Sumithra Sriram, a resident of Chennai, told herself while growing up that when she became a mother, she would be the best version of herself, so she could shower her children with all the love they deserved.
Now 45 and a mom of two, she strives to keep that promise every day.
“When I was younger, I thought I’d have four or five babies,” she jokes, in conversation with The Better India. “My childhood was rife with a lot of sadness and turmoil, so I wanted to give my child a better future.”
Sumithra recalls that she grew up in a relatively conservative household with not too much freedom, given that she was a woman. Forced to quit her job in a public sector bank after the birth of her first child, for many years, she confined herself to the role of a homemaker and mother, slowly losing her individuality in the process, she notes.
“I didn’t have a good support system at home to take care of my child,” she says. “Quitting my job seemed like the only option at the time. The pressure was building up. It was a huge disappointment because I was a very career-oriented woman. Of course, in those days, a woman’s career ambitions also didn’t hold too much importance.”
So today, when you look at her Instagram, which has amassed over 27,000 followers, and the love that she aims to spread as a content creator, you can’t help but feel proud of her journey so far. Her videos are honest and raw conversations around predefined gender roles and how mothers are perceived in typical Indian society.
“There was a point in my life where I was emotionally exhausted to a great level,” she says. “Instagram has been a boon for me. When people reach out to me and call me an ‘influencer’, it means a lot to me. Many children often write back and say, ‘I wish you were my mom’. It makes me so happy to hear that.”
‘Being the parent I never had’
When the rest of the world was struggling to remain confined to their homes with the onset of the pandemic, Sumithra realised she was already too familiar with the lifestyle. For many years prior, all there was to her life were household chores and taking care of her family and home, which slowly and steadily sapped her mental energy, she says.
“Motherhood is the most rewarding role, but it can also be a huge task,” she admits. “I remember that after my child was born, my physical health took a hit. When she’d cry at night, it was hard to take care of her. Many problems within my family made the situation worse. But when I look back, that experience of having a child was only bliss.”
In India, motherhood is viewed as inevitable and revered to the point of deification. But policies, laws, and even societal perceptions inhibit a woman’s growth as a well-rounded individual before she dons the role of a mother. Unpaid labour, emotional overwork, and the pressure to be a “good mom” take several tolls.
The comparison of mothers who sacrifice everything to take care of their child and family, and those who decide to put their careers and ambitions first, can lead to a phenomenon called “mom guilt”. This is the feeling that tells you you’re not a good enough mother, that you’re not doing enough for your child, and that any activity that you engage in for yourself makes you a bad mom.
“No woman is a naturally expert mother,” Sumithra says. “Of course, you’re going to make mistakes when it comes to your child. You learn as you go. No matter how hard you try to be a good mother, people will judge you. It can be overwhelming sometimes because there’s a huge responsibility on us. As a young mother, I felt all of these things.”
“I worked hard to ensure that I become the parent I never had,” Sumithra says. “I encourage my children to nurture their interests, develop their personalities — something I wasn’t told to do. I don’t believe in setting too many expectations or forcing my children down certain roads.”
“We try to do our best as mothers, but we can slip up sometimes,” she says. “This guilt has pushed me to so many low points before. When I look back, I see that in the process of becoming a mother, I lost myself. Because of familial pressure, I always believed I was an incapable mom. I didn’t have the confidence to stand up for myself. I hadn’t done much for myself. But in the last two years, I have changed a lot….even in my parenting style.”
She says that over time, she has learned how to grapple with this feeling of guilt. “I was 22 when I had my daughter, and I look back and think that if I knew then what I do now, maybe I’d have been a better parent to her. But I have also learned, and grown. I would tell all mothers to keep the same thing in mind. Every mother is doing her best. If you feel like you’re not, it’s okay to make changes for yourself. As a woman, you have agency, and it’s your choice to lead the life that you want. No one can hold that against you.”
“Every woman is capable, but circumstances determine a lot,” she notes. “I want to inspire women who feel trapped as I did once. I want to tell them it’s not too late to start making changes for themselves. I want to promote the idea of self-love, and tell people that gender does not define us.”
You can follow Sumithra on Instagram here.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)