Ma’s many roles

Whether it’s as provider, protector, nurturer or therapist, there’s a mother behind every successful woman


Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint
Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint

Mom, a title just above queen

—Anonymous

Mother’s Day has come and gone. Social media has been abuzz with how much mothers mean to many—especially the famous and the successful. And, indeed, that is true. But there are other mothers too, the unsung and the unknown, who have quietly shaped the careers of many women at the workplace.

In the course of my own life, I have had the privilege of seeing many amazing career women. I have admired them and looked at them with pride and awe. But I have also always tried to see beyond them to the source of the power behind them, those who made them what they are—mostly their mothers, sometimes their mothers-in-law. And that is what I want to share with you today. So walk with me into my memory album and let us profile these Maker Mothers.

The Provider

First, of course, is the Provider Mother. Years of hard work culminate in a good education and a successful career for her daughter. I know a seamstress, widowed quite young, who struggled hard to educate her only daughter. The pride on her face as she talks about the daughter’s job at a leading financial multinational is a joy to behold. Each of you will have your own memory. Power to the Provider Mom.

The Enricher

She is not the sole provider here, nor even the main one; that is the father. But it is the key add-ons that she provides for a daughter that I am calling out. In many a home, the needs of the male progeny assume priority. Not so the girl’s. It is here that this super mom steps in—that timely tuition class to help with a tough math course, or a set of painting lessons to bring to bloom a talent only she can spot. She provides for this with the extra income she brings in, or maybe just by deft handling of the family budget given to her for monthly household expenses.

The Nurturer

She nurtures key life skills in her daughter. Quietly but effectively, she hones skills that will hold her child in good stead, especially in her career. My favourite example is of the wise mother, a very effective orator in her own right, who trained her little daughter every night to give a little speech. Result: The daughter’s speaking skills improved and, more importantly, public speaking came effortlessly to her. This confidence in articulating her point of view went a long way in making her the assured and successful career woman that she became. Talk of personal training, the maternal way.

The Goader

She is ambitious for her daughter. Nothing but the best. Does Mrs Bennet of Pride And Prejudice come to mind? Well, in the nicest way possible. Such goading can be overt—monitoring marks, keeping a check on friends, pushing her into leadership roles in school. Yes, it can seem pushy but it can be done subtly, and effectively.

I have a hypothesis of my own. Think of “daughters-only” families—two or three daughters, even more, and a Tiger Mom, and reflect on how well they have succeeded. In fact, it is a favourite pastime of mine—identifying such family groups and charting their career progress.

The Therapist

“I need you, I need you here, I need you now. I cannot do this alone. I need my mommy, and damn it, I don’t care who knows it,” says Rory Gilmore in Warner Brothers’ television series, Gilmore Girls. When self-esteem takes a beating or the failure rate starts surging, the Therapist Mom steps in. “You can do it” is her tag line as she peps up her child. Her constant encouragement gives the daughter the confidence to move on, to get up and start all over again even as she falters time and again.

The ‘I will not let it happen to my daughter’ Mom

Thwarted all her life in her ambitions and aspirations, this mother dreams big for her daughter. Whether it was an early marriage that put paid to her career plans, or “that professional course is only for boys” diktat which those who controlled the purse strings espoused, this mother will have none of that for her daughter. She lets her explore career options and gives her the space and freedom to excel in it. It is not a mother but a mother-in-law who comes to mind in this particular case. Time and again, she would help her daughter-in-law with her career, holding all those who threatened to abort it at bay. She even got someone to help draw up a business plan that her daughter-in-law could use to get a loan to set up her own small-scale enterprise.

The Lifesaver

Neera Chopra, mother of Femina Miss India 2009 Pooja Chopra, epitomizes this best. According to reports, when Pooja was born, her father demanded that she either be sent to an orphanage or be killed because he did not want a girl child. When Neera refused, she had to leave home. She vowed to raise her daughter alone and shape her into a woman who would make her proud. Neera tells the moving story of how she saved her daughter’s life in Pooja’s Story: The Girl Who Lived, excerpted from The World Before Her, a film directed by Nisha Pahuja. Lifesaver? Yes, indeed, quite literally.

The Super Back Office

This mom checks in to manage the home and its logistics when her career daughter relocates, delivers a baby or travels on work. Lucky is the woman who has this Super Back Office. You see her at airports in a sari and sports shoes, all kitted out to board an international flight when the daughter is abroad. Post-partum blues are a thing of the past, for she strides into your home to cook you some comfort food and cradle the newborn in her experienced arms. IAS, the Indian Ayah Service, is how one venerable bureaucrat I know punned on this service.

And, finally, the role model

A Harvard, US, study in June last year found that “daughters of mothers in paid employment have better careers and more equal relationships”. The researchers found that, on an average, the daughters of working mothers were paid around 4% more than their peers, even adjusting for their greater levels of education and prevailing social attitudes, and were much more likely to have been promoted to managerial positions.

One in three daughters of working mothers were in managerial posts, compared with only one in four of those with non-working mothers. Statistics and research aside, the “role model moms” rock and are great for daughters who aspire to emulate them.

“To describe my mother would be to write about a hurricane in its perfect power. Or the climbing, falling colours of a rainbow,” said the late Maya Angelou, a much admired American poet and civil rights activist. She could not have been more correct if she had been describing the power women behind career women.

Hema Ravichandar is a strategic human resources consultant. She serves as an independent director and an advisory board member for several organizations. She was formerly the global head of HR for Infosys Ltd.

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