As mothers return to work, tech becomes children’s nanny

Sheena Sharma felt guilty when she took up a full-time job at a Bengaluru communications agency in August. It was the first time she was leaving her two-year-old son at home with her husband, who spends 13 hours a day glued to his office laptop and finds it difficult to look after the child. But she was determined to re-join the workforce. “I grew up seeing a working mother. I saw her giving her 100 percent at work while she came back and ran the household also like a boss. Being out there keeps me happy and makes me independent. And also, not being in the workforce for a long time can leave you outdated,” says Sharma, 31, who earlier used to work as a consultant.

Initially, it was hard for Sharma to concentrate at work. She would constantly worry about her child. “He would hold on to my legs and cry every time I left the house,” recalls Sharma, who has now hired a part-time nanny. Technology has also helped her. “I have a nanny cam that gives me live feed on my phone at all times. I can also talk on the cam and my son can hear me. I do video calls once or twice a day too,” she says. “I also believe when you are productive at work and being appreciated, it makes you feel happier. This makes you a better parent.”

As people return to their offices while schools and crèches remain shut owing to the pandemic, many worried parents, especially mothers, are finding different ways to use technology and strike a balance between their home and office duties.

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R.P. Yadav, chairperson and managing director of Genius Consultants, a human resource and staffing company, says more women want to continue working despite the challenges. Only 10-15% of working women with children may opt out of the workforce, he says. “Across most industries, companies are offering flexible hours and work-from-home options to working parents.”

Back to the cubicle

Nitasha Anand, who had to return to the office after the lockdown was partially lifted in May, had to immediately figure out who would look after her two-and-a-half-year old child. The nanny had left for her hometown and Anand’s husband, who worked through the night, was not in a position to help. The Delhi resident decided to hire a new part-time maid but she wasn’t still satisfied. “Trusting the new maid was a challenge so I installed three CCTV cameras in the house. I would also call the maid two-three times a day to check on my daughter,” says Anand, 36, who’s a manager at logistics company Ecom Express.

Radiologist Rachita Gupta had a different approach. She was working at Rainbow Children’s Hospital in Bengaluru when the covid-19 outbreak started. As the only senior person in her department, she had no choice but to go to the hospital every day while leaving her seven-year-old son at home. Finally, the 40-year-old decided to quit and take up a part-time job at a smaller hospital near her home in July. “I had never taken a break in my 12-year career. I thought this was a good time to pause and spend some time with my son,” says Gupta, who has now returned to a full-time job at another hospital with more flexible working hours.

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In order to have someone at home while she and her husband are at work, Gupta got her long-time maid to extend her working hours. She also came up with the solution of getting the grandparents to supervise over Zoom calls. “My son is tech savvy, so he has no problem logging in to his classes himself. He also spends an hour or so every day with both sets of grandparents over Zoom calls. This way I know that he’s in good hands even if I am not around,” she adds.

Bengaluru schoolteacher Navitha Kothari, on the other hand, often has to juggle various babysitting possibilities when she has to go to work twice a week. Since her husband works as a pilot, she can’t always bank on him to plan the day. Though she lives with her in-laws, it’s not always possible to leave her three-and-a-half-year-old son in their care.

“My mother-in-law has to look after the house as well as her husband. Depending on the activities I have planned for my son and my mother-in-law’s schedule, I leave him in her care. At other times, my son is dropped to my mother’s place but it’s not always feasible as she lives almost 30km away or one of my siblings comes in to babysit,” she says, adding, “Like any working parent, I have to juggle a lot but my work makes me happy. So, it’s worth it.”

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