Boss: Hello Madam, how are you? Came to know you have been blessed with a baby boy. Bohat Bohat Mubarak ho!
Me: Thank you sir.
Boss: So when are you planning to come back to work?
Me: Sir, I had a cesarean a week back. I will be availing my 90 days maternity leave. I have already informed HR.
Boss: What 90 days? We think you should join from Monday. I will adjust your working hours. You can come at nine and leave at four instead of five.
Me: Sir, according to HR policies I am supposed to get 90 days paid maternity leave.
Boss: (Laughing) Madam you need to understand that this policy is just on paper. If you plan to stay at home for three months, we might need to hire someone else. You know how saturated the job market is, people are literally begging for work. The office cannot run according to your wishes. If your health is your priority right now, getting work done is ours.
Me: (Upset, angry and sad) Sir, I believe HR has been miscommunicating the policy to the employees. I really want to work. However, right now I cannot put my health at risk.
Boss: Hmmm ... I can make you an offer; you can work from home for a month and promise you half month’s pay. But after a month you have to come back to work.
Me: Sir, let me think about it. I will discuss it with my husband. We will need to arrange for a babysitter within this month as I have to bring the baby to work with me.
Boss: Come on Madam, You are talking as if you have come from Amreeka. We do not have any daycare at work and we do not allow babies at the office.
Me: You are making it very difficult for me to join back although I do not plan on quitting.
Boss: We have our own limitations. App bhi tau samjhain na. Frankly, this is why I am not in the favour of hiring women. They get married or have babies or fall sick. Some of them are not allowed to travel, others cannot do late hours. Anyway, I have made my offer. I hope to see you back at work ASAP.
What do you think I did after this phone call? I agreed to work from home for a month and went back to the office after that. I was asked to travel without my baby almost every second weekend. He was not allowed in the office. Eventually, I was asked to resign as my ‘performance’ was not good enough. I did not want to quit. I spent thirteen years of my life in this field. I liked my job and I loved my salary, however, quitting the job seemed the easy way out. I was not given any maternity leave or salary.
Women at work often face such challenges. The situation of working mothers is a lot more demanding as they are always expected to achieve the perfect work-home balance without mentioning the word exhaustion.
Before I discuss the challenges any further, I would like to clarify that now I am a Stay At Home Mum (SAHM) and I understand it is not easy for SAHMs as well. Without a SAHM sacrificing her dreams and career, a man is unable to pursue his career with full dedication. However right now, I will focus on challenges faced by mothers who go out of their homes to earn.
Before marriage, I had almost zero responsibilities and was able to work without a worry. I hired help and my mother was looking after the house. When I got married and was blessed with a child, my bubble of a perfectly balanced life exploded. The idea of being empowered and independent has made our women responsible for everything around them. Women, especially working mothers, are expected to be on their toes 24/7. We are supposed to raise our children without making any blunders and acquire flawless work-home balance. On top of that, we must look good, keep our homes clean, socialize and never complain about being exhausted. These constant struggles for achieving superwomen awards not only pulls us down but also makes us toxic for other women as we are always competing and comparing ourselves with them.
We live in a society that generally does not support working women and mothers. The maternity policies are rarely implemented. In case a new mom wants to complain regarding her maternity leave salary or benefits, she is asked to resign. I am one of the many women who are given unpaid maternity leave and are later terminated without prior notice. Unfortunately, getting legal help is so complicated and expensive that women quit instead of putting a fight. On the other hand, I have hardly come across any reasonable daycares at work places. Some organizations have sacrificed a carpeted room in the name of daycare where a mother has to bring her own gear as well as a baby sitter. Sadly, many women quit work as bringing their child along costs them more than what they earn.
I went back to work when my son was almost a month old. Let me tell you, our society respects pregnant women way more than mothers. This is my personal observation based on my experience. While I was expecting, my organization seemed very understanding and adjusting, however, they became completely aloof of my needs as soon as I joined after delivery.
Another challenge, which working mothers come across is to find a good babysitter. In Pakistan, hardly any agencies provide educated, active and immaculate babysitters. In many developed countries, college going boys and girls babysit for pocket money. However, working as a babysitter is still considered an odd job in Pakistan. Even if you are very lucky to find a good babysitter, she will cost you an arm and a leg. There is no training institute for babysitters, therefore, your baby’s safety is at risk. I am not trying to imply that our desi masis are not caring or loving but they do not have any first aid training or basic activity-based learning know how.
A friend of mine had to make her three month old sit in the car with her babysitter from 9 am to 5 pm as she could not leave the baby alone with the babysitter at home. On top of that, her baby was exclusively breastfed so she had to go to the car every two hours and feed the baby. Within a month, she was served a show cause notice for leaving her work premises very often. While she was trying to explain her situation, she was told that her baby needs to adjust to her routine. Isn’t this funny and sad?
A working mother at home has to go through continuous transitions. She is expected to be the primary caregiver and an active employee at work. Things never settle down for her. As soon as the schedules seem to fit in, there’s a summer break at school, an official travel engagement or the babysitter goes on leave. As a working parent, a mom is always switching between a caregiver and a professional. Adding to this challenge is the huge burden of mom guilt. As a mother, one always feels lagging behind or feels that they are not good enough. Even if both the parents are working, a mother is at all times expected to do more and know more.
Once you become a mother, your priorities are bound to change but that does not mean that you do not need me-time or a weekly girls meet ups. Sadly, for working mothers finding a feel-good-tribe is also challenging. Female colleagues are always competing and your friends from school/college who are stay at home mums cannot understand your situation. Friends who are working mommies are fighting their own battles. This loneliness becomes hard-hitting when your spouse is unable to understand or your family is not around.
The impact of these endless to dos and no me-time can be exhausting for women. You must have seen many young women around you who look exhausted and sound irritated with life. Many a times they are bound to work due to financial reasons. Quitting a job is a luxury not many people enjoy. When I see a CSS officer or a police inspector holding her baby at work, I do not feel proud, I feel cheated by our policy makers and social workers. A woman who is forced to bring her baby to field work shows us either noncooperation of a spouse or weak (read nonexistent) policies, which can benefit a mother.
We need better policies for working mothers. Maternity leaves, postnatal healthcare and daycares are a necessity. Babysitting should become a common job for college kids so that recruiting agencies can provide better options to parents. Over all, as a society we need to be more compassionate towards working mothers. In case, you do not feel like supporting her, at least try not to add to her challenges or else women will keep quitting their careers and we as a nation will lose a large chunk of our workforce. HH
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