Balance for better! Womenspeak on Women's day.
She is your neighbour, your child’s teacher, the person in line at the grocery store or the one who is in a rush for the lift every day. The everyday woman who is juggling multiple roles from a caregiver to home financial officer, to chauffeur, to a friend, mentor, boss and employee, to achieve balance in her life.
As we celebrate the EveryWoman this International Women’s Day, we take a peek at what a few of them do every day to be themselves and how they shape generations.
Katerina Folkman makes it look easy as she holds the fort as Head of Analytics at a large NBFC, maintains an active parenting blog and is a full-time parent to 3.5-year-old.
How does she prioritize and balance it all? Here is what she says:
For me the most important balance is between Responsibilities and Passions. Responsibilities include all things we have to do in the workplace, at home with kids and families, as a parent and as a professional. We do it all, as responsible adults who have basic time management skills. But what often suffers is our passion. For me it is reading the books not pertaining to my profession (Artificial Intelligence), but about other subjects like psychology and history. I would love to take more online classes too, but these priorities are always taking the back seat. This is my main struggle and pain point, and my secret plan here is to teach Shannon to read as soon as possible – so I can switch from Three Little Piggies to Autobiography of a Yogi, finally.
Habits, routines, tools or techniques; things that work for Katerina - One important technique that saves time is focused attention. When I am in the office, I focus on my work only, and often do not even pick up the phone. When I am at home, I focus fully on Baby Shannon and my husband, no phone and no work emails. This also increases the quality of our communication, as kids can feel that you are with them, not just sitting around or doing your chores, but engaged in their world.
Outsource, outsource, outsource... all activities that you do not enjoy, outsource mercilessly. For me it is cleaning of the house, cooking, driving and grocery shopping. We in India are blessed with opportunity to have wonderful house helpers. It is not possible in USA and in Russia. And I fully use this opportunity, do not see any problem with that. During the time freed up I make enough money to cover the costs for cook and maid. So even ladies who say we cannot afford it now –think about that you can build your online “from home” business too, if you free your time from house chores.
Her main message to other women?
...is that sacrifice is not required and will not be appreciated. So do not sacrifice ladies. Too many are trying to do what others are expecting from them, and accepting the victim mentality, sulking about their lifestyle but not being able to say NO. This ability to say NO is critical – decide about your priorities, what is important for you. Include your adult responsibilities of course too, but find some ME time. And say NO to the rest of activities that waste your time. Late night TV would be in this list according to me.
Another important advice is to try to schedule ME time early in the morning, while babies and husbands are sleeping. Enjoy quiet early mornings alone, read or walk, sip your tea and this will make you happy for the rest of the day.
Nagalakshmi Viswanathan - aka Nags, is a digital marketing professional who works with Twitter currently. She's mom to 2 year old Sameera, a food blogger for 13+ years, urban gardener, and social media enthusiast. She lives in sunny Singapore.
Here is how she attains balance-
I have always tried to balance work and personal life but having a child changed the dynamics entirely. I try to spend as much free time with my daughter, Sameera, as possible and as a working mom, priority goes to quality time together. She started playgroup at 20 months so either my husband or I drop her in the mornings which gives us 20-30 mins with her which we spend singing songs, counting buses on the road, or generally chit chatting. 9-5 we are at work but once we are home in the evening, more time is spent with her at the playground and later at home with books, puzzles, etc before bedtime. She goes to bed around 8-8:30 so after that, we get some time to unwind. Family time for me is most important and that means time spent with my daughter as well as my husband. I've had to drop a lot of my hobbies, unfortunately, but I see this as temporary. I was an active food blogger for 13 years before my daughter was born and I definitely intent to get back to it soon.
Habits, routines, tools or techniques, how she does it…
I am a planner. I have a set routine for most regular chores like grocery shopping, cleaning, laundry, gardening, even playdates for my daughter. I am fortunate to have a full time helper at home who also doubles up as Sameera's nanny so she handles all the cleaning, laundry, and basic cooking as well as being the primary caretaker of Sameera when we're at work. I do grocery shopping twice a week on fixed days, make a meal plan for the week every Sunday, and make sure our helper has everything she needs to do her job well. I outsource everything I can and spend all the extra time gained with Sameera. This has meant a few adjustments like being ok with not cooking (one of my favourite hobbies), eating the same boring but healthy meals often, and not grocery shopping at a physical store, another one of my favourite pastimes. We also cut down the number of trips we make every year but try to make them more comfortable and child-friendly so it's a true vacation for all. I see most of these changes as temporary, a phase of life which shall pass and adjust itself as we all grow together as a family.
Her struggles and pain points.
Raising a kid as a working couple is not easy. I feel bad complaining since we have help full time but the reality is that no matter what your circumstances, if you want to be hands-on parents involved in your child's life, it means way less personal time. This was the rudest shock for me on being a parent and it continues to be a struggle. We can't sleep in on a Sunday, we can't just read or watch TV whenever we want, going out for an impromptu movie has to be limited to Saturdays, and so much more. Even my works trips are very short and to the point, so that I can get back home as soon as possible. Again, I see this as a phase and as Sameera grows older and more independent, the dynamic will change and evolve. Toddlers require a lot of attention and energy and I find it hard on some days.
Her secret sauce?
There's no right or wrong when it comes to being a working woman, a mom, a working mom or a stay at home mom, a business woman juggling family too or any other combination of the above. But, I believe there's a right choice for every individual. For me, being a working mom is the answer. I struggled coming back to work after my mat leave and felt very upset about having to leave her behind but that feeling passed as I got more involved in work. Soon I was convinced this is the right answer. Likewise, take your time to figure out what it is you want. Being home with your child may be right for some, working may be the answer for some others. Find out what the solution is for you as an individual. Take opinions and advice and I would recommend making the ultimate decision yourself with support from your family.
Shweta Ganesh Kumar is an award-winning blogger, writer and runs the popular Indian Mom Blog - The Times of Amma. She is currently based in Budapest with her husband and two children.
Her priorities –
I took a while to figure out what balance meant for me as a ‘work from home’ mother.
Pre-motherhood, I had always been the kind who revised three times for an exam, the person who went for months without weekend offs as a TV news reporter, the person who edited her manuscript four times.
When I became a mother in 2011, naturally I wanted to ace the class. The media that surrounded me in the form of movies, books and commercials was filled with images of various mothers who have somehow managed to have it all. They worked, they made photogenic meals, they kept their children's brains free from screens, they worked out and they did all this with no help. They also raised the bar impossibly high for other mothers. Cue the 'Bad Parent' theme song right here. Social pressure, even of the virtual kind was not the best thing that could happen to a new mother.
Her pain –
I wallowed in a pit of darkness for a bit, till I realized that motherhood was not a competition. It was not until I pushed myself to a mindfulness workshop, that I confronted my feelings and figured out that I had lost my way.
I realized that everyone is at war with himself or herself. We struggle to rise up to expectations that are not even ours to begin with. As mothers especially, and parents in general, we battle with other parents trying to be the best. But the truth is that, no one can win those battles. No single parent can be the best breadwinner, chef, craftsperson, artist, nurturer and everything else. You choose what you can do best, take a deep breath and let the rest go.
And now she knows-
This is what I carry with me as an expat mother of two. My husband travels a lot for work and often it is just the kids and I for weeks on end. And I know that in order to be an extra-compassionate parent during those times, I need to show myself some kindness too. I do this by allowing myself to slow down rather than speed up. I work only when my children are otherwise engaged, so that I don’t resent their constant interruptions. In my case, this means hiring a babysitter for the afternoons, so that my younger child is meaningfully engaged while I focus on my writing and other commitments. My priority remains my family but I also recognize that I can only fully cater to their needs if mine are met as well.
Shailaja Vishwanath is a solo entrepreneur, blogger, and digital media strategist. She lives in Bangalore with her husband and 12-year-old daughter whom she fondly refers to as Gy.
The most important things for which you want to make room in your life.
I believe that a happy woman is she who manages to make time for things that she has to do and things that she wants to do. In my personal experience, I find great joy in sitting down to work every single day as much as I do when I read a book or spend time talking with my tween daughter or watching a TV show with my husband. On a daily basis, I prioritize tasks that I HAVE to do, followed by tasks that I want to do. So far, it’s been working out fine. Additionally, the family also pitches in and takes on tasks so we’re all sharing the load.
How to get there –
What helps me in particular is my almost fanatical attention to time blocking. I put everything on my calendar and in my bullet journal. This also includes things like sleeping on time and being up early, to have some quiet time for myself. I also find that a few minutes of meditation every morning are a great way to centre my mind for the day ahead.
A few months ago, I’d have said it was trying to do too much at the same time. But, over the last six months or so, I’ve found a rhythm that I am finally comfortable with. Struggles on a day to day basis are rare unless I am physically indisposed.
Her bag of tricks –
I rarely give advice but I love sharing tips 😊. Prioritize based on what matters to you the most. But also, make time to do the hard stuff. Most often, we end up saying,’I don’t have time’. But the truth is we don’t make time to do the things we ought to do, whether that’s taking care of ourselves or working on our business. Something as simple as turning off social media and going for a walk is a choice. And it’s a choice you need to make.
Shilpi Sharma Bedi - Post a highly successful career of over 15 years in the ITES sector, 10 of which were spent in Human Resource Development as Training operations lead for an MNC. Shilpi took an entrepreneurial jump and launched IndieProjectStore.com A unique online kids boutique that offers product listings from small shops/startups from all over India (90% of which are run by women), making products developed by parents for parents easily accessible to the Indian Parenting community.
Priorities and balance
Two human babies, a fur baby, a spouse and a startup are all my main priorities. Well before I became a mom, I learnt about the need for balance in life. Even when I was in a corporate race, I would prioritize my needs and build them into her routine. I would switch off from work whenever I needed some me time. Now, with my own business, I have a partner who handles the slack when I need a breather.
Her tips and tricks
The spiritual plays a big role in my everyday life. I stay grounded and find balance through nourishing my spiritual self every day with a little meditation and prayer. On the other hand a close personal connection to the people I work with and my clients help me in business.
Find an outlet for your hobby at work. My passion for photography has become the bed rock of my Instagram account at work. A slower pace from what you were used to earlier should not frustrate you. You should not give up what you love, even if you get very low doses of it. With two young children, I do not get as much time as I would like to read, but I do read, even if it means completing a book only over a year.
Also having hobbies that can nourish you at any time or place like listening to music are always good. With just a set of headphones, you are good to go and lose yourself in a different world effortlessly.
Make notes and stay ahead of what you need to do. Time is not your friend when you are parenting young kids and building a business. So just get your blinkers on, focus on the present moment and do what needs to be done. You will be able to handle the curve balls life throws you and move on.
Aarabi Veeraraghavan, contemporary dancer and mum to a four-year-old. I also continue to train and perform in the classical dance space as well, and when I am not dancing, I am reading, writing, concocting things in the kitchen, chasing after a child and a dog or hiding from said dog and child to drink tea in peace.
My average working day can be on an even 5 but zoom up to a hyper 15 at times. I have always been a dancer all my life from when I started learning to dance at age 4. And it is an intrinsic part of my identity. I could no more give up being a dancer than I could give up eating. Its sustenance for me.
Balance - there is no one way of doing this, but parenting has to be a shared responsibility between partners/spouses if there is such a person in the picture. It cannot all fall on the woman, and the weight of expectations on women to be successful on both the career front and be fully available at home is extremely unfair, and there is no similar pressure on men.
For me, balance is about deciding when to prioritize one over the other and optimizing the time I do have to do as much as I can.
While it is not a 9-5 job and others who work with me understand the needs of a mother with a young child and accord me the flexibility I need, but during performance season it can get all consuming and one is physically, emotionally and mentally drained and out all hours. That is when you need your extended family or village to gather around.
Say no to mother guilt!
The first time I went on tour my son was almost two years old and my husband who is a musician stepped in to take up the slack. I am a 50% parent and my husband is the other 50% parent. When one partner has to prioritize something they need to prioritize, the other steps in and this is a privilege extended to both. Mother guilt is very real but if you build a strong village you can be at peace with yourself. If you don’t have a village of caregivers, if you don’t marry into one, or inherit one; then build one.
I think it’s time we stop evaluating success as awards, pay checks and recognition and really focus on the small personal victories too. It could be as personal as getting through the day without losing your temper at your toddler or sticking to a promise that you made to yourself. These personal successes matter much more in the long run than any external quantifiable success.
Meeta Sharma Gupta, founder of shumee, a venture that aims to bring back the joy of playing for kids through their simple yet engaging toys. Her shumee journey was inspired from watching her two boys play and engage with simple wooden toys. Designing toys and children’s products was a step into the unknown that reaped rich rewards as she truly believes in the philosophy of letting a child explore and grow naturally. Her sons Aarush (11years) and Ishaan (8 years) are her ready testers and big advisors on many of the toys that Shumee has launched.
Balancing for better
A startup is not is a 24x7 occupation! But very early into it I realized that one has to consciously take time for other things which matter to you in life. I enjoy cooking with my boys and we ensure that at least twice in a week we cook something together. Family time is very important to me, and I try to make time for my family on an everyday basis. Even though I have started having longer work days and reach a little later than earlier I ensure that we have our family time, we all unwind together. We still carry on bedtime chats and bedtime stories traditions. A major part of the weekends are reserved for the family. Apart from this I take out some me-time in the morning before the day starts for everyone. I find that helps me feel more energetic and in control of the day to come.
Habits, routines, tools or techniques
I do not handle uncertainty very well and need to have a routine. I try to start my day earlier than everyone in the family and this helps me get some me-time and energizes me to be a part of everyone else’s day. I try, though not very consistently, to exercise every day, even it is a 5 minute Surya namaskar routine.
I am not extremely organized intrinsically, but after starting shumee, I have realized that maintaining a task list helps clear the chaos in my mind and keeps me more focused.
Struggles or pain points.
I feel I am not always on top of everything. But I do recognize the need to be more organized, as this helps reduce the clutter in one’s mind.
How she plays it
After becoming a mom, and an entrepreneur I have realized it is not possible to do everything. One has to prioritize and it is unrealistic to expect that one can do everything to perfection. So there would be some sacrifices or things we will need to be let go off, and I have slowly come to accept that reality. This has made it more peaceful and has helped me immensely.
Subha Chandrasekaran, Founder -RainKraft, ex-Citibanker, mom to a tween and a teen.
My priorities would be kids, family, work and me time. Each day is different. Some days work gets more attention and some days family. The effort is not to stress about any one aspect to try to achieve a ‘perfectly balanced’ day. I believe in planning so I do try to plan most of my commitments in advance so that nothing gets left out. And know that in the larger scheme of things, it all evens out!!
Having a routine helps immensely as does planning the day/week as much as is possible. What works well for me is asking for help and taking it when it’s offered and outsourcing what I don’t want to be doing.
Struggles or pain points.
Easy-guilt is always a struggle. Did I do enough? Did I give it enough? Could I have made it easier for all involved?
Saying Yes to too many things
Her line for other moms...
Plan for a bumpy ride and enjoy the smooth stretches with a smile! Think positive!
Lavanya Mohan works in the marketing team of Vue.ai, a leading Artificial Intelligence startup. A Chartered Accountant by qualification, she is also a freelance writer who has been published in some newspapers and publications, including The Hindu, Architectural Digest, Conde Nast Traveller, Elle India, FirstPost, The News Minute and BuzzFeed, among others. She also maintains a personal finance blog for women at pennmoney.com.
My family (husband, child, and dog), work and myself!
Balance for better?
Living close to my parents and in-laws have been an absolute blessing. I have a two-year-old son, so for me to really pursue my career while parenting, I've learned that you've to ask and take as much help as possible from every source. I've also learned that clearing out my to-do list at work by 4 PM helps me relax a bit more during the last couple of hours, and as a result, I'm a lot more cheerful and active at home when I get back to my toddler.
Struggles, if any...
Lately, I've been noticing that I spend far too much time on my phone and that I'm not as present or in the moment as I ought to be, especially when I'm with my child. A lot of my work involves the phone, so it's a bit of a struggle. However, I've started leaving my phone on my bedside in the mornings, and it's proving to helpful in reducing my screen time.
On the money
Ask for help! It's impossible for anyone to do it all. Ask for help and take help when its offered to you!
Don't compare your life with the life of others, especially other moms on social media. Everyone else will look like they have their act together - when the truth is that we don't know anything about what happens behind the scenes. It's a fruitless exercise. Spend that time doing things you love instead.
Parenting is monumentally difficult - especially if you take on the entire load by yourself! Actively share responsibilities with your partner and spend time on yourself, even if it's only a few times a week! It's important to do something that fulfills your interests and will keep you energized and happy.
Sharing your story is not easy in these times of glossy, sanitised versions of lives everywhere we can see. Life is not about the highlight reel but about what happens behind the scenes. We at shumee wish every woman balance for better every day! Every day is Women's day at shumee!