Empowering Mothers With Their Modern-day Village

‘It takes a village to raise a child;’– and in the context of modern-day nuclear families, parents look for extended support systems outside of their homes

On reaching work (at one of our pre-schools in Bangalore) today, I witnessed something that brought a smile to my face – a group of young mothers were dropping off their children, and rushing to work with laptops in one hand and their children’s lunch in the other. This took me back to my childhood - my mother was an aspiring Bharatanatyam (south-Indian classical dance) dancer who, as circumstance would have it, had to sacrifice her dreams of ‘going pro’ in favour of domestic priorities. This is perhaps what got me thinking about the kinds of societal mechanisms and structures (or lack thereof), and normative systems surrounding women that often hampered their ability to pursue passions and professions much after they assumed domestic roles. 

Over the course of my life, I have witnessed women from all walks of life faced with this conundrum, and this continues to be true to date, with plenty of statistics backing the claim. A World Bank study of 2021 revealed that the labour force participation for women across India is a mere 19 per cent. This is a steep drop from the previously reported value of 27 per cent. It must be noted that the pandemic itself acted as a significant setback for women’s employment, reflected in the drop in numbers. A McKinsey report released during the pandemic also showed that one in four women were either considering downsizing their careers or completely leaving the workforce. More precisely, 17 per cent of these women opted for downsizing, and 23 per cent of them were prepared to give up their careers.  

This purpose is exactly what keeps me and my colleagues up at night - How can societal mechanisms and structures, and normative systems contribute to helping women get back to work, or pursue their passions even after assuming domestic roles?

Defining real self-care for mothers 

With this nagging thought and with Mother’s day around the corner, I was curious to feel the pulse of our community and was quite appalled to see my search results inundated with ads for spa vouchers and other forms of gifting ideas aimed at promoting ‘self-care’ – effectively reducing it to a plethora of token gestures. This would be a good time to re-examine what ‘self-care’ truly means, and what mothers really want. The definition needs to be elevated from merely skin-deep efforts to something that is more fulfilling and meaningful, geared towards building an empowering and enabling ecosystem which facilitates mothers’ pursuit of their professional goals and other dreams. 

Welcoming mothers back to work with solid support systems and the absence of the invisible but omnipresent ‘motherhood penalty’ would fall squarely under this (broadened) definition. It is important to ask ourselves what we can do to make every day ‘Mother’s Day’ to ensure consistent efforts to ease their burden. What does an enabling support system look like in the modern context? 

Finding the modern-day village

‘It takes a village to raise a child;’– and in the context of modern-day nuclear families, parents look for extended support systems outside of their homes. For a mother to fulfil her dreams and ambitions she must be relieved of her duties as the full-time caregiver for her child. However, a mother does not just look for a cloakroom to park her children while she is at work. She is looking for a safe and secure space that supports playful learning along the way. 

At this juncture, it is important to acknowledge that these choices are no doubt morally loaded, rife with the guilt of not being able to be ‘present’ either as a mother or as a working professional. A mother looks for a childcare facility or pre-school that is structured towards fostering the social, cognitive and emotional development and learning – essentially moulding well rounded and well-adjusted beings – while providing equal, if not more, love and care that they would themselves provide. Mothers look up to these institutions to provide immeasurable emotional and practical freedoms without having to compromise on their own ambitions. 

It must be noted that the work towards bettering the overall scenario has certainly begun. In recent years, more corporates have begun acknowledging the need for family-friendly policies and practices to better support the workforce and establish a healthy work-life balance. This has been done by providing onsite preschools, daycare facilities, and special benefits for employees to obtain early childhood care education for their children. Without a doubt, these benefits empower young mothers with the freedom to exercise their choice to go back to work, pursue a long time passion, or their long-lost interests.

Miles to go before we sleep

But as I often tell my colleagues, ‘We have promises to keep and miles to go before we sleep’. There is a lot more ground to cover when it comes to enabling mothers in our country and a good starting point would be to provide a safe and stimulating environment for their children to play, learn and grow in their absence. With ample wind beneath their wings, they are bound to soar beyond the skies!

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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