People who are about to become parents receive no shortage of warnings for what is to come. Seasoned parents love telling expecting couples things like “Enjoy your freedom while you can!” or any variation of comments on how little sleep they’ll get, how much money they’ll spend on diapers, and how the life they know now is pretty much over. In spite of all these warnings, it is difficult for mothers in particular to understand the full scope of duties she is taking on by having a child. I have written before about how parenting standards are at an all time high, which means we have extra pressure and responsibilities that our own parents did not have. In honour of Mother’s Day, I’d like to reflect on the many hats a mother wears; the jobs that no one warned us about.

Menu Planner and Nutritionist
As a young woman excited to start her family, I thought I would have endless enthusiasm for feeding my kids tasty and healthy meals. Now, at 37 years old, I’m raging against the patriarchy, wondering why it is the woman’s job to decide what everyone is eating, an infinite task with no end in sight. I’m convinced that moms get excited for holidays mainly because it gives them a respite from this duty. At least in the old days there was less emphasis on making each meal nutritionally balanced, but now we can’t escape all the information about the evils of sugar and processed foods, and the importance of protein, vegetables and whole grains. This job becomes exponentially more stressful for moms of kids with allergies; a small lapse in vigilance could result in a visit to the emergency room. It’s not just the preparing and serving of the meals that is exhausting, but the list making, grocery shopping, monitoring of waste, and processing the inevitable feedback of who didn’t like what and why. And as with all other aspects of motherhood, the opinions of others can make you feel like your best is never good enough. I can give my kids balanced, nutritious meals for several days in a row, with no one there to applaud me. But on the day when my brain doesn’t work, or I don’t feel like nagging them to finish their portions, I give them a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and guess who suddenly stops to observe their plate? My husband, who then lectures me about how they should be eating more veggies. My parents also regularly grill me about this topic, asking if I am really paying attention to my children’s nutrition because they’ve been looking thin recently. This constant evaluation and judgment is draining, especially when none of the opinion-holders are sharing the workload involved in feeding them.

Therapist and Mediator
I thought I had until their teenage years before I would have to do any emotional heavy lifting, but I was wrong! Children have a strong sense of what is just and fair, and it is devastating for them when they discover the world doesn’t always reflect what is right. When my normally chipper older son first complained to me about certain incidents or interactions with people, my instinct was to immediately address it with action: who do I need to talk to, complain to, subtly threaten?! Slowly I realised that I cannot protect him from disappointment or unpleasantness; I needed to let him vent his feelings and be an empathetic listener, rather than an avenger. But sometimes when I’m already in a low mood, hearing their venting leaves me feeling helpless and pessimistic. Even therapists experience burnout, and they are trained for this! As for the mediator role, my sons are only a year and a half apart, so I am constantly arbitrating over their disputes. The biggest challenge is not cutting them off short to give my judgment so we can move on; I have to listen to each one’s entire diatribe, filled with references to past arguments which then become their own tangents, and wait until they are completely finished before I dare speak. Being an unflinchingly patient, unbiased mediator is one of those jobs we aren’t prepared for, but is so important in ensuring that all children feel equally heard and respected in their family.

24 Hour Concierge and Secretary
These days, there are hundreds of extra-curricular activities and tuition classes we can enroll our children in, as the competition for college admission gets steeper, and the standard for what constitutes a successful life gets higher. Even in a family where both parents are working, the job of managing these extra classes falls on the mom. We gather the information, decide which classes are right for them, register them, keep track of the schedule on our calendars, coordinate their transportation or logging in, procure any materials needed, and figure out where to squeeze in make-up classes when they inevitably miss some. And remember, this is all on top of school, for which we are doing all of this plus helping them with homework, studying, and making note of all the messages we receive regarding schedule changes and special events. My children are only in elementary school, but I am certain that all this administrative work has made me highly qualified to be an assistant to a CEO of a multinational corporation! I could also be a concierge at a luxury hotel, since my kids can announce that they need something at any time of day (stationary, football socks, etc.), and I’m the one who has to source it or remember where it is. If you’re not a parent but are friends with some, ask some moms to show you their Google calendars, and you’ll get a glimpse into this world of juggling. Of course I knew this was part of being a parent, but I never would have grasped how much mental space it all takes, especially with WhatsApp making it socially acceptable for anyone to message at all hours. So my brain has to process a rescheduling request from a tuition teacher sent at 6:30AM, as well as assignment reminders from school sent after dinner time. At least as a secretary, I’d be getting paid overtime!

Risk Assessor
One common piece of advice that rings true is to travel, have adventures, and go a little crazy in your young adult years before becoming a parent. We are fortunate to live in a time where mothers are not expected to be so conservative; no one is shocked by moms going on girls’ trips to party hard, or taking pole-dancing classes to stay fit and feel sensual. However, once you’ve taken on the responsibility of caring for little ones, you become a risk assessor, avoiding anything that might put you in harm’s way. I was on the lookout for a hobby that got me out of the house, and since surfing has become hugely popular in Chennai, gave that a try. In my first lesson I was able to get up and stay on the board several times, so they put me with the advanced group in my second lesson itself. Another person in the group had a Go-Pro camera that luckily captured me successfully riding a wave, a video I proudly shared with my parents and in-laws. Instead of remarking on my physical prowess, however, they begged me to give up this adventurous pastime, reminding me that I am a mother of young children. I agreed, but still needed something to do, so I said I wanted to get into horseback riding but was met with the same refrain. That’s when it dawned on me that I was no longer free to decide things for myself based on my whims and fancies. I am first and foremost a guardian to these precious souls, so I have to be aware of the risk involved in any situation I put myself in. I’m aware that we cannot live life in fear, that many mothers surf and horseback ride, and that risk is present everywhere, even when we get into a car every day. But it is a fact that becoming a mother means hesitating to do something you wouldn’t have given a second thought to before. In an episode of Keeping up with the Kardashians, the family is on a holiday in Thailand and spending the day at an adventure course, with rope bridges strung up high. Kim is all strapped in and ready to do a zip line, when suddenly she freezes up, panics and starts bawling. Her siblings roll their eyes, but in her confessional she says something about how once you become a parent, it changes how you look at everything. I wholeheartedly understood this sentiment, and am content with avoiding risky activities until my children are much older, but it is still a lifestyle change that no one explicitly talks about.

If you’re a mother reading this, I hope you feel reassured that your many roles are seen and appreciated, even if you don’t hear it often. If you’re not a mother, I hope that this column inspires you to offer support or appreciation to the mothers in your life, not just on Mother’s Day, but all year round. Happy Mother’s Day, Provoke readers!