Lawyer, author and former resident editor of NDTV 24X7, Sanjay Pinto, explains how parents can strike the right work-life balance.
By Sanjay Pinto
Out of the blue, 12-year-old Anand walked up to his parents one evening and without batting an eyelid, fired this salvo: “What's your salary?” The 'high-society page 3 circuit' couple, both head honchos in India Inc. were perplexed, but hesitatingly revealed their income. “Both of us earn about `10 lakh a month.” Anand wasn't satisfied. “Whoa! Ok, how much do you make a fortnight?” The parents were amused and after another round of 'why do you want to know?,' replied: “`5 lakh a fortnight.” The conversation went on, with Anand persisting. “How much do you earn a week?” His folks did the math and came up with “2 and a half lakh a week.” The little boy probed further. “What about a day?” The peeved parents pulled out their calculators and shot back. “Thirty Five Thousand A Day. Now is that enough?” It wasn't. “How much do you earn an hour?” The workaholic folks have about 12-hour-days at work and an hour worked out to about one thousand five hundred rupees. Anand was finally relieved to hear that figure. He went into his room and shut the door. His parents thought he wanted a new Playstation. When they entered his room, he wasn't crying like they feared. Anand was actually doing something that surprised his parents. Anand had broken his piggybank and was counting the money. When he was done, he turned around, put a bundle of crumpled notes into his parents' palms and dropped this bombshell: “Mom and dad, here's one thousand five hundred rupees. Can I buy an hour of your time? Can you come home an hour earlier from work tomorrow, have dinner with me, kiss me good night and tuck me into bed, for once?”
Many of us take pride in giving our children the best of everything – clothes, toys, admission in sought – after schools, snacks, pocket money in five-hundred rupee denomination and the latest SUVs to drop and pick them up every day from school or to attend birthday parties. Seldom do we realise that the biggest gift we can give our children is quality time. And, how rare is that? Double income may also mean a double whammy for kids who are forced to spend time with the domestic help at home as even grandparents these days are not always in great shape to attend to them regularly. That eleventh hour client meeting or a crucial board room presentation may well be reasons, not excuses for us to stay longer at the workplace. At what cost? I've often wondered if 'bad parenting' is a direct fallout of couples having children before they are ready to take on the big role. A child psychologist friend once casually mentioned to me that kids today ideally need at least 2 touches from their parents every day; it could be a hug, a pat on the back or a good night kiss. Add to this at least one eye-to-eye conversation. It could be a chat on what they did in school for the day or even reading out a story. Children need their parents around especially when they wake up and before they go to bed at night.
I always wanted to be a hands-on dad. I got married at 31, only when I felt the time was right. (You see, there's no 'one size fits all' in these matters). And only when I met ‘Miss Right’. As my wife Vidya and I were both television journalists with 24x7 work demands, we decided that Vidya would take up teaching journalism in a college. Vidya and I made it a point to keep those nosy parkers at bay, who would have otherwise, exactly 9 months after we exchanged rings, hounded us with those clichéd posers: “When is the good news?” We decided to have kids only when we were mentally prepared for the responsibility. That was after a good five years. 'Society' may be hungry for 'good news', but when it does arrive, you are on your own to play your part. Of course, in a couple of years, 'society' would do an action replay, almost demanding that you have a second child! In my case, God blessed us with twin angels, so we didn't have to put up with a second round of prying. And there hangs a tale.
When my babies were born, I was the Executive Editor of NDTV Hindu, spearheading 17 live news bulletins a day and anchoring prime time programmes and flagship shows. NDTV was one of the few organisations that gave dads 15 days of paternity leave. I remember laughingly asking my HR department if I'd be eligible for 30 days, considering I had twins! Those 15 days were arguably the most hectic and memorable days of my life, as I helped Vidya with changing nappies and doing my bit with the babies. I even introduced her to a senior at the Law College who had triplets, just to exchange 'mommy notes'. Soon, work beckoned. In a few months, we had elections in Tamil Nadu. There would be 6 am news conferences to vet headlines and 11 pm day plans to be assigned to my reporters. On several days, my kids would be asleep when I'd leave home in the morning and asleep when I'd return at night. As polling drew closer, I started anchoring the 9 pm bulletin every night. My wife clicked a picture of my daughter Sanvi and son Vidan touching the TV and trying to talk to me. That picture broke my heart and got me thinking about life's priorities, the real joys, and my duty to my family. That picture made me realise that 'take home' need not be just salary but also family time. That picture was an answer to the 'why did you quit NDTV' queries that I was and still am flooded with. That picture was a catalyst to a big career shift – from the newsroom to the court room. My family, not viewers, became my new target audience. The 10.30 am to 4.30 pm court schedule was a lot easier to manage compared to the frenzied 24x7 'no off days written in stone', 'mobile phone attached to your ear' existence.
It has been three years since I left mainstream television medium. And it will soon be my tenth wedding anniversary. Frankly, I don't miss TV. The sheer satisfaction of being there to see my kids' first stage performance at their playschool was something no money, no fame, no career could have ever bought. The experience of sitting with them in their classroom on an open day without having to check missed calls or respond to mails and text messages was therapeutic. The routine of dropping them to school and picking them up, albeit the occasional stress, thanks to our parking woes, is something I secretly cherish. I once was a news hound. Today, I hardly watch TV! Because children are meant to be game changers. Because watching Cinderella with my kids, their first movie in a theatre, taking them to Hamleys or the Donut House at Express Avenue or Nageswara Park or for that customised Ben 10 or Dora haircut are far more rewarding than breaking news! Like the lyrics in that inimitable song 'Eye Of The Tiger', I 'traded passion for glory'. My kids are my glory. Period.
Sanjay Pinto is a Lawyer, Author & Former Resident Editor of NDTV 24x7
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