A Love Letter To All Human Moms
In conversation with Ruchi M.
Motherhood is a transformative experience for anyone. Be that as it may, it also opens a can of worms for moms in the form of crippling societal expectations to be perfect. Whether it is a working mom or a stay-at-home mom, both are constantly judged; the former for being anything less than flawless while juggling the work and the home,and the latter for not having a “real” job. At the end, they are also ostracised for being the only human.
Being a mom can present itself with tough choices and women are constantly expected to abandon their careers, no matter how successful they are. Unrealistic and harsh expectations are often what pull the plug on professional dreams but not every mom out there concedes with the pressure. Some willingly opt out; they exercise their freedom of choice. A freedom which is yet to show up in the conservative milieu of the Indian society.
Our conversation with Ruchi M., a former MD at a leading Wall Street firm and now a full-time homemaker, accounts her stellar career trajectory, her arduous journey as a working mom & her decision to leave her profession behind for her family. Mind you, her achievements are enough to knock the socks off many — an undergrad from St. Stephen’s College, a Masters from IIT Bombay, and a PhD at the University Of Maryland, followed by the herculean transition to Wall Street with no prior experience in finance and finally, her decision to become a stay-at-home mother. The choice to stay at home was hers alone and uninfluenced by any family pressure. She is every dreamer’s inspiration and every working or stay-at-home mom’s ally. Read on to know more about her remarkable journey.
1. Ruchi, before I ask you about your current life, I would love to know about your past life. Where are you from, in India? Tell me a little your journey in the field of Bioscience how you decided to take up this path of study
I was brought up in Delhi and pursued my undergrad in Chemistry from St. Stephen’s College. After this, I went for a Masters from IIT and a PhD from The University of Maryland. St. Stephen’s afforded me the opportunity to hear a multitude of external speakers and distinguished luminaries from all fields. One of these speakers was Professor G.P. Talwar, who influenced my decision to transition to a Masters in the field of Biotechnology. He was an eminent thought leader in the field.
The field of Biotechnology fascinated me and I enrolled for an MS in Biotech at IIT Bombay. I gained a lot from my time there. We were a small, diverse student body with representation from all over India. Some of the professors were US returned. The exposure to different and rich perspectives made this an inspiring and unforgettable journey.
2. How was your experience at the University of Maryland? Why did you choose it over other universities?
I applied to various universities in the US for a PhD after finishing my Masters, but chose the University of Maryland based on its proximity to Washington DC, and the scientifically rich and culturally diverse experience it would bring. It also helped that my then boyfriend (and now husband) had enrolled there for his MBA. Studying at UMD changed my life. I was exposed to amazing resources and brilliant minds there. The creative education system allowed me to think outside the box. I took all sorts of courses, which were not related to science while working in a science lab which expanded my horizons for a career in the US in the future.
3. From being a PhD in Molecular Biology you went on to become a managing director at a leading Wall Street firm. Can you describe this peculiar transition for us?
My work at University of Maryland required long hours in the lab, working with radioactivity. The thought of starting a family while spending long hours in a lab daily exposed to radiation made me consider other future options. When I first began thinking about a change, I had in my mind a career that incorporated my scientific and research skills with entrepreneurial or investment opportunities. As a result, I enrolled in a few entrepreneurial courses in the UMD Business School and started learning the ropes of investing, using publicly available online resources. I tried using the business school career center but that was frowned upon, so my resources were very limited.
Many persistent months of cold calling and informational interviews, with investment banks and consulting companies, led to an associate position at a leading hedge fund.
4. Whom do you consider as your mentors/advisor? How important do you think the guidance from that “somebody” was for you?
There have been many people along the way that motivated and guided me, including professors at UMD and IIT B. However, the one person whom I would probably consider a mentor, was my portfolio manager at the hedge fund I joined. She was a champion for me, guided me, and was instrumental in expanding my network. After she retired, we continued our mentor — mentee relationship and to this day, I call her whenever I need any advice.
5. Please tell us about The Graduate Research Award you created at the University of Maryland. What was your motivation behind starting this initiative?
UMD was an amazing experience — and we wanted to move past the notion of Indians missing the philanthropy gene. Giving back was a no brainer for all the rich educational and career opportunities UMD had provided us. The Graduate Research award provides a safeguard for international students annually, giving them a financial cushion. It also a step to encourage cultural diversity at the university. Our hope from starting this award is that these award recipients will get inspired just like we were when we were students at UMD, and give back to the university and the community when they are financially sound.
6. Coming back to your current life, you are a full-time homemaker now. Many Indian students dream of a career trajectory like yours, to have an exposure to diversity like you did, not just in India but abroad too. When did you leave Wall Street and why? What were your thoughts when you took this step?
I left Wall Street after completing 8 years at the hedge fund. All the travel, long hours of commute and at the office plus two little kids at home took its toll on me. My husband and parents/in-laws were a huge support system, without whose involvement, a career like mine wouldn’t have been feasible. But that strategy wasn’t sustainable long term, and our kids seemed to need us more as they were growing. We started to realise that they would thrive and blossom well if one of us was around, and I chose that role (even though my husband was more than happy to be a stay-at-home dad) as I could not continue with being distracted at work worrying about my kids, and missing my children’s milestones while being at work.
7. There are all kinds of moms out there, working moms, stay at home moms and there are many notions surrounding each category. Working mothers are accused of not taking the time out for family and are expected to multitask the role of a homemaker and a career woman perfectly while being under a microscope the whole time. On the other hand, stay-at-home mothers are expected to be the perfect combination of a caregiver and sadly, domestic help because it is considered that they don’t do“real” work, and are judged over that as well. What is your opinion on this matter, as you have been a career woman and are now a homemaker? How did you find solace at being a homemaker?
I have always considered the role of a stay at home mom much harder, not just for the societal pressures it comes with, but also the notion that it lacks intellectual satisfaction that comes with a professional career. Having had full time help at home and a very supportive husband meant that work was a great escape from the mundane rituals of being a SAHM. Staying at home for me was initially difficult, as I felt I had nothing to show for all that the time I spent at home. The prospect of performing the “wifely” duties, while the husband is out fulfilling his professional aspirations, was a frustrating one. There is no holiday from childcare or shutting off once you reach work. For any SAHM, home is work, and there is no salary or promotion for the endless hours of your thankless efforts! However, I have to say that the true satisfaction of making that sacrifice is experienced when you watch your children grow up into smart, well-adjusted and good natured individuals.
At home, I try to utilize some of my free time by dabbling in the markets. Since I have limited hours in a day, I strive for longer term investments, via a personal account or through funds — this has been an incentive to stay in touch with wall street research, and keeps me motivated for any potential career moves, once my children are older and don’t need me as much. Over the years, various charitable organizations have reached out to us, through our social network — and I have happily assisted them as a volunteer or board member. The one quality we sometimes overlook in India is philanthropy, and having lived in the US all these years, I cannot overstate the satisfaction and the value giving back to the community adds in our lives. I try to do what I can — I volunteer extensively at my children’s school and other social organizations, besides helping out at UMD.
So, on a personal level, I have respect for both SAHM and working moms as I have seen both sides of the coin. Being a parent, stay at home or not, is in itself a demanding role. Unfortunately, there are certain stereotypes that are perpetuated by society as a whole. The expectation that working moms will be superwomen and manage the home and work front effortlessly is unrealistic and unfair. I am lucky to have a husband who purposefully kept saner hours at work when I traveled or had a long day, and was more involved in my son’s preschool than I was. There is no shame in requesting your other half to pitch in, and have outside help, if it keeps your sanity and keeps the home front stress free. I want my children to grow up to see role models for their own wives and daughters, as women doctors, engineers, scientists, investors, etc. Once I stopped working, I started managing the home front a lot more than I did before, and rightly so as that’s a decision we made about our future. But a SAHM needs to have some time for herself too, even if that means turning a deaf ear to judging voices. The whole point of being at home is to be a constant presence in your children’s lives and create happy and smart kids — this is not possible if you are constantly exhausted. There is a huge misconception in India, that women whether working or homemakers, have to manage the home front fabulously, while there is more gender equality in the west. In reality, this expectation is global, maybe a tiny bit less in the west. The pressure that comes with being a mother and a wife is universal, and these societal norms continue to go unchallenged — we all need to do our part to make slight changes.
8. Lastly, would you like to say a few words to anyone who is on the threshold of making the same choice?
I think the key to personal satisfaction is to do what makes you happy and feels right for you. It takes some effort to balance family life and long-term dreams. But for many that is a goal, and they should pursue it without worrying about society’s judgments, while finding ways to ward off any family pressure. I mistakenly believed that being a homemaker might be less satisfying, but over the course of my years at home, I have seen many successful, educated and well-regarded women make similar choices, and like me, are extremely happy with their decisions. Some friends of mine have found solace in starting businesses from home or going back to the workforce part-time, once the children are older. Others have started writing blogs online or taken online courses to keep themselves intellectually challenged. It’s also helpful to find ways to network with other women in similar situations that may have similar, meaningful interests. And definitely, stay connected with your friends from work — in case you ever feel the pull of full-time work — choosing to stay at home is not an irreversible decision.
I feel blessed that I have been able to enjoy work, and I am loving every minute of the time I have with my children and family. I hope I am a role model for my children in terms of keeping our family healthy and happy, prioritizing their needs over mine, and being their anchor at home.
To my fellow Moms, always remember, life is short. Enjoy it, follow your dreams, and don’t worry about the naysayers!
Ruchi’s decision to let her career take a backseat in favor of being there for her kids is a decision that is hardly unheard of. However, what is unheard of is that this choice was made of her own accord. Many moms deal with the expectations, which border on compulsion, to be the embodiment of selfless sacrifice and be unconditionally available for their children. For them, having the choice, the option to work or to not work is not available, it is more or less pre-decided by notions that professional aspirations are always chosen over children, not along with children. Hence, working moms are judged mercilessly for following their long-standing dreams and cannot let any flaws show through while managing a hundred matters at once.
About The Author — Aarushi Arora | Content & Marketing Intern at Connectedreams.com | Undergrad Student at Maitreyi College, Delhi University.