Not all superheroes wear capes. Some run client zoom meetings with aplomb despite baby drool on their shoulders or moody teenagers in the other room.
When I first started working, I always wondered how my bosses and colleagues had brilliant careers even while managing toddlers or young adults at home. I always thought they had some hidden superpowers to do it all. Now, being on the other side with a full-time job and a toddler, I have realised that we have no superpowers – just a lot of willpower.
Whether you are a parent yourself, planning to have kids someday or just working with colleagues who have kids, I hope these stories teach us all something. The intent is –
- Breaking through biases by unpacking the other side of being working parents, and
- Highlighting behind-the-scenes stories to normalize equal co-parenting by partners
Meet Aparna Khandelwal
A Sustainability practitioner, former colleague and good friend. At the workplace, anyone would swear by her ownership, expertise and quality of work. But very few people know that behind the scenes she also manages two young kids and runs an impeccable house. In her own words, here is her story of being a Parent-On-Deck.
I am a strategy and finance professional specialised in sustainability. I have an MBA in Finance from T.A. Pai Management Institute, Manipal and an undergraduate degree in economics from Delhi University. Over the last 14 years of my career, I have worked across several kinds of companies – as part of the Climate Change team at HSBC, as part of core startup team at cKinetics and also as Head of Sustainability & CSR at Jubilant Foodworks. I am currently an independent sustainability advisor working on projects with International Finance Corporation (World Bank Group), India Climate Collaborative (ICC) and a few others.
What my resume won’t tell you
I live in Delhi NCR with my husband and two daughters aged 7 and 4 years. We are a nuclear family, though we are lucky to have both sets of parents living close by in the same city.
I think I have always had a very busy, high-speed life since I have never taken a career break so far. In fact, I got married and had both my kids while juggling a startup life.
My husband has always been a very hands-on father for the kids. From changing diapers to feeding them to putting them to bed and getting them ready for school (even when I used to travel outstation for work) – he has done all of it. As the kids have now grown up a little, he switched jobs and now heads Sales at a high growth startup. His new workplace is 40 kilometers away from our house and he only has a weekly off on Sundays. This means he cannot be as hands-on anymore as he wants to be. Sundays are the only time he gets to spend with the kids now, so he tries to make the most of it. My elder daughter and he share a love of Harry Potter – she will never discuss or read a book with me. With our younger one, they go cycling together on the weekends, that’s their shared love.
My support system for the kids is a combination of both sets of grandparents and a 10-hour nanny. Pre-pandemic I relied on the nanny to engage and manage the kids through the day, though they were also always under supervision of either set of grandparents. Being around grandparents has been a enormous support because mentally I’m at peace that my kids are looked after and grandparents are also not burdened unnecessarily.
What I Think – I am definitely not a helicopter parent. I don’t like to get into every small detail and plan every minute for my kids while they are awake. I think some bit of unstructured time wherein they can invent their own games is good for them. I don’t believe kids always need to be provided external stimulus. I think it’s important for them to sometimes get a little bored so that they bring out their creative side. So, I try not to structure their entire day, minute by minute.
What my kids think – Believe it or not, one day I actually had this very open discussion about what they feel about the relationship we share. Both our daughters felt that we listen to them most of the time. They are also perceptive and can realize when both my husband and I get angry at them when they are being naughty. They realize that we get angry only when they are doing something which they shouldn’t be doing.
How we are similar to our parents – When I was a child, my parents used to strongly believe that parents should be spending quality time instead of just spending hours with their kids. So, both me and my husband make it a point that we when we are with our children- whether it’s on the weekend or doing activities together – we make sure to be fully involved. When we are with them, we try to give our focused attention to them and do things together rather than just being around yet not being interactive or focused.
How we are different from our parents – I definitely want to have a lot more open relationship with our daughters where they feel comfortable about discussing anything. I’m very close to my parents, but there were certain topics that weren’t really a discussion but a monologue. For example – growing up our parents always taught us that alcohol is taboo. I instead want to create an environment where I am the first port of call for my kids if they want to discuss/experiment with alcohol when they are an appropriate age.
Behind the Scenes of being a Parent-on-Deck
Unpredictability – I am a very structured thinker myself. So, I like having a basic schedule and structure for balancing kids and work through the day. Obviously, it was much easier to do pre pandemic when kids had school and certain extra-curricular activities set up. During the pandemic, especially with the lockdown, no nanny, travel restrictions and both of us working full-time, it actually took us a very long time to find a new working rhythm. There were many days when my blood pressure was off the charts trying to manage everything.
Working Mom’s Guilt – I think my biggest challenges is the guilt that comes with being a working mom. Even if we are doing our best, there still continues to be a negative narrative associated with the working moms. People still think we don’t give adequate time to kids, and the kids feel neglected– but this could not be farther from the truth. Even though my kids are fine with the amount of time I spend with them, there is societal pressure and questioning from extended relatives, neighbours, close friends and even random people.
The Mom Baggage – Unfortunately in Indian society, most of the parenting onus and responsibilities of bringing up children still falls on the mother. Whether we like it or not, whether my spouse/partner wants to shoulder it equally or not, this parenting bias is deeply ingrained in society as well as at workplaces. It is much easier for a woman to get out of office at 7 pm saying the kids are alone at home but a father is unable to justify the same to their bosses. Or when the children are sick, it is considered more acceptable if mothers take leave while the fathers are questioned.
Conscious Choices – As parents, we do end up taking certain decisions which are not always in the best interest of your career. We sometimes need to make these conscious choices because not all workplaces and roles are feasible for working parents especially with young children. For instance, I changed my profile since my role required a lot of travel and my kids were young at that time and I chose to be the primary caregiver.
How being a working parent made me better at work
Being a working parent has definitely changed me for the better in so many ways. For starters, it has turned me into a time management ninja. I can compartmentalize between professional and private life in a more conscious way, so I use my time more efficiently and effectively. I also have a lot more perspective about life and about things that are important, urgent and important vs. good-to-have.
Balancing Work and Kids
I swear by to-do lists, my calendar apps and reminders! Apart from my multiple client assignments, I also manage calendars for my kids for online classes, extra curriculars, resources for projects, homework. So, I meticulously plan my weekly calendar to have chunks of deep work time – sometimes even as early as 5 am or as late as post 10 pm. I also rely on support and reminders from other school moms (on my mom groups) for things that I might miss out on in the daily hustle.
I love the Khan Academy app (for my kids to learn instead of watching cartoons), I use Notion as my personal productivity tool, Google Calendar to manage my schedule and of course a good old notebook for random to-do-lists. Amazon and Milkbasket are lifesavers for working parents too.
Advice for other Parents-On-Deck
Ask for Help. As working parents, we often lose the ability to share that all is not right and we need help since we risk being judged. So even well-meaning people around us don’t understand that we need help. Just remember that it is okay to ask for help at home as well as at workplaces.
Stop trying to be perfect. We cannot be perfect in everything and it should be okay. It is okay if you were sick and were half hour late in submitting the online homework for the kid. It is okay if the kids didn’t attend all birthday parties. It is okay if sometimes the house is messed up since you wanted to catch up on your sleep. Stressing on these small things neither help you nor your family.
Don’t Give Up. Yes, sometimes it feels like everything is difficult and you can’t have it all. But these too shall pass. You just need to believe in yourself and make it happen. This too shall pass and you will only emerge stronger.
If you would like to let Aparna know how amazing she is, you can find her at Linkedin.
If you would like to recommend an awesome Parent-On-Deck to be featured, leave a comment or contact me here!