As it so happens, in my marriage, I am the one who works really hard and sometimes has to travel for the same. As far as arrangements go, this is quite the reverse of the ‘Dad travels for work — mom stays back at home’. Which is why, being one of the moms who travel for work, this arrangement does invite certain kinds of judgements from those around us. Oh! And when it is book launch time, I actually have to go through a couple of months of living out of a suitcase.
The spouse on the other hand, as a stock market trader, is in a profession where he is at his desk all day and home after the market shuts. Between 8.30 to 3.30, he is completely unavailable and busy at work. Post that he is completely available. He can be counted upon to be at home when I’m not.
There Is Nothing Wrong With Moms Who Travel For Work
Last year, the offspring’s midterm exams came about at the same time when my third book, All Aboard was released. As is mandatory during book launch time, I was shuttling between events and cities. Trying to maintain my sanity and a work-life balance, I spent a lot of time supervising my child over the phone, but also working constantly. Well-meaning, my other mommy friends gasped in shock. “Can’t you reschedule your travel?” they asked. “After all, it is the midterm exam. We understand that it’s important to travel for work but your son needs you.”
“But his father is right there with him!” I responded. The censorious gaze was unblinking and unflinching. Bad mom. Bad mom. Bad mom. It had been printed out in bold and slapped onto my forehead. All this judgment just for being a traveling mom. Other parents who travel for work don’t get this kind of treatment. Oh wait, I mean to say, other men who do.
Sadly, I gave in and I spent all my travel and events berating myself with self-inflicted mommy guilt and then when the results came in, I flagellated myself with the mandatory “cat o’ nine tails” of maternal guilt. This year again, the midterm exams come when I must travel to Kumaon, as part of the planning board member of the Kumaon Literary Festival and I’m looking forward to it.
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Working and being a mom are both full-time jobs
A mom who puts work-related travel before a midterm exam is made out to be the one who is intractably selfish. The worst censure one faces is from other moms. I would expect them to understand and support me, offer help even. But all they do is judge me and even go on to call me a crazy wife and mother for being one of the moms who travel for work.
I find myself apologizing for my selfishness, sometimes. I find myself wondering if I am an aberration just because I am a traveling mom. After all, aren’t we expected, like Aarfa in Sultan, to put our hopes and dreams and ambitions into a little tin box, lock it and throw away the key once we sign up to bear offspring?
While travel for work is viewed with some grudging wistfulness, travel for pleasure, alone, with friends and without family is viewed with greater censure. Working and being a mom is still somehow acceptable. But being a mom and deciding to have a social life outside of it? No, no, no.
A girl’s weekend without the kid and spouse? The husband says “Go, of course,” with the wholehearted taciturnity that marks him. This is what lets me go. He’s there. And he will be, for those few days, parent enough for both of us. After all, if he had to go, would I ask him to stay? It’s not like taking a weekend off is some grave parenting mistake, is it?
Wouldn’t I have just manned the fort the best I could, for the both of us? Isn’t that what a marriage is about, being there, sharing the load, doing the best each of us can and being each other’s bedrock of unstinting support?
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A traveling mom is always looked down upon but we can change that
Within a marriage too, the changing gender equations are leading to a lot more unconventional arrangements based on convenience. Even female-led relationships are a new thing now! A friend I know is abroad on deputation for two years while her son studies for his board exams next year. She could only do this because her husband stays back and is a complete hands-on father, and is totally involved with her son’s studies.
“There’s Skype and there’s WhatsApp. I don’t really feel I’m not there for him, because we have long chats every day. But yes, this has raised a lot of eyebrows especially because it is board exam year, and studies are crucial in this year. I try not to worry too much, but sometimes, the reactions make me wonder if I’ve taken the wrong decision.”
Though she and her husband took the decision for her to accept this posting in consensus, she admits it has been frowned upon. “My in-laws have shifted in to spend the next couple of years in our home so that there is someone at home when my husband is at work, to watch my son. Nonetheless, I keep hearing ‘How lucky you are that your husband allowed you to go,’ from some friends. I had never thought of ‘permission’ being needed by my husband. All we had thought is how we could make this work in the best interests of our son. But still, no matter how well-qualified, or successful, or professional a woman is, the concept of ‘permission’ from the spouse still exists.”
Moms Who Travel A Lot For Work Are Still Great Moms
I hear her. “How lucky you are,” some women tell me when I am in one of the manic stages of travel. “You can leave everything and just travel. How lucky you are that your husband allows you to go.” I hear the wistfulness in their voices, and I can offer no palliative. I am lucky in that I have a good relationship with mother-in-law who lives with us as she has been a great support. I am also lucky to have a well-oiled clockwork system of domestic help, which is half my battle won.
And yes, I am lucky in that the husband understands that my work is important to me, and therefore it is important to him, because I am important to him. Moms who travel a lot for work do need a little bit of help, I won’t deny it. But you can’t expect any parent to be able to do it all.
But I have learnt something new about parenting as well. When I’m traveling, I’ve learnt, as the husband has, that when he is in charge, he is in charge. And I need to let go a bit and allow him to do his own thing as a father. This is something we are equal partners in, both the marriage and the parenting. And by letting go, I repose my trust in him. And by letting me go, he too reposes his trust in me. Moms or parents who travel for work, need to be able to strike that balance.