Mum’s the word

Manu Khajuria Singh | Updated on November 25, 2017

From a not-employed but working mother

Labels can be dangerous because sometimes we forget to question their veracity. At other times, a lot gets pushed under them. They do not tell the complete truth. And, worst of all, we start believing them. The ongoing debate on styles of parenting, and especially Stay At Home Mothers vs Working Mothers, exemplifies this. The dichotomy, Working and Stay at Home, is misleading. It wrongfully undermines one and elevates the other. The term ‘working’ is applicable to both sets of women.

The labels are many for the unemployed mother, ranging from ‘hot-phulka making’ to ‘the latte-set’. It is implied that motherhood is an excuse for her to do nothing else. Or she is a saint who has sacrificed her life at the altar of domesticity. This is clearly stereotyping.

She is told that her ‘work’ is not worthy of so much effort. She is portrayed as a victim, all alone in her fortress with potty seats, hazardously strewn toys, nursery rhymes playing on the repeat, and demanding children. Throw in an insensitive partner, an ungrateful society, the deadly combination of no pay, fame, or rewards, and a severe bout of shingles looks more attractive than her life.


The unemployed mother allegedly hates giving up her work. That maybe true for some, but the feeling vanishes once she works through the conflict between societal expectations and her basic instincts. The sorry tale that employability begets you more respect from your child mirrors deep seated insecurity or a hidden agenda. That self-worth depends on employment is a dangerous value to impart and promote.

She is empowered and courageously follows her heart. Truly liberated and a perfectionist who thinks nobody can do her ‘job’ better, certainly not paid help. Motherhood is not her sole purpose or her only role. Roles change along with accompanying duties and duty does not have a negative connotation. It is firmly based on unconditional love.

The fact that she steps out of the house, and is involved in many things, is blatantly overlooked. She may be a valued resource at school, a part-time student or a professional volunteer for humanitarian organisations. Those who accuse her of not giving back to the community lack foresight.

Untethered by working hours and leave allowances, she is able to give more generously. She is building inter personal relationships within the community, sometimes simply by being available.

She is not financially dependent but an indispensable member of a team, responsible for the development of the family unit, which is fundamental to a healthy society. She is a rightful owner, an equal partner of household earnings.

Love and duty

Condemning the quality of being able to put someone else ahead is indicative of a dangerous social trend and she is blamed for that too. We sometimes must put an ailing parent, a spouse, a child, a friend, society and the nation ahead of ourselves. It requires tremendous strength and stems from love and a wonderful sense of duty. How can that be wrong?

This is not about drawing battle lines between mothers. It is only emphasising that there is no one story. We need to judiciously see all of them and have the courage to be accepting of the ones different from ours.

The unemployed mother may not need any acknowledgement but for those who are struggling and for those who are waiting in the wings to become one, this needed to be said.

The article is a response to " >Stop the lies about parenting" by Veena Venugopal (February 22)

Published on March 13, 2014

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