Things I learnt from a Working Mother

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My parents are not cool.

I’ve been blessed with a lot of things but the fact-of-the-matter is that ‘chill parents’ was just one thing I did not have. Instead, I got the whole works: the curfew that crept backwards in time the older I got, transportation issues, requests for a complete itinerary for every night out and the classic “since when are you friends with her?” questions (FYI Mom, I’ve been friends with her for 4 years now…).

Aaaaaand now that my parents have probably stopped reading — let me get to the real deal. Truth be told, I thought a lot before writing this article, mostly because it’s publication would mean the validation of most of my mother’s core principles — things that I secretly admire but publicly don’t endorse. Why? Because a good daughter always keeps her mother on her toes, that’s why. After all, what would motherhood be without a little (or thanks to me, a lot) of despair?

For as long as I can remember, my mother has had a hectic work schedule. And for as long as I can remember, she has also had her fair share of idiosyncrasies. And it’s only after going to college and allowing myself to roam young, wild and free (or was it young dumb and broke? I forget), that I realized how much of her I had imbibed in myself subconsciously. Just a couple of weeks ago, I found myself chiding a housemate for leaving the dishes to marinate in the sink instead of doing them, and felt my mother laughing at me from an ocean away. In case you haven’t guessed, I was not exactly the god of doing dishes back home. Point is, her significant impact on me was a very recent and terrifying epiphany. While “I’m turning into my mother” as a phrase struck horror in more people’s hearts, in a shocking turn of events I realized that I might actually be happy with the outcome. Furthermore, a lot of the things I had incorporated into myself were to do with her phenomenal maintenance of a work-life balance.

So, welcome to my word therapy, where I attempt to pick apart the things I learnt from my working mother.

Putting yourself first should be encouraged

There has been exactly ONE time in my life when I’ve slapped the “All you do is work and never spend quality-time with me” card on my mother, and even 12-year-old me knew I was just being a brat. (TLDR: I wanted to go shopping for new clothes for a party but if I told my mother that, she’d dig out that never-worn dress I threw a tantrum for from the back of my closet and tell me to quit whining). I’ve never otherwise thrown that at her. And it’s not because I’m an incredible daughter — it’s because I never felt the need to. My mother is the reason that I believe in the ability to have a successful career and a family. One of the biggest things I’ve learnt from her is that for the people who have the privilege to be able to define themselves in any way they want, motherhood is a piece and not the entirety of the pie of life. If I could blink out of existence right now, my mother’s life would change dramatically but we are not nearly linked enough that she would disappear too. There would be large chunks of her still intact, capable of rebuilding itself. And those parts of her arose from segments of her life she built in the spirit of self-nurturance — from the ability to put herself first when it comes to excelling at life, because eventually, it taught her daughter that it’s okay to do the same. 

You lead completely by example

At the risk of sabotaging my reputation, I must admit that when I’m asked to do something by my mother, data shows that it’s only done about 40% of the time. There have been habits that my mom has been trying to inculcate in me for years including but not limited to things such as healthy eating and a sane sleeping schedule. All to little or no avail. And yet, I learnt a lot of things merely by watching her lifestyle. I learnt the importance of structure in your day-to-day. I learnt the importance of making people take you seriously. I learnt the benefits of “dressing the part”. I learnt the importance of professional workplace behavior and the many, many ways that people flout them. I learnt compartmentalization of emotions and behavior and I learnt that a woman can embody as many roles as she wishes. And watching her live the life that I someday hope to lead, her example serves as the best motivation I could ever get.

Your career is for you, not for anyone else.

This may seem obvious, but it’s because my mother enjoys her career so much that I can’t imagine a life without joining the workforce. It’s because of the pride she takes in her career that I’m compelled to work hard and get a taste of that. The idea of having that piece of you that is yours alone is an adrenaline rush by itself. To know that you’re part of a community of people participating in the bread-earning is addicting. My mother is not defined by any one thing. Her motherhood is as much a part of her as her career. And while she shares her motherhood with me, I know that her pursuit of her career was a very integral and personal endeavor. Growing up, every child has “dream professions”. For a brief moment, in a phase that I’d rather forget, I even wanted to be a Geography teacher. While the idea of a career is not new to me, the drive to be successful — that came from her. I’ve seen the fulfillment and all-pervasive sense of purpose it instills her with and it teaches me to strive for something like that, relentlessly.

In the cult-classic book Freakonomics :   A rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything, the authors make one of the best, data-driven, arguments for the type of influence parental figures have on us. To summarize their points, the way children turn out is correlated more significantly to what the parents are compared to what the parents do. My mother’s core values, ambition, work ethic, control-freaky eccentrics and drive are what’s most likely to influence me. Who she is and how she lives her life will impact me in ways that are too numerous to track.

She and I are eternally locked in a battle of some kind — she’s a lazy user of the “because I said so” and I’m an incendiary wielder of sarcasm (if I may so myself). I truly thought that there was no way my house could handle three adults “working from home” amidst a national lock down. But somehow in the whirlwind of Zoom calls and bad internet, I have to say we haven’t killed each other just yet! But it has been FAR from fun and games — while the sins of the father may be visited upon the sons, the organizational OCDs of the mother are certainly the daughter’s curse.

Anusha Subramanian

Lead Content Strategy, Aspire for Her Foundation

University of California, Berkeley

BA, Molecular and Cellular Biology: Genetics