When #MINDRMAMA Ashwini Rao left a prestigious career in management consulting to focus on raising her children, it wasn't without trepidation. Now, she reflects on whether it was the right move.
Apparently, having been born in 1986, I’m a millennial. What images come to mind when you read that? Is it me, iPhone in hand, carefully posing for a Kylie-esque selfie for the 'gram, in a hipster coffee joint where a flat white costs more than $6? Cycling to my job at a tech startup where I'm launching the latest must-have app that offsets your carbon footprint while delivering you daily inspirational quotes?
When I’m up at 2 am feeding my 5 month old son, I sometimes wish that was in fact me. As I scroll through Facebook, and come across another Money Diaries on Refinery29, I’m always reminded of how different my life currently is from four years ago when I left the workforce. Not good or bad - just different. And yet, a tiny niggle in my mind always asks: could that (or should that) have been me?
I guess you could call me a real international kid. I was born in India, raised in Belgium and Singapore, and settled down in London... via Berlin. I have a German husband, two boys and a plethora of truly multicultural friends and family. Being the “good Indian girl” that I am, I studied engineering at university and graduated with a respectable job working in management consulting.
When I quit my job to raise a family, it was a conscious decision. But I didn’t imagine it would mean the end of my career and more importantly, the end of my self confidence.
Yet here I am. When I quit my job to raise a family, it was a conscious decision. But I didn’t imagine it would mean the end of my career and more importantly, the end of my self confidence. Initially, I expected that I would find another job once my son turned one, however circumstances including the birth of my second son earlier this year meant I stayed in the role of full time carer and household manager.
I have friends who returned to working full time post maternity leave and I look at them with a mix of awe, envy and pity. They are not fully and solely defined by their children, husbands or families but rather their role in society as a professional. They get respect and a sense of self-worth from their achievements at work. And of course they earn their wage and are not ‘dependent’ on their other halves in the way I am. However, I feel sad when I see their constant state of rush and lack of flexibility. That mental and physical pressure must be exhausting and in turn, I do cherish those moments where I can have a lazy pancake breakfast with my kids on a Wednesday morning before nursery.
Sometimes I wonder: Is it a case of “the grass is always greener on the other side,” or are my feelings a reflection of how society values (or rather doesn’t value) how hard it is to raise young children? Many people seem to assume that you are lazy, privileged or uninteresting because you aren’t doing paid work in an office (a male ex-colleague actually once said to me: “Don’t you want to work? Won’t your brain turn to mush if you don't?)
It's because of these attitudes that, every time I meet someone new and they ask the inevitable question - “so what do you do?” - I almost want to curl up and shrivel away with embarrassment because my response of “I’m not working right now” feels like a cop-out. It feels like I’m secondary to my husband and it feels like I must not be smart enough or good enough to handle “working in the real world.”
But really, I know this is not true. I recently did a three month project working for a former boss, and it felt incredible. Incredible to get emails from people that weren’t friends and family - people who wanted my professional opinion on something. Incredible to spend a week 'traveling' and not dealing with the daily grind. Incredible to have the luxury of coming and going as I needed to, knowing my children were well taken care of - by somebody else.
I see the unseen work of raising children and maintaining a household - including all the mental load of planning and organizing the family life - every day.
Because I have lived it, I see the unseen work of raising children and maintaining a household - including all the mental load of planning and organizing the family life - every day. The unfortunate truth is many people do not appreciate the fact that without those of us who commit our selves to paid or unpaid care work, they wouldn’t be able to commit themselves to their careers in the way that they can.
So going forward, I want to change the mentality that those of us who choose to prioritize care work are intellectually inferior or somehow less capable or that our contribution to society is of less value than those who work full time. I commit to doing this by holding my head high the next time I’m asked what I do, responding confidently that I’m raising the next generation and supporting my family in the best way I can. This is right for us at this point in time. But most important of all, I commit to reminding myself of this at the moments when doubt strikes.
Ashwini Rao is an ex-management consultant, South London dwelling vegetarian #MINDRMAMA of two boys who loves cooking and spending time with her friends and family. She thrives on meeting people (in person rather than online!) and one of her biggest strengths is making connections with people and places.