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Indian Families - Making Life and Work Balance

Indian Families - Making Life and Work Balance

By DEEPANJALI KAKATI

The rise in the number of dual-earner couples in India may have led to an increase in the standard of living but it has also given rise to issues like how to balance home and work and how to devote enough time to children.

An international online poll conducted in 2006 by New York-based market research firm ACNielsen found that 74 percent of Indian respondents want a better home-work balance. Half said they want to spend more time with their families.

Couples are increasingly recognizing that any sort of balance can be achieved only if both partners chip in. For each couple, it's a matter of finding out what works best for them.

Flexi-time
Bindu Menon, copy editor at The Indian Express in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, often finds her workdays stretching beyond midnight. That is when the benefits of her husband's flexible working hours really sink in. Narendra Raghunath, an artist, works out of his home studio and Menon says he played a large part in bringing up their daughter, 4½-year-old Anjali. "He takes her to the doctor, takes her out in the evenings, helps her during mealtimes," says Menon.

For most women, having a career means an opportunity to be self-reliant and help provide a more comfortable lifestyle for their family. And even though Menon often goes on a guilt trip for not being able to spend enough family time, she says that they have managed to deal with the pressure because of her husband's understanding nature. But it's not an easy ride.

"It's a little hard for Anjali, for when she returns from school at 2 p.m. it's time for me to go to office. Narendra tries to make up by taking her out to the park or anywhere when he can. On my off days I try to make up by spending time only with Anjali, playing with her, reading her stories or taking her out to the amusement park," says Menon. Things get difficult when projects and exhibitions take Raghunath away from home for two to three weeks out of every two months.

"There are times when Anjali cries when I leave for office, especially when her father is out of town. On Saturdays and Sundays, I am there in the morning for her but there are times when I just don't want to play with her as I am too exhausted and that causes problems!" says Menon.

Although dual-earner couples are almost the norm now, "I still maintain it's hard on the child. All the talk of quality time with kids is fine but it really just isn't enough. Which is why I believe it's important to have a support system like [grand]parents at home," says Menon.

Support system
Indian couples are finding different support systems: whether it is the traditional large family, just each other, or the neighborhood crèche. Sameer Gupta and Sangeeta Saikia Gupta are a nuclear family, and with their 2½-year-old daughter, Pragnya, starting playschool this year, both have to do a fair bit of juggling.

In the morning, Gupta, who works as a brand manager with India Today, takes care of setting the house in order while his wife prepares Pragnya's breakfast. He then wakes up their daughter and gets her ready for school. Then while Saikia Gupta gets ready to leave for the office, he drops Pragnya at the gate, where the playschool van picks her up. "It's all about lending a helping hand and ensuring that the household runs smoothly," he says. In the evening, Pragnya is picked up from the crèche by her mother on the way home.

Saikia Gupta, who works as an administrative officer with New India Assurance Co. in New Delhi, says that, though a dual income can build a healthier relationship, it takes a lot of hard work and effort. "Though time spent together is little, it is more important that whatever time we spend together should be quality time. After reaching home, I try to give maximum time to Pragnya, asking her about her activities during the day," says the working mom. Together time With all their energies directed toward work or their children, how much time do couples get to spend in each other's company?

Mridusmita Sharma, who teaches at Delhi Public School, says that though the initial stage is confusing, when the couple tries to balance work and a baby, people learn with time how to make things work.

"We now end up doing more activities together after having a child and spend more enjoyable times together. It's true that a child needs your attention most of the time, and you do end up missing the kind of quality time you used to spend in each other's company when you did not have a child," she says.

So, sometimes they would make plans just for the two of them. But then they would start missing their daughter. While her husband, Shankar Nath, did get a week of paternity leave, not a common thing in the Indian work scenario, Sharma feels that "a mother of a newborn needs her husband to be around, moreso at that time" and not just for a few days.

This year their 4-year-old daughter, Gia, started at the same school where Sharma works. Earlier, Nath worked from home in the mornings so that Gia did not have to spend too much time without parental supervision. "It gives me a sense of relief to know that Mridusmita is at home most of the time. As for me, my working hours are also flexible. So, we both end up spending enough time with our child," says Nath, who runs a semi-entrepreneurial venture, Mindfire Solutions.

Yet, as with other couples, their equation depends on mutual cooperation. "We have an understanding that in parts where I am better in childcare I take the lead, and the areas where he can manage he takes over to give me time to relax and chill out," says Sharma.

Ongoing process
The key to resolving work-life balance challenges, in fact, is flexibility. The way people negotiate working and parenting is an ongoing process and evolves continually.

"It has taught us to coordinate with each other better. We have discovered many new traits about each other, like I never thought my husband could be such a patient father," says Jayita Bandyopadhyay, assistant editor at The Pioneer, who has a 3-year-old daughter, Isheeka.

Though the pressure can get a bit "unnerving" at times, she says that her husband, Amulya Sinha, who runs a media monitoring firm, TPS Media Services, is always ready to help at home. In the morning, he drops Isheeka at school and when he returns, sees that her homework is done. If Bandyopadhyay is tied up at work, he also feeds the child dinner.

"He generally can't miss office but I have the option of working from home or changing my timings to suit personal needs. And at times I do so, especially when my husband goes on out-of-city official trips," she says.

Please share your views on this article. Write to editorspan@state.gov

Supporting Families
Today's fast-changing world needs the anchor of values and virtues that families can provide. Strong families instill responsibility and character in our children and teach them the ideals that make us a great nation. Through their love and sacrifice, America's parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings and other family members help prepare our young people to realize the bright future America offers each child.

My Administration is committed to ensuring that our children grow up in loving, stable homes. Earlier this year, I signed legislation that creates new grants for faith-based and community organizations to support healthy marriages and responsible fatherhood. By reducing the marriage penalty and doubling the child tax credit, we have also provided important tax relief that helps parents to support and provide for their families.

-Excerpts from National Family Week Proclamation by President George W. Bush, November 16, 2006

Courtesy: SPAN Magazine

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