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Star Mom : Divya Menon

Dr. Divya Menon is an Oral Pathologist currently enrolled in the Research Post-graduate program at the University of Hong Kong. She is a gold medalist in Dentistry from the Government Dental College, Calicut and a holder of the Masters Degree (MDS) in Oral & Maxillofacial pathology. After working as an Oral pathologist/lecturer in a Dental College for a couple of years she decided to pursue her interest to look deeper into the cells which she sees every day under the microscope and hence the move to research. She has more than 10 peer reviewed scientific publications to her credit. She lives in Hong Kong with her husband and her almost three- year-old daughter. Thank you, Divya for taking the time out to talk to the Times Of Amma.

1. Has Motherhood affected the way you take career decisions? Yes and No! I always had to postpone much of my daily work so that I could be with my daughter for a fair amount of time every day. It might or might not affect my career in a long run. But as far as major decisions are concerned, I am among those who strongly believe that women can bring a balance between motherhood and a career. Whenever I see my daughter’s face it actually motivates me to work hard. I want to set an example of a successful, independent wage-earner for her.

2. How do you balance your career with your parenting?

I would say that it is all about prioritizing. I know how important it is for parents to spend time with their children. As a parent there are going to be a lot of moments throughout your kid’s life that cannot be postponed or set aside and that’s when parenting becomes the number one priority. Of course, there will always be commitments and requirements when it comes to work and your career especially when you are in a research-related field, but that’s when your skills in forecasting and planning things in an organized manner comes to play. When you choose to combine motherhood and a career in any form, there will be trade-offs, sacrifices and compromises. What is fundamental to your happiness is accommodating those trade-offs by being absolutely sure about why you are making them in the first place. 3. What was the hardest part of moving abroad for your career with a young child? The biggest challenge for me was dedicating time to some experiments which were completely new to me while still devoting time to my little one. Thankfully my daughter was too young to understand what was happening and as long as her routine was not hindered, there wasn’t any marked differences in her behavior in the new place. 4. What was the feeling you had when you were shortlisted for doctoral studies in Hong Kong with a 1 and a half year old baby?

The most profound feeling was uncertainty coupled with too much anticipation of possible problems which left me unsettled in no time. Of course I was happy. But deep within I was increasingly concerned about how I would handle the work pressure and motherhood. 5. How did you manage the few months away from her? Oh! That was the most difficult time of my life. I used to dream about the 'ideal life' I would have had back home with my baby . But I was lucky enough to have my husband near me who was incredibly supportive of what I’m doing, and didn’t subject me to guilt at that time. 6. How soon could you bring her over and what adjustments do you have with the full time maid?

Until your child is old enough to attend a kindergarten, Hong Kong doesn’t have many options for “day care” as we have in India. This leaves us with the only option of hiring a live in helper/maid. If we were to hire a maid through agencies here (which is the common practice in HK), I would have had to leave my daughter in unknown hands and I was hesitant about it. Fortunately the lady who was working for us in India was willing to come along and things worked out our way. Even though we had to do a lot of extra work as a part of immigration formalities, she is literally family. 7. How has being an expat influenced your parenting? Being an expat parent made me realize that it is always worthy to try to incorporate the positive gradients from other styles of parenting into our own style so that my girl can benefit from it. More over since we tend to lack the support from extended family, we are forced to follow our gut feeling regarding parenting.

8. Do you think it is harder being an expat mother than an expat dad?

Well I think it’s a challenge for both and it depends on an individual’s perception about parenting. According to me fathers and mothers ought to take equal responsibility in raising their child. Most of the time though, it doesn’t work this way. In my case I was fortunate enough to have my husband spending more time with my kid than I do. He used to adjust his work schedule such that he never missed a single lunch with her. Moreover he would always find time to take her to a nearby park or indoor play room almost every day. So I guess in my case it was harder for him than me. 9. Do you think you would have been a different kind of mother if you were back in India, living close to family and friends? Well, I don’t think I would have been different whether in India or HK. But yes, parental decisions in India would have been influenced a bit by my parents and in laws and it is often difficult to ignore their experience based ideals. As we lack the kind of support system (parents, sisters & brothers) our parents had when we were growing up back in India I feel it encourages me to be independent and a more responsible parent. 10. What are the three things you love about being an expat mother? The thing I love the most is the chance to experience a different culture. It can really open your eyes and make you look at things in a completely different way. Also, it’s always good to test your boundaries a little and step out of your comfort zone – I think it definitely helps you grow as a person. And I almost love the fact that my daughter is able to learn to integrate into a new community and I hope it will improve her adaptability towards life’s challenges.

11. Do you find raising a third culture child challenging? Actually I am happy that my daughter is able to see the world – Hong Kong has a strong multi-cultural presence. I want her to see the bigger picture. I hope she will have a sense of openness and she respects and appreciates everyone for who they are. I personally feel it is all about trying to strike a balance between the two cultures. 12. Do you celebrate cultural occasions with your daughter? Yes. I believe that celebrating the cultural occasions will keep her firmly rooted to her home culture. It is important to make them understand where they come from so that they don’t lose their identity as third culture kids. 13. What is one piece of advice that you wish you had received as an expat mother? Motherhood usually lifts our anxiety to unexpected levels. You really don’t have to be a “perfect” mom to be a great one. I think our kids will be better off with a mom who feels good about herself and is not persistently beating herself up for not measuring up to some “ideal” entity. --- Thank you for your refreshing insights, Divya. We are sure that our community is inspired by your life and work.For more conversations with inspiring moms like Divya, follow the Times of Amma on Facebook and Instagram.

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