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From the fearless makers of Me Too who know their due - presenting, ‘Me-Time Too’

Binjal Shah
13th May 2018
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The only thing we need to be getting all our moms today - the "work-family-life balance", because the term work-life balance has unintentionally been doing them more harm than good.  

“Byju Raveendran sets some real 'goals'. When he's not tackling issues at work, he poses quite a threat on the football field, where his team unwinds,” reads a recent Instagram post we made on our (shameless plug alert) sparkly new page YSWeekender, that among other things, chronicles the suite lives of the unicorn entrepreneurs that India’s startup ecosystem has produced.

“When it comes to work-life balance – why should I choose my career over my family or vice versa, or even divide my time and attention 50-50? Instead, I function at my 200 percent, and give my hundred percent to each.” Chanda Kochhar had said at a cocktail dinner hosted by IBM to a room packed with promising women executives of India’s C-suite– looking for anything remotely resembling a harness as they stand at the threshold gearing up for the higher echelons in their careers as well as familial responsibilities.

Interestingly enough - the question posed to both of these stalwarts was identical – “How do you strike the perfect work-life balance?”

This is how the other other half – the women celebrities of India Inc live.

L to R: Saalumarada Thimakkada, V Nanammal and Meher Heroyce Moos (Picture for representational purposes only)

You might say - work-life balance means different things for different people

Come on – in your heart, you know it. This is not about how some people feel that they can unlock their beds only after winning a 14-hour staring contest with their laptop screens, while for others, the staring contest is with the darn moong seeds that need to sprout in time for the submission of their child’s science project.

The work-life balance question means different things for different ‘genders’ – and it is not just in the way it is interpreted by a man and a woman, but also in the very way the moderator or interviewer generally intends it. The subtext is clear. What a man hears goes something like – “when you are not making billions, what wild animals do you like to tame for fun, in your free time?

What a woman hears, is “when you’re not struggling to keep your job, how do you struggle to keep your family happy?”

A career and hobbies maketh a man. But school homework, housework and work at work maketh a “working mom.” As a woman, a millennial, and a millennial woman, this sentence – much akin to the life I am staring ahead at if this status quo prevails – has a tad too much ‘work’ in it for my liking, and too much ‘mum’ too, might I add.

The problem is multi-faceted. Gender roles still dictate that women are the primary caregivers in a household – and even as the second wave of feminism that rose finally granted women their (birth)right to participate in the public sphere and join the labour force, the simultaneous conversation that needed to start, making men aware of their moral responsibility to contribute to household and filial responsibilities and “share the load” has not gained enough – if any – steam at all, thus leaving many loopholes left to be ironed out - to maintain the balance in the work sphere and retain the balance in the household.

Manisha Girotra, the founder of Moelis & Co., and the face of big-ticket M&A deals in India, recalls rather lucidly that one time when she brokered a multi-billion dollar deal, endured a long haul flight from New York only to be greeted by a mother-in-law who grudgingly and judgingly asked her to get to work immediately in a making puppets for her daughter’s school project, even as her husband continued to relax after relatively uneventful day at work.

“Women are expected to be lone crusaders at home despite what they achieve at work. We are bringing up our girls today to be more like boys, chase their dreams but we are not bringing up our boys to be more like girls. It’s not cool for boys to cook, help at home, express feelings, share domestic work and emotional pressures and that’s what makes it so hard for a woman. And while more and more men want wives who can be their intellectual partners, they are unwilling to help at home. And till society doesn’t change this norm, till men think it’s cooler to have a beer in the bar rather than change diapers we will keep having this debate. It’s time men and families own their women’s success, celebrate it and do their bit to further it,” she says.

Can women have it all?

…is a question that follows a flawed premise, and the ‘all’ here needs to be deconstructed before it is completely demolished. The destination as we see it today is but a mirage. The multi-tasking superhero stereotype haunts women everywhere they’re heralded – and what seems like a compliment is actually a heavy burden to wield. That they are naturals at multitasking is absolutely unfounded; that they are expected to be, is sexist, unfair and frankly my dear, rather exhausting.

It is true that women can multi-task, and like mother-loving ninjas, at that – but they are hard-wired and hard-pressed to acquire that skill. They function at nothing less than 200 percent capacity, in Chanda’s words – if they want to have it ‘all’ - while both math and mental health gently weep at the injustice of that.

But why are women told that they must have it “all” – why are they taught that they must be gunning for the ‘Employee of the month’ trophy as well as the “Mother of the year” crown, in order to justify their choices - especially when the choices in question are - be a “raabenmutter,” or pay the “Motherhood Penalty”?

A raven mother is a German slur hurled at women who (are strong, driven professionals who love and live to work and) prioritise their jobs over their filial responsibilities.

Au contraire, when a woman becomes a mother, she is by default made to pay up the ‘motherhood penalty’ – which is a direct function of the snap assumptions her bosses would make, that she is less worthy of training and honing because she would perhaps fire up the diaper genie by putting her career in it first, to wear it in for the baby coming along.

What we are chasing is neither liberating, nor sustainable, and definitely not ideal.

Over 50 percent of mums and about 50 percent of dads have confessed that it is a challenge to be excellent at a profession and as a parent – but a hundred percent of those women are punished several hundred percent more severely than the men, for failing to strike that elusive and (I’m starting to think, fictitious) golden balance.

Is it even physically possible and mentally sustainable to multi-task that much? Why are women still shamed for dividing their time and priorities, say, in a realistic 60-40 or an impassioned 70-30 ratio (in favour of either work or family, being pro-choice is the name of the game), basis what they feel more strongly about? A recent study pointed out that 70 percent of mothers are unhappy – because, long story short, they feel they are letting someone down at any given point.

The ‘all’ in ‘having it all’ for each woman is different – but is it really “all” in the true sense of the word?

Even as we discuss the two percentages and priorities that must round off to a square 100 (or 200, in some cases *shudders*) percent, the holy triangle of “work-life balance” is actually ‘having meaningful participation in all the aspects of a wholesome life – family, work, and yourself.”

Here we are, still talking about a woman spending all her time working and the remaining time being mama bear – even as my own father, after returning from work, locks himself up for many a moon in his “man cave” where he takes apart ‘Raspberry Pi’s – the gadget as well as the dessert - for catharsis, lest he emerge grumpy as a grim after a hard-ish day at work.

So, when are we going to move on to the 'second wave' of work-life balance - where a woman gets a breather to be her own person every once in a while – or dare I say, every damn time she pleases, if it is conducive?

When she could peel off the wetsuit of relationships and responsibilities she wears so close to her person, her identity - and just for a coveted, stolen moment, immerse herself in everything from Tchaikovsky to Dostoevsky just to indulge a phase she may be going through after that life-affirming trip to Russia she took after falling prey to cringeworthy wordplay like, “Don’t just travel, tra-well!!” on that deliberately idyllic picture in the window of that travel agency she crossed on her way back from her weekly tai-chi class? To stay sane or to just, be able to stop and smell the scented candles in the bath she should be drawing for herself – every reason is valid. This desire is valid. She is valid.

Have interviewers, society, daughters, sons, husbands, ever peeped at the “Lipstick under” her “Burqa,” and asked Buaji her name?

I have a dream…

From the makers of Me Too, we present, “Me-Time Too.”

Rather than trying to reclaim the phrase work-life balance that has amassed as many connotations for women as women have amassed obligations, how about a term that defines its boundaries – or the lack of them thereof - more clearly?

The “work-family-life” balance - hits the nail (and whacks the patriarchy) on the head.

As I guffaw at memes of 90-year-old besties in Juicy velvet track-suits hitting up nightclubs titled ‘Me at 90,’ and then proceed to tag my own best friends – some rather inspiring women professionals who are already mastering work-family-life balance unapologetically – in the comments stating that it is “Us AF,” I wonder – is this really so ridiculous and memeworthy? Why can’t every “working mum” look at this very achievable utopia, and be able to say, 'relatable af' too?”

The Indian work-week, in general, clocks 52 hours plus a whopping 12 hours spent just getting places – making it the one of longest and most stressful. But millennials – yes, the same breed that expects you to honour ‘triggers’ and prefers that you text rather than call – have come to respect their mental wellness above all. They are more cognisant than ever about sources of anxiety and stress and will do anything to maintain that mental equilibrium and zen. They know to steal some me-time on their local train commute to work, and have found acceptance and validation in the myriad other flawed netizens, who are also guilty – but not really - of spending hours looking at memes or binge-watching TV shows that shape their worldview but also slowly chip away at their exhaustion. They know that there is a middle-ground between being selfless and selfish – called self-love – and they know how to get there.

This generation will grow up to lead unabashedly valid and wholesome lives. I want that for my mother.

“It is difficult for women to make time for their passion or hobby as we get very little time left over between work and family. But we do need to be selfish and take time out for some “me time” - for me, it is my work, family and my passion for running and fitness - because that makes me happier when I get back to work and family,” asks Vaishali Kasture, former partner at Deloitte and currently, the Managing Director of Experian India, who is also a record-breaking marathoner.

Let’s start over. ‘How do you strike the perfect work-family-life balance?’

“I ask myself a basic question - do I need to do this or can I delegate? Is this worth my time? I am very cautious about how I spend every hour of my day. I need high ROI on my time else I won’t do it. That’s the only way to get it all done,” says Vaishali.

Sujaya Banerjee, CEO at Capstone People Consulting and connoisseur of the finer things, thinks her me-time is a must to make her well-rounded and multi-faceted. “My me time has constituted solo holidays on the back of my speaker assignments, theatre, writing plays, blogs, books. Helped me grow, learn and become I believe a differentiated mother and professional. Finding a partner who makes you feel empowered and values your need for me time is key so that he may take over some of the household chores in your absence. Helping him in turn to find me time is key to keep everyone rejuvenated in the family, and it actually gets you to do both office and family time - better!” she states.

“When a true and equal partnership emerges at home, a woman will have the flexibility to pursue her hobbies and have a more balanced life,” says Manisha, signing off.

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