'The quintessential problem of every working mum is guilt’
Anika Puri Parashar believes that labels like ‘supermum’ perpetuate a myth and create pressure for most women who do it all everyday! Read on to know more about this woman of substance
Mother to nine-year-old Nirvaan and seven-year-old Inayat is not her only identity. She is the COO, Fortis Mamma Mia, founder of Delhi-based NGO, Organ, and the force behind bringing world-class mother care to India. Anika Puri Parashar is a woman of many accomplishments.
As we sit down for a tete-a-tete in her tastefully done-up South Delhi office, the 36-year-old awesome working mum glides through the conversation with an inviting smile and open answers. Here’s what she said.
So Anika, how does it feel playing a supermum?
I wouldn’t label myself that at all! I see myself more as a multitasker – someone who wears and juggles multiple hats. Whether or not I do a successful job of this is to be assessed by my children, my mother, my work and the rest of the elements in my life.
Incidentally, the long version for the acronym MOM is Master of Multi tasking! The answer to this would be life is a rollercoaster – exciting, exhilarating and exhausting at various moments.
What does the term ‘supermum’ mean to you?
Someone who can do it all or have it all – but labels like this, perpetuate a myth and create pressure for most women who do it all everyday. Women balance their homes, kids, relationships and work lives all the time.
Please tell us a bit about yourself? Why did you choose this profession?
Being a birth professional is a calling – I think it chooses you! I studied media and marketing and went on to work in those fields until I got pregnant with my first baby in London. I experienced the wonderful support services available there.
I was in a place where I was ready to make some career changes and so started my training and qualifications during my pregnancy itself. Thereafter came the dream to create spaces for women to find all of these services during this special time under one roof.
About a year after, I moved back to India and met Shruti, my partner who shared my vision and the journey began! Today we have eight Mamma Mia centres and we touch women’s lives everyday.
Continue reading to know about a typical day in the life of Anika
What motivates you, professionally?
I like making a difference, something that has an impact on the society. I have always been intrigued with women’s issues. I find them to be strong forces who wander at times, drifting between various roles and expectations; between what they want and what is expected of them.
The fact that we provide tools to women to empower them to make their own choices, excites me. The fact that we have had a hand in increasing breastfeeding rates and reducing c-section rates. That we can reduce medical inductions and turn around breech babies holistically, be a part of a woman’s fertility journey, excites me. I feel that we are making a difference in the landscape of our country.
What’s a typical day like in the life of Ms. Parashar?
I am a single mother. I wake up at about 5:30 a.m. and meditate for half an hour. Wake up my kids at 6 a.m. and get them ready for school. Mornings involve squabbling over what is going to be packed for lunch, plans for the day and my son and our dog Joey fighting over the newspaper.
The kids hit the bus stop at 7:15 a.m. and I hit the gym or my kickboxing trainer comes over and its a 45 minute intense workout. 8 to 8:30 a.m. is rushing through my shower, breakfast and household hisab kitab and heading to work.
Work can be in any of the four hospitals where Mamma Mia is – Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Fortis Hospital Vasant Kunj, Fortis Hospital Shalimar Bagh or Fortis La Femme. The day is interwoven with operational matters and client appointments as I always want to have a hand in what inspired the business – working closely with mothers-to-be or new mothers and my NGO, ORGAN, which is an awareness network for organ donation and transplant which I founded two years ago when my mother had a heart transplant.
I aim to be home by 6:30 p.m. and till 9 p.m. it is dedicated time for my kids when I rarely even take a call; the only person allowed into our space at that time is my mother. If required, I get back to work after they’ve gone to bed.
By this point they’ve come back from their activities and we complete homework, do a piano class together, cook and eat dinner, read a book and get into bed where we have a routine to share our day, repeat positive affirmations and our gratitude prayer for the day; each day one of us leads and the other follows. Usually after the kids have gone to bed, it is dealing with correspondence, catching up with calls or work and then collapsing into bed!
Continue reading to know about the challenges that Anika faced as a working mum
If you were to create a pie chart of your life, how would your time be divided between work, spouse, kids, friends, and self?
The largest chunk of my time is spent at work purely because my children also have a pretty full life between school, activities and play dates. Next would be my kids. Then house and extended family. Friends and self are tied for last.
As a working mum, what are the challenges you face?
The quintessential problem of every working mum; guilt. If I’m at work, I feel guilty about the kids and if I’m with the kids then I worry about work. Giving my time and attention in the present and in completeness is always a challenge as the other is always on your mind but what I do try is to focus on each when I’m in that role to give it my best.
There is always something to do and you are always tired, questioning, challenging and stretching limits. As a single working mum, you have to balance working, managing a home, finances, servicing the car, appearing at important activities and events for the kids and family at large. Sometimes in playing both a man and woman’s role, I forget who I am and have to assert my femininity to not lose sight of it!
How does work change a women’s perspective about ‘balance in life’?
I’m not sure about in general but I have learnt that my work grounds me; it gives me the independence of my own finances and being able to provide for my children and myself – by myself and that thought is hugely powerful. It gives me a creative outlet which I can call my own.
It teaches my children by example (I hope) to pursue their passion and believe in themselves. I also feel my kids are more independent as the kids of a single working mum as they need to take a lot more initiative by themselves. And when I come home, having not been with them all day, I believe I can offer them the best of me; real quality time and this I believe is ‘balance’.
What has been Anika’s biggest emotional struggle? Continue reading to find out
What has been your biggest emotional struggle while bringing up both, your career and kids?
The eternal question – am I doing enough? Sometimes I am so mentally exhausted after having to keep all the balls in the air that I wonder if I am adding value to any aspect of my life and this self-doubt can be crippling.
But when I look at how my kids are thriving, my business is growing, my NGO is doing great work and my mother is healthy and happy, all I can do is believe that I’m doing ok.
While struggling to create a balance between work life and your family, did things ever get bad enough that you wanted to quit? If yes, how did you manage?
Yes, many times. When my mother was having her heart transplant, I had her in Chennai where we were waiting for an organ and my kids and work were in Delhi. Things were tough as my brother and me did a six-month commute back and forth trying to manage things (my father passed away eight years ago). I was so tempted then.
Then when my husband left soon after that, I was emotionally bereft from being in sheer emotional crisis for two years (first the transplant and then the divorce) and I was tempted then as well.
However, luckily I have great mentors and I work for an incredibly humane organisation. Fortis encouraged a sabbatical for three months where I healed, grieved, re-grouped and spent time healing my children. When that period was over, I was ready to go back, grateful that I didn’t quit.
Who has been your sounding board throughout your journey?
I am blessed to be surrounded by powerful, strong, wonderful girlfriends and a family full of women – they get me through all the tough times, hold me up when things are rough and celebrate with me when life is good.
To know how Anika achieves work-life balance, continue reading
How do you unwind over the weekend (with the family)?
Weekends are fun and always with my children. We spend time with the extended family, watch movies out or in the house with loads of yummy snacks. There are playdates and swimming and brunch out in little restaurants which we like to frequent. We do treasure hunts and cook-offs and pyjama parties. It’s real ‘let your hair down’ and be a free child again time!
Your idea of ‘me’ time?
It has to be my morning meditation and workout. A blow dry and a massage a week and when the rare opportunity arises- sleep!
What does ‘being a mum’ mean to you?
Being a mum has redefined me. It is the most important thing I have ever done or ever will do. My kids are my lifeline and it is their existence that brought about Mamma Mia and the concept of supporting mothers through this precious life stage.
Advice to working mums who are struggling to achieve work-life balance?
Be yourself. Trust your instinct. Don’t pressure yourself. You are doing just fine and nobody has the right to pass judgement of that so just do not let them into your mothering world.
If you know an awesome working mum we should feature, get in touch!