Growing With Grannies

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As more and more women prefer white collar jobs to stay liquid and contribute to the family wellbeing, a new generation is growing either with aged grannies or with hired babysitters, reports Arifa Gani

As more and more women opt for earning for their families and get some financial security for themselves, their children pay the costs too. A complete generation is growing up with a sort of maternal deficit as earning women find themselves in a sort of whirlpool.

Asifa completed her maternity leave in October. Her workplace is around 19 km away from her parents’ residence in old Srinagar, where she had been putting up since a child was born to her, six months ago.

A career woman Asifa likes her job. Before becoming a mom, she enjoyed going to work every day. It brought her satisfaction. Now, the thought of returning to work terrifies her, she thinks more about her baby daughter. Her workplace doesn’t offer any facility for taking care of the employees’ children.

“It was a very hard thing for me,” Asifa said. “My office has an unwritten rule that the employees have to leave their kids home. After six months of maternity leave, my only choice was to apply for an additional childcare leave.”

That, however, didn’t prove to be an option for Asifa, who enjoys a senior position in a Non-Governmental Organisation. For the shortage of staff, she was not granted any additional leave, forcing her to burden her diabetic mother with her kid’s responsibility.

“Now, I leave my daughter with her grandmother while I go to work,” Asifa said. “It is not reasonable; my mother should not have to do this for me at an old age while my daughter deserves more of my attention. Sometimes I feel I am not being a good mother when I leave my seven-month-old daughter at home.” She also has a feeling that she is not doing justice to her job.

Every morning, she drives about 10 km to drop her kid with her mother, and then only, she starts for her office. “It is so difficult to balance between household chores and work and then manage the baby,” she admitted.

Asifa represents a vast section of women who live complex lives. To achieve an economic security, they outsource childcare literally. They end up paying more for what they are unable to do.

In largely-conservative Kashmir, women have traditionally been homemakers and child-raisers, unlike men. At times, women working at par with men used to be considered a taboo. But not anymore.

The young parents are educated and career-oriented. Their rising living costs forces both parents to earn. In the entire game, childcare is emerging as their biggest worry.

The market came with its solution. Kashmir witnessed mushrooming of crèche or preparatory schools, which provide day-care for the children of working parents. There are grey areas in this sector also.

“I sent my 2-year old son to a crèche, which was part of a national chain,” Nuzhat, a teacher, said. “The crèche was very responsible, yet it was difficult for me to trust them with my toddler.”

Fatima, a mother of two in her 30s, relied on a more dependable option—her own parents, who live in the neighbourhood of her workplace. She starts her day unusually early, waking up around 4 am to complete household chorus in order to be able to drop off her kids at her parents’ home before heading to work.

“It is exhausting, but I feel secure when my children are with my parents,” Fatima said. “But I am overburdening my mother, especially.”

At an elderly age, Nuzhat’s diabetic mother has to send her grandson to school and is now taking care of her year-old granddaughter. Nuzhat understands her mother is literally raising her again by taking care of her daughter.

Though the problem is primarily urban, but the periphery has its own trend. Fatima is a Marketing and Grading Officer in the Horticulture Department and lives in a village joint family.

A mother of two, she also depends on her parents for childcare while she and her husband work from 10 am to 4 pm.

Occasionally, she takes her infant daughter along to the office about 30 km from her home, after sending her son to school. Usually, she keeps her daughter with her retired parents.

“I wanted to be independent enough to take care of my daughter,” Fatima said. “So I hired a nanny, but she wasn’t good enough. She didn’t cater to her needs properly.” Now she is caught between her responsibility as a mother and her capacity as a worker. Her office is not supportive of her going to work with the baby.

Yet, more and more young parents are heading to the agencies that promise paid babysitters or domestic help. Their frequent advertisements in media are not considered odd any more.

The agencies say the demand for babysitters and domestic help is growing, while the unskilled people, mostly woman, were registering for the jobs that may be on offer.

“We ask people to register with us and tell us their requirements,” said the manager of one such agency in uptown Srinagar. “Subsequently, we tried to find a person who may be ready to work for them. They pay us commission for the services we offer and monthly salary to the employee.” Given the legal cover governing the operation of this service, these agencies avoid being named.

Another agency located at Khayam in old Srinagar says they only provided housekeeping and catering services until demand started growing for babysitters.

“We then thought of expanding our business,” its manager said. “We have an increasing demand of babysitters these days, with working ladies often visiting our office.”

All this adds up to a lot of stress for the working mothers, often resulting in relationship troubles. Dr Sadakat, a Clinical Psychologist at the Government Medical College Srinagar, says the mothers are “overstressed these days”.

“They start shouting at their infants, kids, and other family members,” the doctor said. “Trivial issues turn them violent, which is not good for the mental health of either the mother or the kids.”

The best way is that families supported these suckling mothers, who also work. “Women are nowadays working at very high positions in offices,” the doctor said. “It is necessary that their families support them, to help them nourish the emotional bond with their kids.”

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