My son Adi was two and a half. The terrible twos phase was underway and it was difficult to even get normal life together at home. I remember that it was the month of April, and like all parents, I decided to check out neighbouring schools in the hope of finding one that would encourage my only child to interact with other children.
Once admissions were done, we began planing on making the experience of school an exciting one for him. The red and blue bag, the colourful tiffin-box, the shoes he loved... Off we went to attend our first day at school.
Adi hated the school environment. He was not used to so many kids and it was, to say the least, an overwhelming experience. The strict teachers at the pre-school did not help either. He considered the experience a punishment and was ready to get back home as soon as the day was done.
The Hurdles I Had to Cross
My son’s experience of school worried me. My family felt it was just too early for school, and that he would settle in when the time was right for him. But I knew better. Single children often perceive school as a threat to their independence and this was happening with him already.
I decided to spend time getting to know the staff in the hope that familiarity would help create a more affectionate environment for him. On one such day, the principal of the school approached me with an opportunity to work there. I knew that this would be the perfect solution to the anxiety we both felt – but there were many hurdles I had to cross.
I belonged to a nuclear home – it was just me, my husband (an IAS officer at the peak of his career) and my two-and-a-half-year-old son.
I was taking care of all the responsibilities at home, so I had to discuss this change with my husband. I had to argue with him that this was essential for the wellness of our child Adi. He agreed once he was convinced that it was a part-time job and would be given up as soon as Adi settled down. That was all it was meant to be. A short-term adjustment to a well-oiled routine.
I Was Repeatedly Reminded of ‘Sanskaar’
My in-laws lived in the same locality, a few blocks away, so I needed to get their approval too.
I knew that this would be a tough call and decided to put off telling them until I was sure I was able to cope. I had no plan – it was all so sudden I did not know what I needed to readjust.
Once I had completed a month, I told them of my new job and explained the reason I had joined. They were disapproving but did not openly dissuade me. I would, however, be reminded every once in a while of the ‘sanskars’ of the home and how I was breaking the norms. I was also repeatedly told that the remuneration of a mere Rs 600 was not befitting of an IAS officers’ wife.
This was shocking. I could never have imagined that I would be held responsible for not living up to such expectations. I learnt soon enough that in an economically stable middle-class family, a working daughter-in-law somehow meant giving up control – and this is met with strong disapproval, unless, of course, she earns a big amount.
Then, there was the ordeal of leaving home for work every morning. It required putting together both breakfast and lunch before leaving home with Adi at 8.
I would wake up at 5 am to get things ready. Washing, cooking, cleaning – it had to be done with clockwork precision. With each day, the routine just got harder with Adi beginning school work and needing guidance to cope.
Saturdays meant putting together groceries, laundry and simply tidying up to get ready for the week ahead.
Still, there was always something that I had not done right.
A Tale of Incessant Guilt
If I was required to stay back after school, I would need to pack lunch for my son so he could stay back with me. On days when we had social engagements at home, I would have to hurry back from work and cook up an entire meal for at least a dozen people. House guests needed more of my time.
There was always the fear of being pulled up by relatives and cousins, who visited to spend time with my in-laws, for not meeting demands at home. These visits were fairly regular as the family was a large one of 7 siblings and their children.
Juggling between school hours, a two-year-old, a husband who worked round the clock and regular household chores was a daunting task. However, I did not dare voice my protest for fear of being told to stay at home.
Growing up in a joint family and watching my Maa labour all day, with practically no help, while the male members rested after office work and on holidays only reinforced the mindset of housekeeping being a woman’s job.
When Adi took ill with a fever and was required to take a day off, I would have to apply for a day off too. It was made clear to me that I was doing something unnecessary (aka working at the school) so no help was offered. My performance at work was never mentioned or appreciated; I was expected to be home. However grilling the routine was for me, it was what I wanted to do to help my child have a great experience and I was happy it helped Adi to finally settle down and love school.
Despite the Hurdles, I Found a Love...
The love I found in a small classroom full of 3-year-olds was heartwarming. I went to school enthusiastic to try out new fun ways to learn every day and soon became highly respected and appreciated. Needless to say, equipped with two post graduate degrees, I was the most highly qualified prep school teacher there.
For me, it opened a new doorway to experience unconditional acceptance. I belonged there. It became a place I looked forward to and enjoyed. Each year, a new set of kids would join – and they became family by the time they left.
I continued to work in the same school for many years after my son graduated to a larger one and now have some great memories of the days spent there. Most of these kids have graduated, but continue to reach out to me with affection that I hold close to my heart.
(Lina Prakash has sent her blog to The Quint as part of our series of stories about India’s working women.)
(The Quint is trying to investigate what makes it easier or harder for women to be at the workplace. Can she return to work after a maternity leave with equal support from workplace and home? Does she carry the guilt of being away from her children while at work, and vice-versa? Even with or without baby, does the family share household responsibilities with her? Share your story, if you have one to tell, and we’ll publish it.)