“Don’t try to fix everything”

Paromita Sengupta interviewed Kolkata-based banker-turned-model and single parent Chumki Sharma on balancing an action-packed career and raising her mildly autistic son Sahil.

Chumki Sharma

Kolkata-based Chumki Sharma is a banker (HDFC Bank), fashion model, single mother and accomplished poet. In 2018 she was crowned Ms. India Queen of Substance and Ms. United Nations Globe in the ‘single woman category for married women’ staged in New Delhi and Kingston (Jamaica) respectively, Her anthology of poems Shape of Emptiness was published in 2017 by Australian Vine Leaves Publications.

Chumki Sharma

Pic credit: Rajiv Chakraborty

What is your parenting philosophy?

Many successful professional women are inclined to say, “but of course my children come first” or “first and foremost, I’m a mother”. But I have always believed that while being a mother is very important, there are other roles and responsibilities that are as important. I have faced many parenting challenges as a single mother, but with my family’s rock solid support and satisfaction of pursuing a fulfilling career, motherhood has never been a disadvantage. Rather, it has been a milestone.
Motherhood has helped me understand myself better and made me a more compassionate human being which has played a vital role in my creative breakthroughs at work. In my opinion, a working mother is better equipped to share a positive world view with her children.

You are a fashion model and beauty pageant winner. How do you balance your work at the bank, modeling career with responsibilities at home?

Balancing my responsibilities at home, working a 9-5 job at a leading private bank and winning two major pageant titles has undeniably been more than I bargained for. Yet despite the many challenges, I have had a fulfilling life. I believe when you love what you do, everything else falls in place.

What challenges have you faced while raising your son Sahil who is a special needs child?

During his formative years, I spent a lot of time searching for an appropriate school for him. There weren’t many inclusive schools in Kolkata those days. His first experience at St. Sebastian wasn’t great and Sahil increasingly felt out of place. Later Sahil was admitted into the Heritage School, Ruby Park, Kolkata, after a tough interview. Heritage is a mainstream school. But with a special section for special needs children. It proved to be a turning point in our lives. I am deeply grateful to his teachers for their support and for enabling Sahil to blossom into a well-adjusted child. Today I am the proud mother of a college-going son enrolled in a mainstream bachelor of science (media studies) degree programme at the Heritage Academy, Kolkata.

Parenting has become more complex than ever before in urban India. How do you cope with its many challenges?

Academic and peer pressure and excessive time spent on social media are common concerns of 21st century parents. With family structures breaking down from joint and nuclear to single parenthood, juggling between work and home makes it very difficult for young parents to constantly monitor their children. Multiple distractions and options available to children these days make a parent’s job even more difficult.
But although I don’t believe in micromanaging my child’s every need, yet I keep all communication channels open and I am responsive to his needs.

Working in the glamour industry has its perks and practical irritations such as increased media scrutiny. How do you shield your son from the media?

I have always been conscious that a child needs to carve his own identity even if there is a modestly famous parent around. This is crucial for the mental well-being and overall development of children. After my pageant title victories, I took great pains to spend quality time with Sahil. In the face of increased curiosity among his peers and teachers, I believe Sahil has been able to find that rare balance of pride and nonchalance that is important in adolescence. I believe my son doesn’t care much about my celebrity status as his life hasn’t been negatively impacted.

Are you strict with your college-going son? Any ban on digital screen time or eating junk food?

As a divorcee for over a decade, I am far from being a strict mother. I believe too many restrictions mean as many loopholes! I prefer to discuss the importance of eating healthy and benefits of reducing digital screen time with my son in mealtime conversations.

You are a goodwill ambassador of an NGO that works for the rehabilitation of trafficked women. What can parents do to develop gender sensitiVe children?

Given the nationwide spurt in gender crimes and violence against women and girl children, there is an urgent need to sensitise male children in early age to respect women’s rights and dignity. I believe gender sensitisation and education must begin at home with mothers playing the lead role. Sahil often accompanies me on my social work campaigns. He has interacted with trafficked women and spent time with their children, and learnt about the importance of safety for women and their rights.

In India male parents often don’t play an active role in day to day parenting. Do you see this changing?

I have been a single mother for a long time now. But within friends and family, I have noticed a positive change. Modern fathers are much more involved and hands-on than before.

Your message to other parents?

Don’t try to fix everything. Make warm memories together with your children. They won’t be children for long.

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