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Readers Write: Feature

July 2007
Readers Write: Feature

The cover story on multitasking mata, as it appeared in the May 2007 issue of Khabar is praiseworthy for its effort in exploring our contemporary issues. The touch on the issue however, is only tangential. Without bringing to bear a certain depth to the topic, a multitasking mother is reduced to nothing more than a high tech computer that is able to launch multiple programs at the same time. But is that all that she is? Does a high tech computer possess good judgment?

Ancient concepts of our Indian heritage can help us in seeing the role of modern mothers and modern families in a broader and deeper context. Many may be surprised if also comforted to know that the concept of multitasking matas is not new. Aadyashakti (primordial feminine energy) is thought to differentiate into three forms: Mahalaxmi (Goddess of Treasury), Mahasaraswati (Goddess of Education), and Mahakali (Goddess of Security and Strength). The modern woman as depicted on the cover design is therefore, only a byproduct of our ancient culture.

Even this model is incomplete since it fails to recognize the concept of Ardhanarishwara, half male and half female, united together to form one complete unit of divine life. It is precisely this depth and wholeness that was lacking in the vignettes that came through in an otherwise engaging article.

Why not a polytasking papa?

The men are scarcely visible in the article as also in our household management. Their role is peripheral and supportive rather than central and substitutionary. There is a gender bias in our society that disqualifies men from applying for the "Home Ministry." The relief experienced by men because of this arrangement can also be a potential deprivation. Daily acts of feeding, washing, bathing, and lovingly tucking the children in bed creates a special bond of intimacy, a privilege which should not be a prerogative of mothers only. It is sad to see our children getting emotionally distanced from their fathers because of this attitude.

Secondly, in our times, to depend on one member of the family to run the household is not only unfair but also shortsighted and risky. Role reversibility in the members of the family is not only desirable but also inevitable. A couple cannot be regarded as healthy if one member is paralyzed in the absence of the other. We are all living our life while holding a non-ticking time bomb in our hand. For the sake of safety, the drill of alternate parents assuming total household responsibility should be implemented.

Why are we so seduced by success?

In all our community publications, regional and national, we highlight only those people who are rich, famous and extraordinarily successful. An average person is hardly a focus of our attention. Even for a household matter as in the current article, our models are highly accomplished, educated people, free of financial constraints. Our obsession for magnificence should not be confused with "Magnificent Obsession." We should not fail to recognize a large number of working women striving to survive while financially challenged. The conveniences and luxuries of life that money can buy are not available to them. I have support and admiration for these women, struggling with hard work and low paying jobs to maintain their families. We need to listen to their voices from time to time. We should be watchful of the classes that we are unwittingly creating. "God must love average men," said Abraham Lincoln, "otherwise He would not have made so many of them."

"I am busy, busy, busy?"

This punch line from an old, old TV show has now become our incessantly chanted mantra. There is no question that our life is getting increasingly more complex and complicated. The laundry list is getting relentlessly longer. Modern lifestyle offers more conveniences but demands infinitely more time and energy for the same. Multitasking is steadily multiplying. But to what end? Can we apply the process of prioritization to our multiple tasks? A cartoon I had seen several years ago has left an indelible impression on my mind. A bank robber is holding the manager at a gunpoint while telling him, "Look at it this way sir, this morning when you left home you had a million worries. Right now, you just have one!" We have to apply this reductive rationale to the tasks before us. We cannot do everything, let alone doing it well; and therefore, we should judiciously choose only those things that we need to do well. We have to put a mission behind our movements and decide what we want to be busy with. A busy bee is admired but a busy mosquito is swatted.

Where do children belong in multitasking?

A knee-jerk response to this question will be that our children are our top-notch priority. Our life and mission are structured around them. We worry about them all the time. In the context of our age-old culture, "worry" is supposed to be synonymous with "love." But is it really so? As reflected in the previous issues of Khabar, I see a lot of growing anxiety and confusion in the minds of our young mothers-parents as to what an ideal upbringing of a child is. We mean to be the best parents without defining what "best parents" means. Our consuming concerns are: Indian food, good grades, keeping Indian traditions, language, religion, and culture. We also want to take them to Indian dancing, music, and temples. And all this is over and above the whole litany of activities in their normal "American" lives: PTA meetings, birthday parties, camps, soccer games and on and on?..

In order to accomplish all this, we start in the wee hour and work endlessly unto the last. The sum total of these activities can result in an exhausted mom struggling with a constantly pre-occupied child. A super mom trying to raise a super kid. If this is true, sit back, relax and think some. Rearrange your priorities. Instead of keeping your eyes constantly on your children, try to see eye to eye with them. What do they really enjoy? What are they naturally good at? How good are you when exhausted? How to create a peaceful space where both parents are available to listen rather than talk? An optimally busy parent coupled with an optimally employed child is our goal. Any departure from that will generate its own set of challenges.

It is both reassuring and scary that children are likely to be most influenced by their parents' wishes and behavior. So let us first decide what we really wish our children to become. Is being successful, rich, scholarly, unique, competitive, ambitious and all-time winners more important than being happy, stable, peaceful, self motivated, considerate, helpful to others and good citizens? From this wish list, we have to choose our priorities and match them by the personality and aptitude of the children. This requires a lot of quiet and creative thinking and active consultations with those who know our children, specially their teachers. After all it needs a village to raise a child. So why not make available a few villages within our community for the wholesome growth of our children? The multitasking will then open for another task: regular sessions between the two parents as they continue to observe the ongoing changes in their children. Roses will grow only by careful cultivation. Weeds will grow spontaneously and effortlessly.

As the children grow, it will be helpful to ask them what they like and dislike about their parents. The girl who wanted to grow up and be a mommy, as described in the article, should be asked, "How would you be different from your mommy when you grow up?" The truth in the babe's mouth will then be unlocked offering useful lessons for the parents to learn. A feedback is even more important than feeding.

Where does marriage belong in multitasking?

Is marriage a "marry-go-round"? Many times it can become so: the ride is smooth, music is playing, cool breeze is blowing, visible company is around, and there is a continued mobility. But are we really moving except in circles? Are we really connected to the visible people around?

Coping with the household work cannot be the aim of marriage. An uninterrupted marriage does not make a complete one. A good marriage includes well-raised children but has to exceed it. We unthinkingly believe that all our hassles will end as soon as the children grow up and go away. But is it not more common to see that a suffocating vacuum arises as soon as the children leave? Is it possible that all those years of child raising are operated in a vacuum by the parents who made no conscious effort to maintain vibrancy in their mutual relationship and understanding? Could they be strangers to each other in the absence of their children or a dialogue related to them? The multitasking therefore should not only maintain marriage but also nurture it to make it thrive. The couple, together and individually, should find their own vision and grow in it. A personal, professional, and spiritual growth lends a meaning to the marriage.

The seven vows that a Hindu marriage incorporates comprise of the first five to be related to the personal, familial, and societal responsibilities. The last two spell the need for a spiritual growth, which should exceed a religious routine. This is our true ancient culture, with an invisible sign of "use it or lose it" inscribed on it.

By Bhagirath Majmudar, M.D.

[Dr. Majmudar is Professor of Pathology and an Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Emory University. A frequent guest contributor to Khabar, he is also a Sanskrit scholar who performs marriage rites and other religious ceremonies]

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