Many working women take a break from full-time work after marriage and having kids. Then, after a while, most women long to get back to work. But going back to work after a long break is a luxury that most women can’t afford. Be it abusive husbands, nagging mother-in-laws, or dependent children, women are often expected to sacrifice their potential and careers to look after their households.
Returning To Work After A Career Break
Several women end up facing abuse from their husbands when they try and get back to work. It’s sad that many believe abuse is only physical. As a relationship coach, I hear stories from many women facing various kinds of emotional and mental abuse – experiences which make me shudder sometimes.
There seems to be an ugly gap between the desires of working women and the men they marry. Varsha was a highly educated working woman, earning big bucks and with a promising career. She had crossed 30, so her parents were pressuring her to get married. Too busy making money, and expanding her career, she never had time for love, but one day, when her parents forced her to meet Amit over dinner, she relented.
They got along like a house on fire and before she realized it, he proposed, she accepted and the parents got them married off without delay.
Amit was working in an IT firm and relocated to the US soon after marriage. Being on a dependent visa, Varsha couldn’t work. The first few days of matrimony felt like bliss and she didn’t miss work. She got busy doing up the house and learning how to cook.
Weekend parties, late nights, movies, social life – it was all perfect. She had not expected Amit to be as romantic as he turned out to be. She couldn’t stop gushing about him to her parents and friends.
For her, returning to work after a career break was always something she thought she would do eventually, if not soon. But what she didn’t realize was that for a woman, going back to work after a break is terribly difficult in an Indian household.
Related Reading: 21 Tips For A Better Work-Life Balance For Women
The wake-up call from a friend
Slowly, days turned into weeks and months. About a month before her first anniversary, she met one of her ex-colleagues at the local shop and they got talking. They caught up over some coffee.
She felt elated to discuss work and just as they were about to exchange numbers and bid goodbye, this ex colleague said, “Varsha, I can’t imagine you sitting at home and not working. I had imagined you to be heading some vertical by now – this is not how I had imagined you. But you look happy and I am happy about that.”
He said he wanted her to go back to work after a break, but in the end, the decision was hers. They exchanged numbers and parted.
Varsha was pulled out of her blissful dream world that day. That night she couldn’t sleep. She suddenly felt the urge to go back to work. She wanted to know how she could get back to work after a break. She wanted to prove a point to herself.
For about two weeks, she kept thinking about what her ex-colleague had said. Was she losing her touch? Was this how people perceived her? Finally, she approached Amit about going back to work. His standard response was that she didn’t have a work visa. She didn’t have a rebuttal to this.
Going back to work after her long break suddenly became a validation of her abilities – validation from others and more importantly, from herself. It mattered more to her that she worked than it probably mattered to anyone else.
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The perfect wife, but something was missing
Their first anniversary came and was celebrated with a lot of fanfare. The perfect wife, Varsha hosted a big party. Smiling faces, guests, drinks: it was all perfect. But, inside Varsha, a small volcano had started simmering. Her need to work and add value to the world and feel validated, got the better of her.
She started writing articles and helping out at NGOs – anything she could do to step out of the house and feel valued. But she didn’t feel complete. Her passion for work had now become her need for validation.
She didn’t think that returning to work after a career break would be so difficult, and regretted the fact that she had never thought of this before.
Every outing she had with Amit started backfiring and she wasn’t able to involve herself fully. The situation worsened and thus began the downward spiral. In a few months, Varsha spoke about moving somewhere else, or even moving back to India for her to resume work. But every time she mentioned this topic, it was met with silence.
Amit couldn’t understand why Varsha was suddenly obsessed with work and what he could do to help her. She started becoming aloof and he started spending more time at work.
Her frustration levels increased and one day she decided to go back to India on a vacation. She felt she needed the much-needed break. The day Amit heard of her plans, he sulked the entire night and then in the morning, she woke up to a burning sensation on her hands… he had poured piping hot tea on her hands.
The vicious cycle of violence and abuse started there, only to get worse.
When the abuse began
Amit then rushed her to the hospital and told them that it was an accident. Varsha didn’t know what to say and agreed with him. She wondered why she couldn’t muster up the courage to tell the truth, but she couldn’t understand herself.
This wasn’t the person she knew… this wasn’t the her she knew.
Once back at home, Amit’s mental and physical abuse increased. He wanted her to be a housewife; he said so in as many words. Amit didn’t want her to go back or move to any other visa or geography.
He took away her passport and access to her phone, too. All calls to her parents happened under his strict supervision. Slowly, she realized her mental health was deteriorating dangerously. Social outings stopped and thus any intimacy they had started fading. Varsha barely recognized Amit any more. In fact, she barely recognized herself.
Amit’s abuse grew worse with every passing week and some days he would come home, hit her with a belt and leave her alone at home to go out with friends. Varsha started justifying his behavior to herself by blaming it on her need for work.
Related reading: Why Can’t We Admit To Being Abused, In Our Country?
She forgot herself
By their third anniversary, Varsha was a wreck and shadow of her former self. She didn’t know why she felt what she did, but she felt bad for herself. She wasn’t angry with Amit. It was her need to work which had made him into a monster. She knew he was a nice person.
Two days before her third anniversary, she decided to buy a bottle of sleeping pills and end her life. On most days, she wasn’t allowed to step out; but, somehow Amit had forgotten to lock the back door that morning. She sneaked out to buy sleeping pills or anything else she could get over the counter.
She had thought it through, that if they refused to give her the medicines, she would jump from some building. Varsha just wanted to end her life. She wanted Amit to be happy.
She cursed herself for being a woman in a man’s world, and also wondered if a choice of partner could impact a man’s career. It made her sad, but she had made a decision to end things.
But destiny plays a huge role in our lives. Varsha ran into the same ex-colleague, this time at the pharmacy. One look at her and he forced her to come with him to the Indian embassy. The local police got involved and within days, Varsha was sent back to India.
It wasn’t as easy as it sounds; legal cases aren’t easy. A lot of chaos did happen in those five days between her being moved to the embassy and her flight back to India.
Inching her way back to normalcy
Today, Varsha is back in India. A nervous wreck. She needs help to see herself the way she was before. Legal cases are running and lawyers are trying to get her out of her marital relationship. Doctors are trying their best to get the physical trauma of three years, but the emotional scars run very deep and will take many years to heal. Who knows whether they will go in this lifetime or not…
Sadly, there are many Varshas around us and no one knows. Look around you and observe, for women, a career break almost all the time means the end of their career, and going back to work after a break remains a pipe dream. The lady who passed you today morning on your way to work could be another Varsha. The question remains, how do we best support and help them?