ALPHA moms

From fitting into her teenaged daughter’s T-shirts to selecting a career for her, today’s Net-savvy mother can prepare her children for the real world quite effortlessly, writes Nonika Singh

— Thinkstockphotos/Getty images
— Thinkstockphotos/Getty images

I can feel the pressure all the time. It is difficult to strike a balance between personal aspirations and motherhood
Harman Sullar, Assistant Advocate-General, Punjab

The modern mom fares far better than the one of yore, who was bogged down by multiple responsibilities of a joint family
Priyanka Sood, Lawyer

Clued in to their children’s needs, most new-age mothers surf the Net to find opportunities for them
Clued in to their children’s needs, most new-age mothers surf the Net to find opportunities for them
— Thinkstockphotos/Getty images

SHE can easily fit into her daughter’s clothes, and more often than not looks as good, if not better, than her. At parties, she has no compunction when a man other than her husband asks for a dance. She can be the life of parties, often drawing admiring glances. In fact, if her children were nowhere around, it would be hard, if not impossible, to imagine she is a mother. That is motherhood in today’s India where perhaps no other relationship has been so deified as maa since time immemorial.

So where does the new-age mom, clearly a far cry from the traditional stereotype mother, fit in the Indian setup? More precisely, what is she all about? Is there a maa’s heart within her western demeanour and oomph? In short, is the newly emerging model of motherhood a refreshing change or a social deviant that could spell doomsday for society and its norms?

Satish K. Sharma, chairperson, department of sociology HPU, Shimla, says that while the new phenomenon is confined to a select class, it has to be understood in a wider perspective. But whatever change has come about is, without doubt, a healthy one, he adds. "The change may have been facilitated by alternative institutions like cr`E8ches or ayahs but it has allowed women, working or not, a definite breathing space, which is both their right and prerogative," he says further. So the modern mom has no compunction or guilt when she leaves her little ones behind to shake a leg at the disc or tee off on the golf course or simply accompany her friends for an all-women excursion overseas.

And yet, she could be as paranoid about her children’s grades as any mother of the yore. Hema Bedi, every inch a modern mom from City Beautiful, who loves her golfing hour as much as time spent with her two children, a woman who fusses as much about her own attire as her daughter’s, quips, "Make no mistake, modern is not a byword for casual. Today’s mother is as responsible and conscientious as any traditional mother."

Sushma Gupta, administrator, British School, Panchkula, who meets new-age mothers daily, goes one step further and claims that the new-age mom is not only more concerned, more caring but above all is more aware. And even if she has less time on hands, the quality time that she spends with her children more than makes up for it. In fact, mothers today, she asserts, will go that extra mile to hone their child’s talent.

Agrees Priyanka Sood, a young lawyer from Chandigarh and a mother of two daughters. Rather, she thinks the modern mom fares far better than the one of yore who was bogged down by multiple responsibilities of a joint family. Today a mother takes her role of motherhood far more seriously.

Nidhi Singh, CEO of a Chandigarh-based law firm, finds the comparison rather odious for every mother, whether from the past or present, wants the best for her child. But she does feel that since key to good parenting lies in preparing one’s child for the real world, the modern mother, with a life and exposure of her own, does have an edge.

Anup Sud, professor, psychology, HPU, Shimla, thinks that in the newly emerging social matrix, not only does the new mother fit easily into the child‘s social world, the mother-child relationship is more friendly, less authoritative, and above all, more interactive.

Today’s Net-savvy mom is also able to guide her children, provide a window to the world and even discuss grey areas of life like sex or drinking.

But as she herself can be sometimes seen defying social norms with a glass of whiskey in her hand`85 is she not setting a bad precedent? Rekha Sangar (name changed) doesn’t think so. "See, I have a choice, I can hide my weaknesses and lie to my children. On the other hand, I can be open and thus let my children know that I am not a goddess but a human being with frailties. What lessons they draw from it I leave it to their judgment."

However, Reicha Tanwar, director, women’s studies, Kurukshetra University, Kurukshetra, feels that such moms do send out wrong signals to their children, who do seek and need role models in their parents. Rather, she feels that since motherhood entails a great degree of responsibility, women for whom personal pleasure is a priority, should refrain from doing so.

Quips Gupta, "But that is the crux. Today, a woman becomes a mother at a mature age and thus is ready to be a mother with greater ability and clarity."

Actually, mothers have never played a more significant role in their children’s lives as today when they are de facto the real decision makers. From which school their child should go to, which doctor they must be shown to, what career is best suited to him or her`85 she takes the call with or without her husband’s consent. Recalls Priyanka, "I spent hours surfing the Net trying to find reasons behind my daughter’s hernia problem."

Besides, the mother of today is more clued in to her children’s needs, especially girls, and is more than willing to open doors of opportunities for her daughters. Says Hema, whose 15-year-old daughter Shaira, is all set to go for an exchange programme to the US, "Do you think my mother would have agreed to send me?"

So, is the new-age mother a far better role model for children than the self-sacrificing maa, whose children were the world, and perhaps the only world she knew?

Well, the new mother, unlike the old one, which put unrealistic expectations both on mother and children, is for real. Dr Rajesh Gill, professor and chairperson, department of sociology and department of women’s studies, Panjab University, Chandigarh, is positive that if we are looking at a gender-sensitive social order, it’s about time we got rid of the devi maa syndrome that trails if not afflicts all Indian mothers.

But having said that she does feel that life is not a smooth sailing for the new-age mother. She still has to face the traditional conflict of nature vs. culture. Since our age-old expectations from a woman, particularly a mother, have not changed at all, Gill says, "At one level, the new-age mom is celebrated and often walks on cloud nine with that superwoman feeling. Children often boast about their super moms, yet often there is a reverse swing where her not being around 24x7 is treated as a severe inadequacy." Even today she wonders how many women can rush out of the home when her child is sick on the pretext that she has an important office meeting to attend or an appointment with an old friend she hasn’t seen for ages.

Harman Sullar, Assistant Advocate-General, Punjab, can feel the pressure all the time and confesses that striking a balance between personal aspirations and motherhood isn’t easy. Gnawed by guilt, she has forsaken socialising. Many like Hema Bedi have let their careers take a backseat. Bedi, who has given up her job, recalls how she changed her four previous jobs to suit the needs of her children, and eventually quit.

Either way, the tenuous balance between pleasure, work and responsibility that Tanwar advocates is not easy to arrive at. But at the end of the day, children remain a mother’s, modern or otherwise, top-most priority. In the process, if she steals a few hours to pamper herself, who can grudge her? Ah, but society does.

Nevertheless, her family, especially her husband, who is to large extent behind the new-age mom, doesn’t. For he understands no matter what she looks like, today’s mom, too, is a mother, full of care and concern. And like all mothers, her love is unconditional, too.

Her new avatar has not compromised on the complex demands of motherhood. This much even Tanwar, otherwise a wee bit sceptical about the new winds of change, is willing to grant to the new mommy. After all, India is still a family-oriented society, which Sharma hopes will remain so and warns, "Let us not forget that single moms of the US, too, are new-age mothers and children pay a heavy price in terms of emotional neglect."

Will the neo mother go to the other extreme and leave her children behind in pursuit of her happiness and desires alone? Well, but for an odd variant here and there, most modern moms have for found their balancing act on how to be a happy and fulfilled individual and a responsible mother.

Bollywood shows the way

Madhuri Dixit with her son
Madhuri Dixit with her son

Kajol in We Are Family
Kajol in We Are Family

THE first time glamorous moms made their appearance on silver screen, often looking more beautiful and at times younger than their on-screen daughters, sceptics guffawed — oh! do mothers ever look like this?

But in real life and in reel, mothers have never looked better. Be it Kajol in We Are Family or My Name is Khan or Priyanka Chopra in Pyaar Impossible or Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in Kuch Naa Kaho, mothers in Hindi cinema have surely come a long way and are without doubt, a far cry from the Nirupa Roys of yore.

Not only are they glam moms who look like million bucks, very often they are women of substance who are caring mothers, too.

Take Ratna Pathak Shah and Anuradha Patel in Jaane Tu Yaa Jaane Na`85 these lovely svelte mothers were clued in to the changing needs of Gen next.

Art imitates life and vice versa. In flesh and blood, too, Bollywood has its fair share of oomph moms.

From Malaika Arora Khan to Madhuri Dixit to Karishma Kapoor to Twinkle Khanna, motherhood certainly hasn’t stood in the way of their glamorous personas.