Saheli Brings the “Journey of a Mother” into the Limelight

By Manisha Jain

What happens when a group of people pause to discuss and reflect on the ancient, yet always contemporary work of “Motherhood,” and its deep implications?  The result is an outpouring of emotions, a soul-searching interrogation, and a vibrant discussion that transcends cultural and societal barriers.

Such was the atmosphere on Saturday, March 28, when mothers from Lexington gathered with Saheli’s to participate in a thought provoking workshop “Motherhood” A demanding and Invisible Journey.”  Saheli collaborated with Lexington Public Schools, Lexington Youth and Family Services, Lexington School Health Advisory Committee, and the Lexington PTA.

Presenter and facilitator, Dr. Kumkum Pareek Malik, is a Saheli board member and a licensed clinical psychologist.  She spearheads the Emotional Well-Being portfolio of Saheli, and brings over 28 years of clinical experience to her work, along with a calm, non-judgmental and deeply nuanced appreciation for the journey of a mother.

The event was well-attended by members of the community, Lexington residents, Saheli Board president-Usha Vakil, and Saheli volunteers Deeba Hussain Ali, Meera Subramanium, Avanti Pandit, Vasudha Vasudevan, and Rohit Chandra.  Saheli volunteer, Manisha Jain managed the organizational details and event set-up. Saheli volunteer Karina Verma helped with the academic research for this presentation, and Saheli volunteer Vandana Sharma designed the beautiful flyers in collaboration with Dr. Malik.

The workshop commenced with a brief introduction of Dr. Malik by Lexington’s elected representative Syed Ali, who concluded by saying that “to know Kumkum (as she prefers to be known) is to love her!”

Motherhood, she said, could be a very different experience for each woman, and a personal one that she does not need to defend to anyone. Yet, every mother works on behalf of her child/children.

It did not take long for the audience to be mesmerized by Kumkum’s calming voice as she began to question whether society views a mother’s work as “real work.”

Kumkum explained how this unexamined silence in society about the work that mothers do all of their lives, and a woman’s own feelings that her work is not “real work,” impacts her physical and emotional well-being, often raising feelings of self-doubt, worry, anxiety and depression in a woman.  These feelings are yet to be openly accepted and discussed by the society at large.

The format of the event was a workshop style gathering, where each participant had time to explore her own personal journey, and then participate in small as well as large group discussion.  Kumkum’s calm, non-blaming presentation was an easy springboard for discussion. “There are no villains in this story,” she stressed. Men and women have been assigned roles in society, and it is up to us to question, shift, or change the paradigm.

Participants talked about the reality of this societal set up, how much it impacts their daily life, and the need for change.  Usha Vakil asked about the importance of support, especially by extended families, and a participant shared that she would not have been able to achieve her goals outside of her home without such support from her parents and in laws.  In both sessions, there was an outpouring of a collective reality.

In her inimitable style, Dr. Malik urged those present to bring this issue to the forefront in their own lives such that they begin to respect their own work on behalf of their family. “Never forget, “she said, “Every human being is entitled to the dignity of labor.  Feeling respected is the foundation of Emotional Well-Being.”

Saheli Boston is an organization dedicated to empowering South Asian Women and Families to lead safe and healthy lives. Recognizing the toll taken on South Asian women and families by mental health and emotional well-being issues, Saheli has increased its focus in 2014 on addressing clients’ needs beyond domestic violence, immigration, and economic empowerment.  This workshop is a first, in a series of workshops, to be offered in the coming months.  Stay tuned for future workshops presented by Dr. Malik on similarly significant issues related to Emotional Well-Being.

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