Each month we’ll have an interview with a masalamomma who talks to us about being a South Asian working mom, juggling it all but still managing to find creative ways to maintain a sense of the culture in her family. This month we spoke with Anita Sharma, a self-employed dentist at a Toronto area practice that she shares with her sister.
Tell us a bit about you and your life as a working mom:
I grew up in rural Nova Scotia in a small town called Baddeck. It had a population of 800, and we were one of only three ethnic families living there. I graduated from Dalhousie School of Dentistry in 1992 and moved to Toronto where I have been practicing for the past 19 years. After having two kids one year apart with the second one born 12 weeks premature, I seriously reconsidered juggling motherhood with my profession. I was an associate at the time and it would have been easy to just quit. It was my husband who encouraged me to go back to work two days a week to keep my skills current and to give me the option of having both a career and a family. He knew that if I gave up my career at that time, I would never go back. I listened to his advice and have never regretted keeping my career. After the kids were both in school full time my sister and I both realized what a unique opportunity we would have to open an office together. We have always been very close, had kids of similar age and lived only five minutes from each other. In 2009 we purchased and revitalized an existing dental office only five minutes from our homes. It was a challenging year for us, trying to balance dentistry, running a business for the first time and still running our households. I felt like I had three jobs! Finding time for the kids, my husband and even for myself was most challenging. I learned a lot that year. As difficult as it was, the rewards we are now enjoying from being owners of our own practice and being able to follow our unique practice philosophy has made this journey very worthwhile.
How do you manage the daily juggle of work and motherhood?
Juggling work with kids is always challenging for any working mom! I think the number one answer to this is don’t be afraid to get help or ask for help. I have always been blessed with a strong and diverse group of individuals who help me out and vice versa. I have several moms that I am close friends with in the area in which I live. We rely on each other daily for car pooling, play dates, and even emergencies. The occasional lunch or coffee date with the moms as well as regular kickboxing classes and power walks helps keep us in touch and in shape! My sister, who is also my business partner, is my single most important support and resource. On days that I work she takes the kids to school and brings them home and I do the same for her. We work alternate days, both only part-time. I believe having a sister as a business and social partner helps greatly in relieving the stress of day to day juggling. I feel I am very lucky that way. Going back to work also allowed me to justify having a part-time nanny, so that I can spend more time with the kids. I have a rule that I try to stick by….don’t take work home with you and don’t work on weekends and evenings. This gives me time to focus on my family guilt free. The only thing that allows me to follow my career and enjoy it to the fullest is that I am able to work part-time and be carefree when I am not there, knowing that my sister is.
Why is working important to you? Was your mom a role model growing up?
Working is very important to me. It gives me a sense of purpose and of giving back to society. I worked hard for 7 years to earn my degrees and being able to follow my career path and still enjoy it after 19 years is very rewarding and fulfilling. We do a lot of smile makeovers in our office. Seeing the impact a cosmetic change can have on an individual is priceless. We feel that we help our patients become more confident and help to decrease or eliminate their fear of going to the dentist. By creating a spa-like atmosphere and giving the patients some extra comforts like hot towels and aromatherapy neck pillows we create that relaxing environment that makes ours a unique experience.
My mother came to the country in 1966. She didn’t speak English very well and had studied to be a Hindi teacher. After having three kids, who eventually were all in school, she felt a little bored at home and felt unchallenged. She started a small business of her own: a gift shop in the small town. She ran this business successfully for over 25 years. I felt that if my mother, coming from another country and after having three kids could run her business, then how could I not at least try to take up the same challenge. It was her accomplishments and her determination and success that motivated me to do the same. I knew I could never reach the same success or fulfillment staying an associate and working for someone else. My mother juggled it all and so could I. She was an amazing role model to both me and my sister. I would love it if my son and daughter could feel that way about me someday.
How do you decide what activities to put your kids in?
We try not to overwhelm our kids with daily activities or fill up our weekends with a kid’s schedule. We strongly believe that kids also need time to just play and develop on their own, as well as to spend time with family and friends. We try to achieve a balance between music, sports and arts when it comes to their activities. It is important to expose them to a variety of things at this age and then to allow then to choose their interests and strengths as they get older.
How do you manage cultural expectations re. parenting and family?
Although I grew up in a very non-ethnic rural area, my parents were able to instill in me a strong sense of cultural identity. They did this through daily exposure to our Indian culture and heritage. We try to do the same for our kids. We started our daughter in kathak dance classes with a few of her friends last year and she loved it. It gave her an appreciation for Indian dance, music, and culture. My husband recently started teaching tabla to a group of young boys, including my son. Seeing his dad play gives him the encouragement to learn, and doing it with a group of his friends makes it more cool for him. We’ve also always exposed our kids to Indian food, Indian clothes, and Indian books. It becomes such a normal part of their daily routine that they do not see it as anything different. We hope to take them to India one day as well, to show them their roots and give them that same sense of identity that we associate with. Although we do celebrate Christmas from a cultural point of view, we make sure that Diwali is the big celebration of the year for them. We do this by having a get together with all our family, having a special meal, giving the kids gifts, talking about what Diwali is, and ending the evening with fireworks. They also love participating in Indian weddings and will take any opportunity to do mehndi dance at a sangeet, or be a flower girl. Our kids are both fascinated with everything related to an Indian wedding and even talk about how they would like their wedding to be one day. We are also very much part of a joint family, which is indicative of our Indian culture. Our children have a strong connection to their grandparents and are very close to all their cousins.
I work part-time and am co-owner of my own business. I love what I do even 19 years after starting my career. I go away once a year with my husband to fun and exotic places, without the kids, to stay connected and to have our couple time. Having regular date nights helps too. We make sure we have family dinner nights out and plan for at least one big family vacation each year. I never stop doing the things I love for myself…like regular exercising, spa time, girls’ nights. Juggling motherhood and a career, and staying on top of retaining your cultural identity for yourself and your family can be both challenging but rewarding. I am truly blessed to have the resources and career that I have that allows me to do it all. Have my cake and eat it too!
For more information about Anita Sharma visit: www.dskdental.com
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