Dear Mira Rajput, your defence of stay-at-home moms hit the wrong note

From one mother to another: don't assume that working mothers love their children any less than you do

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Updated Mar 17, 2017 10:51am

Dear Mira, many congratulations on becoming a mother. It’'s a whole new phase of life for which nothing can fully prepare you.

However, I'm not writing to talk about my experience of becoming a mother. I'm writing to talk to you about your take on stay-at-home moms versus working mothers.

Recently you made some remarks where you lumped motherhood with some other heavy terms like feminism, working mothers, feminazi and puppy. "I wouldn’t want to spend one hour a day with my child and rush off to work," you said at one point. "Why did I have her? Misha is not a puppy. I want to be there for her. Seeing her grow can’t be quantified."

What you said wasn't received very well by some segments of society. But before we kick off, let me just say — I see where you're coming from.

Similar to yours, I too had extremely tough pregnancies and almost lost one child (my eldest) during labour. There's something almost fierce about that first moment you see your child. You never ever want to move your eyes away from that new face. One is immediately overwhelmed with the almost animal instinct to protect your baby from the evils of the world, including anyone who dares to suggest your child doesn't look like you. Almost always you wish time would stand still when you have your baby asleep in your arms and you just can't stop breathing in your child's unique smell while you stroke that soft hair and cradle that little head in your palm.

It's perfectly normal to want to be a stay-at-home mother. In fact it's almost natural. The first cry? You know no one can calm your baby the way you can. The first feed? You want to take all the milk your body can produce or all the formula in the world and stuff the baby silly. The first bath? With all this talk of child abuse your protective instinct goes into overdrive when you wash your child. And so on and on. Until of course the first few sleepless nights and you want someone else to hold the baby while you just catch up on some rest for a few hours. Or more. All perfectly natural.

I'm certain you'll agree that many women on this planet who have given birth experienced all those feelings and more. I'm pretty sure you felt this way too.

So what's with the judging?

Don't assume that working mothers love their children any less

You really think working mothers don't feel this way? Or that they are biologically tuned to leave their children at home while they earn a living to support themselves, help with the financial cost of running a house, try to make something of their lives to show their children (lead by example) or just try to retain some form of identity?

Rest assured, stay-at-home mothers are no less than working mothers. They face their own battles with managing a household, keeping bookkeeping, repeating the same list of chores and tasks to domestic staff, ensuring the husband comes home to a clean home and a wife who has something interesting to say apart from the usual maid chronicles and many other things.

Mira Rajput and Shahid Kapoor had their baby daughter Misha in late August last year
Mira Rajput and Shahid Kapoor had their baby daughter Misha in late August last year

The one thing both sets of mothers have in common? Their children are still their priority. Parenting is not about quantity in terms of time; it's about the quality of time spent with children.

If one is working in a professional environment then she is doing so keeping her children's betterment in mind. And if one is staying at home with children she too is doing the same. Neither one can be judged because at the heart of it both are women. With children. Nothing else matters. And let's face it, women encounter enough criticism and fight enough battles on a daily basis to hear a new, privileged mother call them out on what choices they make.

No household is the same, no parent is the same. But let's show some gender unity because there is a man out there waiting to pounce on this divide and make life extremely difficult for another woman. The cycle of misogyny will not end so why add fuel to the fire?

Let's not forget it is feminism that gave you the platform through which you expressed your views and it is feminism that has given me this voice to speak to you right now.

Which brings me to the next issue — feminism. It's a word laden with freedom, liberation, independence, kindness, love and equality. I'm certain you'll want to teach your daughter all of those qualities and I hope you possess all of those as well. And you know, feminism is hard. It's hard for those who believe in it, hard for those who act upon it and hard for those who fail to grasp it because it involves shedding ancient, inherited social shackles that eventually form your consciousness... but you know what, Mira? Nothing worthwhile ever came easy.

Let's not forget it is feminism that gave you the platform through which you expressed your views and it is feminism that has given me this voice to speak to you right now.

I am the daughter of a woman who grew up in a suffocatingly conservative rural village in Punjab and was the first woman in her clan to gain not one but two degrees. She also went on to shed the burqa and get a job when her cousins were being groomed for marriage. I am the niece of a woman who took on the mantle when their father died leaving them impoverished and became the first woman in Punjab to drive a tractor. My father, who carved out a name for himself from nothing, was the first in the family to send me to a co-education school when almost all my cousins here in Pakistan went to all-girls schools because he wanted me to stand shoulder to shoulder with men. It is my thanks to strong streaks of feminism that enabled me to become the first journalist, the first short story writer and recently the first stand-up comedian in my family.

Note, I said 'shoulder to shoulder with men' — not on top of or under. Nobody is trying to take the place of another. Put simply: feminism is when one half of mankind asks to be treated as an equal. The world is a messy place (there are cultures where animals are valued higher than women!) and it is so because one half (men, just to clarify) decided to control the other half. I assure you women are certainly not looking to avenge that — they’re just asking for their right to be treated as equivalents.

Some mothers have to work. And some have to stay at home. Having a choice is not yet universal, though it should be.

Which brings me to the next term you used: feminazi. Mira, you as a woman of privilege have probably received a quality education. Surely you know the history behind the word Nazi? It's an ugly one and frankly the term should never, ever be used oh-so-casually. What is even more appalling is that you use the platform (created by decades' worth of feminist activity) on the basis of motherhood to talk about feminazis. Do a simple Google search on the term and you’ll come across its shocking origins.

And by the way, a puppy? That crudely implies that working mothers are bitches. Let that sink in. Meanwhile get a puppy and see how much work it requires. Much like a baby, actually.

Mira has gone on record saying that she doesn't want to work for Misha's sake, but it's her choice of words to express that intention that many people have objected to
Mira has gone on record saying that she doesn't want to work for Misha's sake, but it's her choice of words to express that intention that many people have objected to

What makes your words even more unappealing is your apparent lack of acknowledgment of your privilege. You talk about choosing to stay with your baby at home. This choice would make sense and have weight if you had another choice like a job or a commitment or if you gave up something. What about mothers who don't have that luxury?

Maybe the lesson here is: Don't insult the gender you were born into. Your own child belongs to that gender too.

Some mothers HAVE to work. And some HAVE to stay at home. And some mothers GIVE UP to stay at home. For example, I gave up an unconditional offer (technically unconditional, all they required was a transcript of my postgrad which was in the post) from the University of Cambridge. Why? Because it meant being away from my then three year old. I gave up the opportunity to be on the editorial board of a daily newspaper (which was a big thing because not many women make it beyond writing or editing or reporting in our culture) because I had a three-month-old baby.

Both times I wept bitterly but I willingly gave up both to look after my children. When my boys grow older I will tell them this so that they realise what motherhood is and will not judge me as an individual. I hope they will make good husbands who will not judge their wives and in fact support them with whatever decisions they make when they have children.

Maybe you spoke as a Bollywood wife. But you wouldn't be the first Bollywood mother who decides to stay at home.

If you really want to use the platform of motherhood then why not do so for the betterment of mothers? There is so much more you can address, such as surrogacy in India. What about the plight of impoverished mothers and their babies who die before they can even breathe? Use your voice to strengthen women. You've insulted the men and women who fought to give you a platform to speak on. You've insulted an ideology that lets you be who you are.

Don't insult the gender you were born into. Your own child belongs to that gender too.