Maroofa Shaistha is a Senior Auditor at the Ministry of Defence, Government of India. She has been working for over 30 years, and has raised two daughters singlehanded. In a world where mothers are often burdened with guilt at managing both work and family, she talks about how she has prioritised her goals and come out a winner.
I started working when I was about 20. I secured a job at the Ministry of Defence in Bangalore, and I was pleased with my new role. I got married two years later, and within a year, I conceived my first daughter. Frankly, I’ve never seen work as a barrier to personal happiness, be it in marriage or motherhood. I’ve always seen it as an enabler. And so, as I neared my due date, I applied for maternity leave and paused my career for six months. Never did I consider quitting my job. After Hafsa was born, I would hurry home during my lunch breaks to feed her, and then race back to office. Luckily, I had my parents at home to care for my daughter, and I was content knowing that she was in great hands.
A few years after Hafsa was born, I had another daughter, whom we named Sadia. As my girls grew, I made sure that I took enough leave to be there for my girls. I timed my breaks with theirs, so that I could maximise my time with them. I sometimes hear working parents expressing guilt over taking too long a break from work. Most companies in India, and globally, offer two weeks a year as privilege leave, and an additional allotment of leaves categorised as casual leave, sick leave, and so on. If you don’t use them to be with your kids, who will? Why, the guilt, I wonder.
When my parents travelled, I’d make sure I was at home to see the girls off to school, and be back by the time they came home. It was important to me that they had a holistic education, and so I didn’t compromise on the school that they went to. I wanted the best. I wanted them to learn as much as they could in school, so that they were free to spend time with the family once they returned home. Of course, I would coach them after school on most days, making sure that they were keeping pace with their class. But I was happy that most of their learning was happening in class. For a working mother, that’s an important factor.
I remember when my older daughter was around 4, and my younger, around 2, I decided to further my career by taking some exams within the ministry that I worked in. For two months, I locked myself into a room, studying hard. I’d take breaks intermittently, to see the girls, feed them and play with them. But my parents mothered them for those two months, while I focused on the exams. It was tough, but even today, I think certain personal sacrifices are worth it in the long term.
When my older daughter was twelve years old, I got divorced. My parents supported me immeasurably during this period, and in turn, I started shouldering four roles for my daughters: as a mother, father, friend and provider. I got my life in order by prioritising my goals, and when I felt low, I reminded myself that I had so much to be thankful for.
I went through a financial crisis when my oldest was entering the eleventh grade. Expenses were multiplying as the girls grew. I was finding it difficult to make ends meet. My parents had retired by then, and it would have been unfair on my part to burden them with my financial crunch. That’s when my friends stepped in, loaning me money indefinitely, until I had enough to pay them back. I also took a small loan from the bank, to tide me through that period. As a financially independent woman, I came out of that crisis with my head held high, something I am proud of even years later.
I often find that mothers who miss out on a career in favour of raising their children, lose their identity somewhere down the way. They’re so immersed in being a mother, they forget their own goals and aspirations. And when their children leave home to pursue their dreams, these mothers are left empty and lonely. The Empty Nest Syndrome hits them the hardest. Today, with the multitude of crèches across many Indian cities, pursuing a career isn’t hard, even without family support.
Being a working mom has been rewarding. I’d like to think I’ve set an example for my daughters and shown them that work and family can go hand in hand. They’ve seen the highs and lows of my career and know what it means to work hard. I’ve had such different experiences with both my daughters. While Hafsa has been academically inclined, Sadia has always been more artsy and communicative. Hafsa worked for one of the best-known investment banks in the world, and is now contemplating an education abroad. Sadia has trained as a speech therapist, a job she finds enormously gratifying. I’ve let them choose their own paths. Both my girls know the importance of a work ethic, and I couldn’t be prouder of them.