We live in a society where the role of women in finance and the professional sphere is considered dispensable. Strangely, women are expected to quit their careers to support the house and kids. “Isn’t it a social norm?” is the general attitude. Media professional Shalini Pandey, through this personal essay, tells us how she dealt with the change: from being a woman in the finance race to becoming a housewife.
When money brings respect:
Money brings respect or so I thought until I was forced to become a housewife from a woman in finance and business.
Well, I started working at the age of 20. Since I started young, I know the value of hard-earned money. I have enjoyed my financial independence all these years. I was also conditioned into believing that when you earn money, you earn the love and respect of people around you.
Therefore, I always wanted to earn. And, I continued working even after marriage. To be honest, I earned well, saved enough, and lived comfortably financially without having to ask my husband or parents for a penny. I thoroughly enjoyed my role as Bureau Chief of Strategic Affairs of a defense magazine. Life in print media was exciting.
Loss of identity:
However, post motherhood, I had to quit my job like many women out there. I quit the job to take care of the newborn, along with my ailing bed-ridden mother-in-law. But I am not alone. There are at least 20 million Indian women like me. According to a study by the World Bank, some 20 million Indian women opted out of jobs between 2004-05 and 2011-12. And, in the same time period, some 24 million men joined the workforce.
In yet another study, conducted by the Genpact Centre for Women’s Leadership, shows that of those who do manage to return, 48% drop out within four months of re-joining work.
As a stay-at-home mom, I have struggled with guilt, boredom, and felt overwhelmed most of the time. From a working professional, I had become a ‘typical’ housewife. My career aspirations stared at me. It also led to elevated levels of stress. I was sad, agitated, and angry most of the time, as I was not able to cope with this new routine that life threw at me.
I started questioning my existence:
That’s how it is all over the world. According to an article on CNN, titled The Coronavirus Recession is Hitting Women the Hardest, ‘Women in the United States also still carry a disproportionate responsibility for child care, which could make their return to the workforce difficult or impossible’.
I have been an independent person since childhood, who didn’t believe in gender bias. But here I was battling the conflict within, questioning my very existence: why was I born a woman in a patriarchal society, where the primary responsibility of raising children is placed on the mothers.
Back in India, it’s a ‘natural’ expectation for women to take a post-maternity break, or devote less time to their career when their children are young. In fact, if you are lucky enough to be a working woman, you’d be expected to take leave from work to tend to sick kids or help them prepare for exams and competition. The role of women and their personal finance management or that of the house is considered decorative.
The shame of becoming a dependent:
My father taught me the value of savings and investments. And I had learned both things well and was good at money management planning. To secure my daughter’s future financially, I had bought a policy for her that required me to pay a big annual premium amount. And I have been also supporting my uncle who is bed-ridden for the last 14 years, financially.
Thanks to my savings, I was able to bear all these expenses for 4 years even after quitting my job. But now, my savings started drying up. The thought of the next premium gave me sleepless nights.
I felt worthless and unwanted (as I had this strong belief that earning makes you loved and wanted). In fact, I was too ashamed to ask anyone for help including my husband. It could have been my ego or self-respect (the line between two is usually blurred). I didn’t want to depend on anyone for my financial needs.
Personally, I do not like any dependency on anyone, as I have seen in my own family also that if you depend on someone, the other partner might take this to be your weakness. I believed that the financial literacy of women is the most important in women empowerment.
I was absolutely broken and depressed. After working hard for more than a decade, here I was absolutely jobless with so many responsibilities. I was probably not mentally prepared for these, and I had become financially dependent.
My husband taught me the real role of women in finance – Does this sound sexist or is it just me?
Let me be honest. I have a very loving and understanding husband. We had a love marriage. But I never felt like asking him for any financial support as I used to think it will hurt my ego and he might think I am financially dependent on him and inferior to him or a burden on him. (What a fool I was!)
However, this premium amount had started taking a toll on my mental health and I was unable to sleep for many nights. One day he asked me , “What is bothering you?”
I broke down, cried. Between my sobs, I told him everything, and how I couldn’t bring myself to ask him for help and why!
He lovingly held me and said, “You have been suffering for far too long… Why wouldn’t you tell me about this earlier?”
No prizes for guessing, he took care of the premium and also transferred a handsome amount in my bank account to take care of my expenses as he knew well that I do not like to ask for money from anyone.
Hard cash is not the only contribution
What left me in tears were his words:
“Everyone is not born to earn hard cash. Some people are on this earth to make others’ life beautiful; and Shalini, you are doing the same. You take care of us, our house, your own family, and counsel people who make YouTube videos and still never complain. Our mothers never worked in any company but still, they contributed so well to our lives. If everyone in the family will only be after earning money there will be chaos everywhere with no emotional or spiritual investment. Everyone will fight for supremacy as who is earning more, who deserves more respect and ego will creep in. Trust me you are doing great in every role and we are equal partners in this journey.”
Redefining my role in financial management:
My husband absolutely changed my perspective with his kind words. I realized my conditioning stopped me from looking at life differently. I wish I had spoken to my husband about my dilemma earlier, I would have saved myself from all the mental agony.
Also, I felt I had misunderstood the institution of marriage. Personal space, independence, and freedom are good, but I realized that the true meaning of marriage and companionship is mutual trust, open communication, and shared resources. This one incident cleared many wrong internalizations I had about marriage, profession, and the importance of personal financial management.
The importance of financial literacy for women:
From what I have learned I want to tell all the women who had to let go of their career post motherhood and felt depressed, that you are special and you are beautiful. There will be tough days, but they are worth it as it will help you grow stronger emotionally. And remember your child is learning from you so you are setting up a great image of a woman who is full of courage, strength, and a master in time management. But you should also set an example for financial management in women for your kids. You need not be an earning member for this.
Money is not everything. If it weren’t for us, the men won’t be able to have jobs! They earn money because of us, so it’s about sharing responsibilities and resources.
To the husbands:
To all the husbands there, please value what your wife is doing for you, your child, and your family. She too had dreams but she chose to let them go in order to make her family life beautiful.
And I now understand money is just a medium to ensure the basic necessities of life, the world doesn’t revolve around it. It’s love, kindness, and understanding that matters for a balanced life.
By Shalini Pandey
Shalini Pandey is a media professional turned housewife. This article is part of a collaboration between os.me and The Champa Tree, to build a truthful and kind community.
Could you relate to Shalini Pandey? Do you have a story to tell about the role of women in money matters? Don’t keep it to yourself. Tell us and we will help you to tell the world.