Women's Day 2021: 'Paatal Lok' actor Swastika Mukherjee writes about being a single working mom

I married very young and had my daughter very young. I actually feel that my daughter and I have grown up together. My daughter is 21 years old and I have been working for the last 20 years! I have been a working single mother for most of my life.

And with time I have seen things change. The way society perceives working women has changed over the years. When I started out things were very different. Say 15-20 years back there was a certain kind of apathy towards working women! An unexplained kind of negativity associated with the kind of freedom working women enjoyed and less of respect because you are not handling home issues and going out! It was as if you are not doing what is expected of you at home, instead you are going out. A lot of people thought that a woman is not competent enough to handle domestic duties if she is going out. It was widely discussed and she was frowned upon. I think it is a wrong thing to say that a woman who is working is not credible enough to handle the household, that is one extreme. She might be good at both, but you may just not be able to see it. Or people sometimes even refuse to see that she is putting in double the effort and energy to maintain balance at work and home. It is a lot of hard work and it does not come easy. You have to be in that position to know it and feel it. So that is one extreme.

It’s a lot of work to balance your career and your family, especially if you are a working single mother. At every stage of your child growing up there is a different kind of stress; it never really does end ever! Once she grows a little you will feel that perhaps it will be less of work since she is not a toddler anymore, but no you are wrong.

The other extreme is you glorify and romanticise it! A lot of people walk up to me and tell me that “Wow, you’re a single mother! That’s fantastic.” Well it’s not! It is a lot of hard work and it is extremely tough. I am not different because I am a single mother. I need to feel normal about it, so please don’t go out of your way to glorify it. That is absolutely unnecessary. One needs to keep a balance; one cannot categorise children into different groups just because they have been brought up by a single parent. We should make the child; the single parent and society feel normal about it! No point glorifying it because it is not like an extra feather on my hat! I was never convinced with that idea ever!

It’s a lot of work to balance your career and your family, especially if you are a working single mother. At every stage of your child growing up there is a different kind of stress; it never really does end ever! Once she grows a little you will feel that perhaps it will be less of work since she is not a toddler anymore, but no you are wrong. Again when she is a teenager you may feel things will be different, but they will not. You will always remain her go-to person no matter what happens and parents need to upgrade themselves at every stage of rearing a child. There is no textbook on this nor can you get a course done to see where life takes you. At times as a single parent, what really gets to you is that you cannot really pass any of the work to another person. I am the only one she has and I have to handle everything that is going on with her, at all hours! For example, if I am shooting and she needs to talk to me, either me or someone from my team has to take her call. I cannot say I will get home and talk to you. It could be something very basic like she needs a soft drink and it’s not there in the fridge! Or it could be something that is happening in her life and she wants me to hear her out! But I cannot ask her to wait nor can I tell her we can talk later! I have to address it right then! Even if I am into something that is really important, I have to set it aside and make time for her. And that is the way it is always going to be once you are a parent. The situation never changes.

At times as a single parent, what really gets to you is that you cannot really pass any of the work to another person. I am the only one she has and I have to handle everything that is going on with her, at all hours!

This is why I say that for every single working mother it takes a lot of work to balance your career, your family and taking care of your child. You can be in any profession and it is a daily struggle. It is very tough and every day brings a new set of complications. You have to help your child and help yourself at the same time. I’ve tried my best but the war is still on!

(Swastika Mukherjee is one of the most popular names in Bengali cinema whose stellar performance in Paatal Lok wowed the critics and audiences alike. She will be next seen in the sequel to her previous web series, Black Widows. Swastika was married when she was 18 years old but the marriage lasted only two years. She has since been divorced and is mother to a 21-year-old daughter. She has been a single working mother for the last 20 years.)
—As told to Showli Chakraborty

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