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Kitchen top or desk top?

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Nilima Das is a 41-year-old chartered accountant in Mumbai who cleaves to a daily routine: tea and snacks at 4. 30 pm, math lessons at 5, Bharatnaytam at 6. 30 on Mondays and Thursdays, elocution on Tuesdays, tennis on Wednesdays and Fridays. She says if time permits (it has so far been pliant ), she could squeeze piano in. "It's what my daughter wants, " says the chuffed mother and programme coordinator of a 12-year-old whose schedule she supervises by telephone. She calls her maid at home in Prabhadevi most days from her office in Andheri, and makes sure her daughter doesn't play truant. "It's hard for a working mother with a 9-7 job, " Nilima explains. "It's the only 'hands-on' way I can parent at the moment. "

This working mother is not the same as stalker moms who pay obsessive attention to their kids' development - the kind of micro-managers who plot their children's career and social graphs minutely. It's just that her methods as a working mom differ from a stay-at-homer.

"People think women who choose to stay at home to raise their children are more preoccupied with their kids' success than working mothers, " says Rhonda Paes, a public school teacher in Goa. "I'd say every mother has her own aims and approaches to parenting, and it would be unwise to stereotype mothers and their methods by their primary occupation. "

S Ramakrishnan, a freelance journalist who quit her full-time job at a newspaper to raise her children, points out that it won't do to force-fit a parenting model on any class of mother. She dismantles the myth of the SAH (stay-at-home ) mom who, with a clipboard and stop clock, assigns classes and tasks to her children simply because she has the time to do it. "My husband and I have opted for a low-pressure school for our daughters, and have allowed them to find their own niche, " she says.

Then there are those mums who go halfway. Shana Parihar is a PR consultant who has gone from being a full-time employee to a parttimer so she could be more available to her children. Shana is familiar with the difficulties in raising a child while working a 9 am-7 pm shift. "My son, who is now 19, was left largely to the care of family while I worked long hours and often travelled on work, " she recounts. "The upshot was that I barely had two days a week to sit with him. " Having learnt her mistakes, Shana soon traded her day job for a parttime consultancy.

Just like most mothers are negotiating that work-home balance, so too are they trying to secure an academic/athletic/artistic balance in their children's lives - a proportionate division between studies, extra-curriculars and social engagement. "Indian mothers walk the middle path;they're neither extremist, nor too liberal, as sensible parenting should be, " says Meher Marfatia, a mother of two teenagers and author of children's books.

It's a no-brainer that it's tougher for working moms to be prize-winning parents, particularly the ones yoked to a corporate cubicle for most part of the day. But does that automatically imply the ones with more time for their kids are more committed to their success and wellbeing? An Indian blogger with a keen parenting compass says one has to consider different demographics. She points out an at-home mother from a business family would probably be less anxious about her children's performance than a middle-class working mother for whom the stakes are higher. The latter would be more driven to see her child succeed and move up socially, and so be more selective about extra-curriculars and more attentive to studies.

But it increasingly seems like no matter which mother ship they've signed up with, the argument over Indian 'mothering' is fast becoming irrelevant. It's the children who are calling the shots - the ones with the growl.

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