Mothers often tend to put themselves on the backburner, ignore their needs, while taking care of the ones around them. Kaveree Bamzai, a former editor at India Today with more than 30 years of experience, has written a book called "No Regrets: The Guilt Free Woman's Life to a Good Life". Kaveree's book is all about how women can take care of themselves without feeling guilty about it.
Some excerpts from our conversation with Kaveree Bamzai on all things motherhood.
What triggered you to write this book?
There are so many women who would come up to me and say ‘How do you do this?’ and ‘I’ve had to quit’ or ‘I’ve had to take a backseat’. It just made me think, why do we women always have to take the backseat? I’ve had the privilege of meeting some fabulous women, listening to them, of them talking to me about a whole host of issues.
We’re all so haunted by the idea of being perfect mothers, perfect wives, perfect daughters and perfect at work. And I think that needs to change
So I thought why not take all that experience and all that advice and tell it in this book, along with my own personal experiences. It’s not a self-help book, but it’s more of a self-think book that hopefully will get you thinking, and get you started on this road to recovery of the self. We’re all so haunted by the idea of being perfect mothers, perfect wives, perfect daughters and perfect at work. And I think that needs to change.
Why is motherhood on a high pedestal in our society? And how does it affect women?
Motherhood is put on a high pedestal everywhere, but we have a sort of ideal. We have such powerful role-models. Especially mothers of previous generations, I think they put so much effort and time, and energy into raising us, that they killed their own dreams. We were possibly one of the first generations to actively enter the workforce and stay in it, regardless of the challenges.
And I think the idea is that you’ll always be competing against this mythical ‘other mother’ who bakes cakes. The ‘other mother’ who turns up for every PTA, fully groomed, the one who’s always going on camping trips with her children. You can’t compete with that. And I say don’t even bother to. I’m not saying that don’t fulfill your responsibilities but be a little kind to yourself. We’re very tough on ourselves. I think we’re so kind to our children, to everyone else. However, with ourselves, we’re less than generous. I think we deserve a little empathy. We’re so obsessed with the idea of perfect children, perfect homes.
In your book, you talk about the Helicopter Mom Syndrome and the Whatsapp Moms. Why do you think that we’re seeking so much gratification from our children’s achievements? Where are we going wrong?
I think Farah Khan says it best in her book. She says, "after a certain point, we substitute our sons for our husbands." We want everything to be perfect, so they have to be perfect too especially when the husbands aren’t the ideal we imagined in our fantasies. There is certain channelizing of our own neurosis into our children, which is what is the most dangerous. There is too much mental illness going around, so let’s not at least pass it onto them. Let’s deal with our own mental illnesses first. There’s a very nice line where someone says, "you put your own seatbelt on first and then look at others around you." So essentially, it’s really important to put yourself first and take care of yourself first.
"It's important to put yourself first, and take care of yourself first."
The book is full of relatable anecdotes about motherhood – from many accomplished women. How did you decide which women you wanted to speak to? Were you looking for something particular from them?
It was basically just people I knew, from various fields. I was really looking for something that I had in common with them, so the readers would have something in common with them too. But I think the essential quality that I was looking for from the women I featured was a sense of humour, which is missing from our lives now. There’s a chapter where I say that "anger and humour both leave lines so you might as well be funny." Having a sense of humour is so important. So that was what I was really looked for. We take ourselves too seriously. We just are losing the ability to laugh at ourselves.
You also have a chapter on money and how women often leave it up to their spouses, brothers. We don’t take it seriously enough as women.
Yes! And then it can get us in trouble. It’s not that we have to go to war with our spouse when it comes to money. But it’s important to treat money like it’s important. We may not work until we’re eighty, so we have to provide for ourselves and leave a certain safety net for our children. We have to understand money, how to save it, how to invest it. What makes for a good investment – is it property right now, is it mutual funds…? These are important things. We don’t do enough of that. And then at some point, we wake up and realize we don’t have anything. That’s what’s dangerous.
A family, at the end of the day, is a team and it has to be a collaboration. The more nuclear our families become, the more we have to be there for each other.
You talk about how women don’t take care of themselves – physically, emotionally, mentally. What would you say to women? Why is it important to take care of ourselves and be selfish about prioritizing ourselves?
You’re the only one you got, that’s why you have to take care of yourself. Nobody else is going to do that for you. If you don’t care about your body, your mental health, your emotions, then you’re going to be in trouble. You’re responsible for yourself, realistically. In India, women are living longer. We have to take care of ourselves because no one else will, especially mothers.
Talking about the workplace, you’ve used the ‘basement’ and the ‘glass ceiling’ analogy. In the corporate workplace, there is gender disparity the higher you go up. How can women, in everyday lives, inspire other women to get in the workforce, and more importantly, stay put?
I think not pulling up the ladder behind you, speaking out for other women, looking out for them. If a woman reports a sexual harassment case, supporting her. Counseling women if needed. And allowing a certain flexibility to happen. If you’re a boss, and someone needs to take care of their family, in emergencies or someone needs to take time off, that flexibility should be there. So then, women can feel safe in speaking up, because often we don’t for we fear losing our jobs.
There is a judgment that mothers receive from other mothers, as well. Why are we so judgemental even as women towards other women?
We really need to start supporting each other, and standing up for each other. That lack of judgment will come when we let go of the inherent patriarchy that we’re victims of. The mental conditioning we’ve grown up with needs to be let go of. A family, at the end of the day, is a team and it has to be a collaboration. The more nuclear our families become, the more we have to be there for each other. We get the worst kind of judgment from school-teachers, who themselves are working women. Let them not be so judgemental of motherhood. So I think we have to begin with the schoolteachers.
Image Credit: Harper Collins / Kaveree Bamzai
Prapti is an intern with SheThePeople.TV.