Editorial: That moment when women start to lose themselves

Earlier this week, I was having a chat with a friend who seems to be… how shall I best put it… bored? Dissatisfied? Restless? She couldn’t give it a name. We spoke for some time to try and get to the bottom of what she was going through. She was fortunate to have had everything any woman would desire, she told me -- a good husband, bright kids, health, a beautiful home, holidays and a job she enjoyed. And yet, satisfaction, contentment, even pleasure was missing from her life. Any time someone tells me that they don’t feel pleasure in anything they do, my antenna always goes up. For me, that’s the first sign of something deeper than just a momentary low or a bit of a funk. For me, it flags off depression. But as I spoke to her, I realised this woman who enjoyed being physically active, spending quality time with her family and enjoying the simple pleasures of life, wasn’t depressed at all. After a lengthy chat, what I realised was this woman  had had no time to herself for many months now.

Someone I follow on Twitter ran a poll on her handle on Mother’s Day. She asked what mothers wanted most on that day. Guess what got a whopping 45 percent response, among four choices. Option a) Time alone for myself without family or kids. A distant second was a dinner with friends who are mothers. At three came in “other” and at four at some measly 7 percent came in “presents, spa visit etc”. I was amused but I wasn’t shocked. I was amused because this is exactly the paradox of  motherhood that makes me laugh when people liken mother to goddesses and the most important thing in the universe.

Don’t get me wrong: being a mother is a definingly important job. It is the responsibility of shaping and sculpting what the world is going to look like tomorrow. It is the job of ensuring that you raise kids that don’t think profiteering from war is a good idea, kids who believe in kindness and humanity over power and wealth. It is the job of creating humans who will not let this planet, which gives us so much, go to ruins. It is, as I said, a job that is more important than many other important jobs. But to think there’s no love like a mother’s love, to expect mothers to sacrifice themselves so that we are comfortable, to think a mother will tolerate just about anything for the good of her family is what I find problematic. And that is what we do when we say mother = goddess.

So, this poll that this person ran told me a very important truth. The reason the thing that mothers want most is time away from their family is because no one is doing enough to give them a break. Some of you might argue that fathers do a lot too. Sure, maybe some fathers go to work and come back to spend time with their kids. Maybe they even cook on weekends. Maybe they manage their work and home life in a tricky balance. But a woman does all that. And then some more. Who manages the househelp in your home? You do, the mother. Not the father. Who manages a bad mood of one of your kids? You do. Who puts in all the emotional labour into making sure clothes are ironed, dinner is ready on time, school assignments are up to date, food that’s cooked is healthy and to everyone’s taste, salaries to help is paid on time, house is ready and pretty for every time guests come? You do, dear mum. You do. I am sure there are partners who help out. But that’s exactly the problem. It’s a rare man who has to put effort into making sure his household staff is well kept and happy. It’s a rare man that says, “This is how we are going to make the house look for this evening’s party and does it.” Most men are more than willing to take instruction.

“Tell me what I need to do,” they say and look at your helplessly like he was a child. And then, you, dear mum, have to go through the emotional labour of planning everything and instructing your partner on what has to be done, deciding the menu, time, clothes, fragrances, tableware etc, etc, etc. We are all tired of having our families around us all the time because we are constantly denying our own emotions and desires in order to juggle everyone else’s in the household -- parents, in laws, kids, husband -- we’ve got to manage every person’s emotion, mood, likes and dislikes. Us? Oh our needs can wait. And this is what came through in this conversation with my friend. She was shuttling between her parents, her husband, her kids and her work and she didn’t take out half an hour a day to even read, an activity she enjoys immensely.

And this is something I have learnt over the past few years: if you make no room for yourself, then you cannot sustain making room for anyone else. You forget who you are, you forget the things you like, you start to become bitter about life. It is no wonder that I hear many women in their 40s say they feel they’ve lost their identities, they’ve forgotten who they used to be. Or the person they used to be seems like such a remote memory of who they are now, a shadow of a vivacious, happy young woman who took pleasure in the smallest things. Today, even diamonds, a holiday or a trip to the moon wouldn’t impress her for very long.

To everyone who feels that way, I extend a hug. And I say, your manicure-pedicure pampering, your massage etc isn’t enough. Pamper your mind, mani-pedi your soul, nurture yourself just like you’d nurture your loved ones. Because you  have to love yourself too.

This week, we tried a couple of new things here at ZenParent. We are most excited about introducing other Indian languages on the website. As you know, so far we were bilingual with English and Hindi content. As of this week, mothers (and fathers) who read in Malayalam, Marathi, Telugu and Bengali can find stories of their interest in languages they are most comfortable reading. The other thing that we tried, one that is done solely from a perspective of serving a larger audience, and not any personal belief system is, is offering astrological content to our readers. We get regular email asking about astrology. We tied up with Aadishakti, an online astrological consultancy to provide us with content that those of you who believe in astrology will enjoy and find helpful.

This week also saw some new, fresh perspectives: We lost a very beloved actress a couple of days ago. Reema Lagoo and her four best feminist roles.  We are all guilty of buying happiness for our children -- whether it’s to make up for losing our temper, not spending enough time or some other overarching guilt that plagues us. Here’s a guide on how to meaningfully deal with upset and not buy your child into being happy. And this is probably my second favourite piece this week: the 5 times you should stay away from body-shaping clothes. And finally, my favourite, which happened to be BlackLace this week: How to have rocking sex even though you are … well… generously built!

Until next week.