By Neha Bagaria
In August 2012, I was at a college reunion of sorts in New York, meeting some of my close friends from our time spent together at the University of Pennsylvania. Since there’s always a minimum of a year-long gap between our get-togethers now, the conversation was filled with updates on each other’s lives. Most of my friends are investment bankers in New York and Boston, having graduated with Finance degrees from Wharton, just as I did. Our degrees may have been the same, but our current life situations sure weren’t. I was the only mother in the group, now accompanied by my two and a half year old and 6-months pregnant with my second baby. I was far removed from the business world ever since I had stopped working two years ago when I became a mother and decided to devote myself to the upbringing of my children. I could no longer understand the talk around Finance happening on the table; so what if I had always outperformed all the boys on the table in our Financial Derivatives classes?
Soon the conversation turned to me and a friend asked “So what do you do now?” I pointed to my toddler and my very pregnant bump, and replied: “This!”
She persisted, “So what do you really do?”
Being a full-time mother was tough work and extremely meaningful. I didn’t understand. Why wasn’t she getting it? Being a full-time mother was tough work and extremely meaningful.I muttered something like, “You’ll understand when you have kids,” but my dinner was ruined.
Of course these friends didn’t understand – ever since they knew me, they had always seen me as an over-achiever. Someone who juggled standing first in school along with being house captain. Someone who took up not one but THREE majors at Wharton and graduated with Honors. Someone who started her own company even before she graduated. Someone who they thought would go very far in her career and achieve great things. It was difficult for them to reconcile with the fact that that someone had decided to give it all up for motherhood.
During my stay-at-home mom days, that remained my most dreaded question “So what do you do now?” No matter how I approached it: “Oh, I’m a full-time mother”/ “I’m a domestic engineer”/ “I’m a housewife”/ “Nothing!” It all sounded lame to my own ears.
I struggled to figure out why it mattered so much to me – was it the society we lived in, or my own expectations? My mother and mother-in-law are stay-at-home moms and they seemed perfectly comfortable with their work status. So, why was I struggling with this question so much?
I was the one who didn’t feel like being a full-time mother was enough. I was the one who wanted to “do” more. I was the one who I needed to please. And the only way to do it was to do what my heart most desired – to work on something that was commensurate with my education and experience, and at the same time, bring up healthy, happy, and whole children.
How? Now that is a story for another day.