For couples with full-time careers and growing children, cramming more in 24 hours can be a tightrope walk. Attending board meetings and showing up for those inter-school football matches requires serious juggling skills. From delegating the routine stuff and cutting out hours of television watching, to SMSing reminders—three couples in high-power jobs with packed multiple schedules share tips on how they balance their home commitments and manage their hectic work schedules.
Stay connected, all the time
Arun Sirdeshmukh, CEO, Reliance Trends, Bangalore, uses his BlackBerry not just to schedule office meetings but also to set reminders about important events concerning his family. His wife, Rachna Aggarwal, is CEO, Indus Clothing, Future Group, and they have two children, Riya, 13, and Risha, 7. “Just as I have quarterly meeting dates and reviews blocked in my BlackBerry, I also have my children’s holiday schedules and important dates such as the school picnics and parent- teacher meetings all sorted on my BlackBerry. I have coloured the days when Rachna is supposed to be out of town—these are the slots on which I don’t take any work-related travel assignments.”
Mohyna Srinivasan, who quit her job at Hindustan Unilever six years ago after a decade and a half of handling market research, is now a full-time writer and is currently finishing her second book. She works from her home in Bandra, Mumbai. “I start writing after my children leave for school and try and wrap up the session by 3pm when the kids get home,” she says. She has two children, Mallika, 17, and Aditya, 14.
Balancing act: (clockwise from above) Roshini and Hemant Bakshi will participate in the Midnight Sun Marathon with their two boys Dhruv and Rahil (on the sofa) (Hemant Mishra/Mint); Arun Sirdeshmukh and Rachna Aggarwal like to spend time on outdoor activities with their girls Riya and Risha (in blue) (Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint); and Mohyna and Ajay Srinivasan find that sport-related holidays are a great way for the family to bond (Hemant Mishra/Mint).
To make sure her writing does not suffer, Mohyna has taken to writing at odd places—outside the dentist’s office, or even while on a walk. But what really helps is sending SMSes to herself whenever she thinks of a good line or a description. “The largest number of SMSes on my phone are from me! My phone helps me to work from anywhere, anytime.”
For Roshini Bakshi, vice-president, consumer products, publishing and retail, Walt Disney Co. India, being on the phone is crucial to monitoring the home front. “I am on the phone all the time. And on SMS if I am in a different time zone,” says Roshini, who has to travel frequently within the country and internationally. Her two boys—Dhruv and Rahil—SMS her frequently. “With Dhruv, who is 15, my concerns are different than with Rahil, who is 9. I worry about what Dhruv does when he gets back from school, which friend’s house he is going to and when he is getting back. Of course, we have a curfew but that frequently gets stretched when I am out of town.” It is Roshini’s constant on-the-phone activity that alerts her husband Hemant Bakshi, executive director, sales and customer development, Hindustan Unilever, Mumbai, about a parent-teacher meeting or a school assembly that he must attend. “Roshini sends me a reminder SMS or she blocks my Outlook with these dates so I know I must rearrange the rest of my meetings,” he says.
Plan projects together
As chief executive, financial services, Aditya Birla Group, Ajay Srinivasan, Mohyna’s husband, works six days a week. Despite working long hours, Ajay manages to spend “quality” time with his children—and all of it is not about having fun. “My daughter Mallika and I spent many hours last year and this year researching universities in the US. We even did a trip together to Claremont McKenna University earlier this year where my daughter will eventually go to study this fall.”
Even on weekday evenings, Ajay helps his children with their homework. “I work with Mallika on economics or with both of them on math. My children study at the American School and the way they are taught math is very different from the way I learnt it. So the whole exercise is very interesting and fun for all of us,” he says.
It’s important to pick a hobby or a ritual, and then get the rest of your family to join in too. For Sirdeshmukh, it’s cooking on a Sunday evening. “Both the live-in maids are off on a Sunday evening. So I don my apron and gloves and get Riya and Risha to help me out. Sometimes we cook my speciality khatte meethe aloo, otherwise it’s something simple like omelettes. After dinner the kids help me with the washing as well.”
Hemant and Roshini run. “Roshini is a marathon runner, but now she has got me into it as well,” says Hemant, who has taken part in the Mumbai half marathon. Sons Dhruv and Rahil have participated in the Dream Run (part of the annual Mumbai marathon). The Bakshis are all set to participate this summer in the Midnight Sun as they travel to Norway with three other couple friends and their families.
Cut the clutter
“I have a zero-ize email policy at work,” says Hemant, who encourages colleagues to pick up the phone and call for small things instead of adding to the digital clutter. Hemant deals with his early morning emails in the car, going in to work at 9.30am with an empty inbox so that he can focus on the activities. Later in the evening he deals with the 40-odd mails that have come in during the day.
For Sirdeshmukh, cutting out the clutter has meant no TV. “When my friends talk about popular serials I have no idea what they are. I have cut out on watching TV as it sucks up too much time,” he says. But he does have his own home entertainment system that travels with him. “That way I catch up on my movie-watching while I am travelling on work.”
The Srinivasans have deliberately cut back on social obligations. “Ajay sometimes has two invitations for the night, but we end up declining most of these,” says Mohyna, who also switches off her phone for the hours she writes, returning all phone calls and SMSes only after her writing day is over.
Develop a network
Whenever Roshini travels she makes sure she calls a couple of mothers whose boys are friends with her sons. “I like to keep them informed that I am away and always check if they could be called upon in case of a problem.” Roshini believes all working moms must network aggressively if they want a good support structure in place. “I actually take time off from work for mommy lunches because I believe meeting other mothers always helps.” She was a little awkward about going up to other mothers when Dhruv was young. It was tough to ask about car pooling or doing things together, but now Roshini says she has learnt that keeping in touch with other mothers is a boon. “The other day Rahil wanted to change his football coaching class. So I got on to the Internet and found out two other classes. We went to the grounds and I just went up to the other mothers, who were complete strangers, and spoke to them. I couldn’t have done that some years ago. But it helped me judge the quality of the class and now Rahil is very happy there.”
Don’t stress about the small stuff
Hemant and Roshini delegate ruthlessly. Be it housekeeping or taking their boys to taekwondo, drums and creative writing classes, they let someone else accompany the children. “I don’t get into cooking and household menus at all,” says Roshini. Hemant’s parents, who stay with the family, run the Bakshi household with a support staff of three live-in helpers and two part-timers. “Dhruv and Rahil can order in pizza whenever they feel like it; I don’t get into things like that,” says Roshini, whose culinary efforts begin and end at Sunday pancakes.
The biggest support system for Sirdeshmukh and his wife, apart from a well-staffed household (two full-time helpers and two part-timers), are Rachna’s parents. On the rare occasions that both of them are out of town on work, her parents step in to take care of the household. “When I got the offer to join as the CEO at Indus Brands, I was initially hesitant about being able to manage everything. My parents encouraged me, and even made the move from Kolkata to Bangalore to support me. They live very close to us in the same building, and one of our nicest rituals is the evening meal we all have together,” she says.
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