay at home. When you are young and impetuous, you don’t think twice about tossing your career away for motherhood. I was pretty kicked about turning mom when I conceived Zara. In retrospect, I feel I should have kept my career going on the backburner, on low heat. The folly of youth!
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Throwback to this time last year. With all the travel advisories being issued against Italy am on the verge of cancelling my trip. It isn’t the Corona virus that I am afraid of but quarantine at the inhospitable Kasturba Gandhi hospital on my return or the fear of convalescing in a bed in Italy. So these pictures is all I have to tease myself with this year. 😢
What makes you say that?
I believe whether you are Posh Spice or Michelle Obama, under the best of circumstances, you need to have a source of personal wealth. For me, it was convenient to stay at home, as there was no responsibility (by the grace of God) of paying bills.
When did realisation dawn?
About nine years ago. My younger child was two years old when I took over the corporate communications of my husband’s company.
Did that fulfil you?
No. Being a creative person I was in a marketing profile. It sapped me.
What made you want to start work again, begin writing once more?
The beauty of turning 40 is that you know what you want, very clearly. The same happened with me. When my first child came along, she was the centre of my existence, I just couldn’t get enough of her. Then she wanted a sibling. I breastfed my girls for over a year each, and was around them all the time, because I did not want maids and cooks to bring them up. I always wanted a large family, but we stuck to two kids as my second pregnancy was extremely challenging and relegated me to complete bedrest.
When did you realise that a void had set in?
That happened when the kids were set into their routines, with school and classes. Suddenly, I found myself with no professional friends, and no mommy friends either. As I was not working, beyond the “How is Shravan? How are the girls?” there was no conversation to be had with me. I do not want to sit on judgement, but I did not fit into the mommy lunch circuit. I wasn’t the chatty poolside mom either as I preferred reading a book. I began to miss the peer interaction, the dynamism of a work environment…I love my children, and am totally into my girls, but I began to crave adult company in my own age group. There was a time when I was watching a comedy with Shravan and I began crying. I knew something was wrong.
What did you do?
That was the only time I visited a therapist. She told me that I had too much time on my hands. By nature, I am an introvert. I like interacting with people, but in smaller groups. In larger groups, I just can’t wait to get home and be by myself. I like my own company. People sometimes mistake me for being vivacious but I cannot be the life of a party. I am simply a loner, not a snob. I began writing once again. I had been blogging and then organically I started writing my debut book.
Are the girls happy watching you attend lit fests and moderating discussions, while doing book readings?
Yes, absolutely. All three of them are very happy. So is my mom.
What sort of a mom are you?
I am not a helicopter mom. I believe either you can treat kids as a project, and keep pushing them to excel. Optionally, if you have bright kids, you could want them to excel for their own selves. You can expose them to Somerset Maugham, Asterix, HG Wells…yet, if they want to sit in a corner and keep reading Archies, so be it. I have exposed my girls to a realm of interests from skiiing to piano lessons to creative writing, kathak. Zara sings beautifully, loves theatre, hates sports. Rania is an athlete, extremely organised and compassionate.
What have you learnt from Zara and Rania?
From Zara, I have learnt to be forgiving. She holds no grudges, believes in giving people another chance, but then tends to raise her voice easily. Honestly, when I am angry, I yell. I have learnt to be watchful of my own self around the kids. They catch what they observe. From Rania, I have learnt to be demonstrative, respectful and organised. She does not lose her temper easily.
Is Shravan demonstrative?
He has become so, especially after we got our two dogs (laughs). He is the best dad, very responsible, organised. He takes care of everything.
One mistake you made with your elder one?
My dad gave me a book, Positive Parenting, when I was pregnant for the first time. I never read it as I am sure I did everything all wrong.
You could have read it when you were pregnant with Rania?
Common sense had arrived by then. Essentially as a parent you need to observe this: when you say no, it should mean no. There must be no window for negotiation else your child knows that you are malleable. I made this mistake while bringing up Zara and that is why she respects my authority less, as opposed to Rania. She knows I will give in out of sheer laziness and weariness in a couple of days. I feel I will pop a nerve someday, simply arguing endlessly!
I praise my children, encourage them but pointedly watch my tone. The tone in which you speak makes all the difference. I am more vigilant of how I conduct myself.
What does raising kids mean to you?
Raising a child is not about whose birthday party is the best, who makes the numero uno project, who comes up with the most thoughtful gifts. I want my kids to be happy, kind, to care about the environment and be compassionate. Success is not based on test scores.
One thing that upsets you?
Rudeness to the domestic help. I do not tolerate it at all.
It is fine for children to know that you are not perfect, that you are not in control all the time. I apologise if I mess up. I always tell Zara, this is my first time as a parent too. No one’s life is perfect. I am not perfect even when I am at my best behaviour.
A rule that must not be broken?
It is impossible to have the same rules for both the girls as the elder one is a teen and is obsessed with her phone. I try and regulate screen consumption, sometimes wearily threatening to inform Shravan…fails miserably. Sleepovers are avoidable unless I know the parents so well that I am comfortable calling them up in the middle of the night too.
Do you cook for the kids?
I hate entering the kitchen. The kids got fed up with the ragi cookies and atta cakes I tried making during a phase I went through. My husband eats subsistence level food. The girls and I are complete foodies and during our travels, are always voting on which new eateries to try out.
You are emotionally welded to your daughters, how do you plan to deal with the empty nest syndrome once they fly out to universities?
My husband says I will get in more and more dogs to love (laughs), but the idea of coping with the imminent empty nest scares me, honestly.
Nothing succeeds like old-fashioned love. Love your kids for your own sake, and take ownership of your life.
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