A radical lesson from my grandmother: Everything is personal; if you detach yourself from your work or your friends or your lover even a little bit, they are not yours for the long haul. She is the lady who brought me up; I lived with her till I was 15. Long after her death, she continues to influence many of my decisions. She lived her life that way—unapologetically in the moment, while nurturing family, going about her social work, writing, translating, combining aesthetics and faith in her daily religious rituals. It was a chaotic, eventful household. There was art, passion, as well as headache and pain in everything she did. She happened to be the head of the family without anyone ever acknowledging or declaring it.
It is a tough example to follow. I am a creature of the 1990s. We know multitasking, switching from apna desh to everything American in split seconds. We learnt early on that professionalism pays and takes you places, that you can compartmentalize your life and count on “quality time” to maintain some sense of balance between the personal and the professional.
Multitasking does take you places, you can’t avoid it. And there is no substitute for professionalism if you want to be in the race.
But for some people, the personal catches up before you are even ready for it. What do you really love doing at this point in your life? Why are you giving up precious moments of your child’s growing up years by negotiating city traffic every day? When will that long-cherished idea of running your own business fructify? These are gnawing questions.
The first leap from the work-life balance mindset is to rethink “quality time”.
That life coach cliché from some age long past, probably the 1990s, is now in Oxforddictionaries.com: “Time in which one’s child, partner, or other loved person receives one’s undivided attention, in such a way as to strengthen the relationship.” One of the reasons I am suspicious of its usefulness.
My grandmother would scoff at the idea. It is just a way to assuage guilt, she would say. I am beginning to scoff at it along with her. In any relationship, work or life, either you are there for the good, bad or ugly, for its every banal moment and for its every high and every low, or you are as good as not being there.
Working mothers particularly cling on to the myth of quality time. I don’t remember many weekends with my daughter which are memorable or more fulfilling or more intimate than brief weekday evenings at the park or early weekday mornings when we make breakfast together or those 10 minutes waiting for the school bus when she asks me why her new friend’s papa lives in another house. But in five years of motherhood, I have held on to the idea that quality time is somehow redeeming.
Holidays, supposedly quality time with friends or family, are best enjoyed alone. There is as much stress in loud group holidays as there is fun.
Make every moment count, be alive to the possibility of revelation and ecstasy in the humdrum moments.
Before I sound like an aged Baz Luhrmann, I will stop. And also stop worrying about quality time.