Every morning the hugs and kisses are hurried as breakfast is made and lunch boxes are packed. And in those rushed minutes are a hundred dos and don’ts for O and N to keep in mind through the day. A few demands are made too, and I respond automatically. “Yes, I will try to come home early. Yes, I will try to pick up a snack. Yes, I will talk to you when you call me. Yes, I will watch an episode of Masterchef with you. Yes, I will read to you. Yes, I will…” I know even as I make those promises that I won’t keep them all. But, “yes, yes, yes… unless I can’t, and then you can’t throw a tantrum, ok?”
I don’t travel as much as I used to, but my work hours keep increasing. My daughters are 12 and 5 years old. I have a full-time job that requires after-hours networking quite frequently. R’s work is from late afternoons to late nights.
So there is no way we can do all that parents should, but between us we try hard to be the best parents we can be. However, we need help, and I seek it from various people. Some of them do so as friends, some as hired help. Which is why I was chuckling to myself as I listened to Indra Nooyi, in the video below.
I so identify with her anecdote. That bit especially of kids calling at work. My daughters call me every day at about 3 pm, wherever I might be. Nilah would ask if she can watch 1 episode of My Little Pony (or the animation du jour), and Oviya if she can use the internet, and the same exchange ensues: have you had your lunch? have you done your homework. I have no secretary, so I would excuse myself if in a meeting to answer that important call.
Because, when you spend no more than 2-3 waking hours with your child every weekday, these calls are what keeps you relevant in their life.
But for other things, I co-opt people. Friends, nanny, sometimes even the older one to help with the younger one. The nights when I am so in need of alone-time, I would request O to read to N. Or I would order in food so that my maid can skip cooking and spend time playing with N. When I am travelling, I co-opt my sisters or niece to skype and entertain the children.
As working parents, we are never going to be there for our kids all the time, and there’s no getting around that guilt. I don’t sit through the swimming training, because the time between drop-offs and pick-ups are when the grocery shopping or pedicure gets done; I miss a performance because it makes more sense to seek a few hours out from work when they are ill and need TLC, than when they are belting out a song on stage. It’s a tough choice, and as the years go by, one less fraught with guilt.
Last week I was chatting with a friend, a young unmarried man. We were discussing the right age to marry and have children. My wise view was that women marry and have children early, so that when they are at the peak of their career, they are not held back by the needs of very young children. We had a few laughs, and it was more an idea than a serious conviction. But see what Nooyi says here:
My observation, David, is that the biological clock and the career clock are in total conflict with each other. Total, complete conflict. When you have to have kids you have to build your career. Just as you’re rising to middle management your kids need you because they’re teenagers, they need you for the teenage years.
So that annoying question: Can women have it all? No. No one really does… men nor women. But what you do have can become your all.