An Indian Expat Parent: Separating the Mother from the Woman

familycareerWhen we moved here from India, we knew that I would be going back to work soon. My husband had won many wagers, betting that I would give up staying at home sooner than later. To me, well, it wasn’t as much the cooking and cleaning that drove me back to work as it was the demands of constantly being with my daughter.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my high-energy, super-enthusiastic, gregarious little daughter, but the introvert in me can only take a few hours of it. Plus, I do like to talk about attrition rates, performance metrics and compensation benchmarking a little more than I like talking about princesses, castles, fairies and magic.

So when I did get a job, and it was time to go back to work, I should have felt elated and relieved. I should have been excited that I was finally going to talk to grownups, or at least people who looked like them. But, strangely, I felt guilty.

I’ve never cried in my life. Ok, that’s not entirely true — I had never cried for a tiny person before DD was born. Now, even when am just thinking of her, tears trickle down my cheeks, and there’s a never-ending song played by the tugging of the heart strings. Flesh-and-blood reasoning aside, the girl does have magical superpowers over me.

We had to make a decision of moving her from her part-time school to a full-time preschool. I wasn’t completely comfortable with a nanny. DD is too social to stay put with one person for an extended duration of time. Staying alone with me was torture enough. So we decided she could make up for all that lost time of not being able to talk nonstop with friends by giving her a lot of face time with other little yappers.

Her new school is great. The staff is very kind, the other parents had great reviews, and even her current school spoke highly of the new school’s curriculum. So we had multiple endorsements. I visited the school three times before deciding. I liked it the first time. But an affirmation from DH and then DD wouldn’t hurt, right? They loved it, too. So it was the right place for her.

But when I told her that she had to leave her old school, say goodbye to her friends and start in a new school, she just had her usual question, “Why Mamma?”

And that ‘why’ killed me.

Was I being selfish? Was I uprooting her little world because I wanted to get back to doing what I wanted to? Would she learn the importance of friendship if she keeps moving from one school to another? Is she going to blame me later in life for not having long-standing relationships? These were just a few questions running through my head in the initial few seconds after she asked "why."

But before I could answer her, she said, “Mom look, a squirrel!”

I’ve never been happier spotting a rodent. That little animal showed me that DD was going to be OK. Kids are adaptable, and at this stage, also very distractible. DH had never been in the same school for more than two continuous years and he has managed to make and keep friends for life. So his genes could be in her! His genes coupled with her wonderful extroverted personality could disprove all my fears.

And that’s when I realized, in addition to over-analyzing and overreacting, I was trying to separate the woman in me from the mother in me. And I knew that’s just not possible.

I will always be a woman, and I will always a mother. I don’t have to choose between them.

I am not abandoning my duties as a mother by choosing to go back to work.

I am not deserting my daughter.

I am merely trying to manage a child and a career.

Easier said than done, but I do want to give it a shot.

A lot of women go through the same dilemma and they make their choice — sometimes striking a balance, sometimes choosing one over the other. But it’s a considered choice that works for them. And that needs to be acknowledged and appreciated.

I’ve made my choice. I may not completely ‘lean in’ yet. But I will stand tall — as a mother, as a working woman.

193Padmaja Ganeshan-Singh is a new expat from India and a rookie Superwoman. This is her first time managing her family without any help and boy, does she have newfound respect for the American woman. She is the mother of a high-energy preschooler who presents her with the challenges of preserving the culture of her homeland while embracing the culture of her new home in Seattle. From driving on the 'right' side of the road to understanding the craze behind Halloween candy, Padmaja's trying to make meaning out of the madness around her. For a peep into her expat life, check her blog .

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