YOU CAN IF YOU THINK YOU CAN
By Prof. Manju Jaidka, Chandigarh.
How did I, a career woman, negotiate my professional dreams with the additional responsibility of looking after my special child? I tried to remain positive most of the time but, I must confess, it wasn’t at all easy. There were days when I felt grounded. Crushed. Almost decimated. I felt as though a mountain had come crashing down on me. As though I were plunged into an abyss of darkness from which there was no return.
The question that bothered me most was: why, why, why? Why had life been unfair to me? Why was I given a special child to take care of? A child who would need my support all his life?
My mental, physical and emotional resources were no longer mine. They had to be portioned out judiciously so that I could look after the child as well as I would look after myself and the many commitments in my life. I felt split into several entities, each part craving for my undivided attention.
From the first stunned reaction to the hysterical outbursts of “not fair!” to the moments of gloom and despair…. Varied emotions like tidal waves would break time and again over my head, threatening to drown me completely. But then the dark spell would dissipate, the sun would shine again, I would recover, take stock of the situation, assess the pros and cons, and try limping back to normalcy.
Being faced with the responsibility of looking after a child with disabilities is a challenge to any woman. BUT the problem was that I saw myself as more than just an ordinary woman; I was a career woman, too, with stars in my eyes. With dreams and aspirations of rising high in the profession, travelling the world, going places, meeting people, contributing to the welfare of the world at large. How would I do all that with the responsibility of looking after a special child? How would I meet my professional goals? Would I need to sacrifice the one for the other? I was not prepared to do so. I wanted to set sail on both the boats and I didn’t want either to capsize.
So, what did I do? In the first place I had to steel myself. I had to be ruthless with my emotions, my feelings, with the softer side of life. I had to stop thinking and simply act. I had to be a doer and not a thinker. I decided I would not get emotional about my situation. Easily said but hard to put into practice. I dinned it into myself that I had been given a challenge that called for great strength – not just for a week or a month or a year but for the rest of my life! The thought was staggering and it took a long, long time to sink in. But I knew I had to be hard as a rock to withstand the storms that would assail me from time to time.
As objectively as I could, I tried to analyse the situation and identify my strong and weak points. With the additional responsibility there were certain things I could do and a lot of other things that I could not. I realized that I had to meet my challenges squarely in the face and prioritise my to-do list. I tried to reorganize my life, drop the unnecessary baggage, clear out the clutter, make room for the additional responsibility and plan how I could handle it best without sacrificing my professional dreams.
Realizing that, much as I would have liked to, I could not do everything for my child, I took help from family members, care-givers and other dependable people who were willing and capable of helping. The responsibility was shared. So the emotional burden, too, was lessened.
With a great effort, I compartmentalized my life, dividing my time rationally between my responsibilities as a mother and duties as a career woman, trying my best to ensure that the one did not interfere with the other. There were times when the demands of one were greater, so I had to adjust from time to time.
One of the maxims I followed was “Don’t make excuses.” Commitments, professional or otherwise, have to be fulfilled. There’s work to be done in office and one is getting paid for it, so it should be done sincerely, without asking for special concessions. Everyone has personal problems but they are best left at home when one goes to the office.
Challenges bring out the hidden strength in a person – the inner self, the super human being, the potential that remains untapped in normal circumstances. I would meditate, try to harness my inner strength and invoke the ubermensch within. It paid off and I forged ahead. But the driving force behind me was always the child waiting mutely for me back at home. My special baby moulded me into a stronger person.
There were ups and downs. When you do well in your career despite the demands on your time at home, you may in fact do much better than your colleagues and may even arouse jealousy and envy. I went through bad patches but I plodded on, turning a deaf ear to all hearsay and idle gossip.
Looking after a special child can be emotionally draining, even frustrating, at times. So I tried to be kind to myself, pamper myself from time to time, giving myself little rewards and gifts every time the baby and I overcame a hard time. I kept some “me-time” for my hobbies and little pastimes that I could engage in while sitting at my child’s bedside. As far as possible I surrounded myself with positive people pleasant to be with.
No one is perfect. Ours is a human world where imperfection is the norm. My advice to a mom facing similar challenges would be that one must do one’s best and leave the rest. Instead of fretting about goals not achieved, it is better to be satisfied with whatever one has actually gained. Count your blessings and realize that you are still better off than many others who do not have your good fortune. There is always plenty to be grateful for.
A woman with a special child is a special mom. She loves her child; but she also loves her job. And she can excel as both, a mother and a career woman.
You can if you think you can!!