What are Swami's expectations for mothers? What is their role in supporting the spiritual development of the baby? How long should they stay with the baby before going back to work?
First and foremost, with Swami's teachings, 'one size does not fit all'. However, to be a mother is a blessing and great responsibility.
Swami has said,
“The mother should look after the children herself during the early years instead of placing the child in the custody and care of babysitters and servants."
"The mother must set the example in making the shrine the heart of the household. She must enforce discipline over the children in personal cleanliness, in humility and hospitality, in good manners and acts of service. She must persuade the children by example and precept to revere elders and to allot some time both in the morning and evening for prayer and silent meditation.”
The mother is the first spiritual teacher of a child, and therefore, her thoughts, words, and actions play a pivotal role in the child's life, starting as early as the moment of pregnancy! Thereafter, both parents play equal roles in rearing the child, with responsibilities extending to the entire family, and even extended family. There is no real timeline as to when a mother should go back to work, as every family's situation and circumstances demand differently. It is more important to see what works best for the family, and ensure that the child is provided with the most nurturing environment possible. The family’s intent in making its decisions is critical.
The mother is the closest to the child right from birth and will love the child more deeply than any other. Hence, that love itself nurtures and raises a child into a good human being. Whenever and wherever possible, we must provide our children with such positive influences and environments.
Swami has talked often about women going to work. He always coupled it with the importance that women must also place on the home and family, as that is their primary duty. It is truly a balancing act of being a homemaker and working outside. It's a great responsibility, but also a fortune to be born a woman. Women are naturally endowed with such noble qualities, like the ability to be a role model in a child's life, and shape the child’s character.
“Today, women, because they are educated, compete with men to take up jobs. There is nothing wrong in going for a job. However, they must take care of their home needs before taking up a job. When wife and husband go to offices, who will look after their children at home? If the mother is not at home to guide them properly, the children go astray. If both parents go out for jobs, they may be able to satisfy their desire for money, but there is a large possibility of their children getting spoiled because there will be nobody at home to discipline them. Whatever moral values you have learnt, you have to teach your children. Whatever you have studied will have value only when you care for your children's progress. Women should recognise their responsibilities and conduct themselves accordingly.”
Today, many women work as many hours as men, and therefore, it is very important for the husband/father too to help around the home, and take equal responsibility of chores and child-rearing.
Ultimately, children are God's most precious possessions, which He gifts us with the opportunity to take care of and love. It is our great fortune and duty to foster these beautiful, pure souls who come into this world, into beacons of His Love.