Bollywood actress Neha Dhupia recently opened up about battling the ‘guilt’ of a working mother. The actress, who has been working all throughout her pregnancy and post delivery, told PTI, “It feels great but initially you are struck only with guilt, the kind you have never known before. You constantly feel ‘Oh my God what is my child doing?’ When you are with your child you are like I must cope up with work, because I am a workaholic.”
Most mothers tend to feel a sense of guilt for leaving behind their child, especially during their early years, at home, fearing they are failing to take care of him or her when going to work. And this, perhaps, stems from how family members, relatives and society in general tend to contribute to the ‘good mom vs bad mom’ binary depending on whether a woman has the prerequisites of being an ideal mother. A mother is expected to put her child’s needs before everything else.
Besides, a study conducted in 2017 by the researchers of Queen Mary University of London, throws light on how a mother’s childhood experience or the way her own parents functioned, act as catalysts for her guilt. According to the research, women, who grew up with stay-at-home mothers, tend to feel guilty about going out to work.
“I have always felt guilty to leave my baby home…even now, when I go out,” Sonya Caroline Shah, mother to a one-year-old girl, told Express Parenting.
As much as we love to romanticise motherhood by putting a mother on a pedestal, there’s little or no understanding of how it overshadows her identity as a woman, an individual who has her own needs and desires beyond child care. Women have been deemed caregivers–who man the house and take care of the family–since time immemorial, as opposed to the bread-winning male member. This form of social conditioning also reflects on the gender bias around parenting, because of which most working fathers may not share the burden of guilt of not being available for their child. Fathers are traditionally expected to earn for the family while mothers would be completely invested in looking after the child.
One might argue that with rising awareness about women’s rights, more mothers have shown the courage to step out of their houses to work. Yet, India has now recorded one of the lowest levels of female participation in the workforce, according to World Bank. And a working mother’s guilt plays an important part in it, among other pressing issues.
No one is saying that children don’t need their parents in their growing up years. Of course, they do. A child, however, is the responsibility of both the parents and what one essentially needs to aspire for is work-life balance and that holds true for both the father and the mother.
In her interview, Neha said, “There are constant reminders you give yourself that just because you are going to work doesn’t mean you love your child less. A mother who decides to be at home after giving birth is as beautiful a mother as the one who decides to work.” And we agree. In fact, studies have put mothers’ fears to rest by showing how a working mother doesn’t have any negative impact on a child’s well-being. Harvard researcher Kathleen McGinn, for instance, inferred through her study that children of working mothers can grow up just as happy as adults as those of stay-at-home mothers. “People still have this belief that when moms are employed, it’s somehow detrimental to their children. So our finding that maternal employment doesn’t affect kids’ happiness in adulthood is really important,” McGinn was quoted as saying by Inc. Such guilt, therefore, is undeserved and uncalled for.
Shah, for instance, is beginning to cope with her guilt. Talking to friends has helped her deal with the crisis. “I am told by people that babies don’t miss you much and they adapt faster than mothers. It is the mother who stresses more. It is just a phase, I think, and mothers outgrow it,” she said.