Runam Mehta’s approach to parenting: Balancing work, life, and screen time

13 March 2023
Smitha Murthy Written by Smitha Murthy
Smitha Murthy

Smitha Murthy

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On LinkedIn, Runam Mehta describes herself as ‘comfortable with ambiguity’ and a solver of early-stage business problems. Not all her LinkedIn posts are about solving problems, however. Runam is the CEO of HealthCube, a healthcare startup that aims to make diagnostics more accessible to Indians. But Runam also frequently writes about life, work, leadership, and parenting.

It’s the last that drew our attention. Part of what we want to achieve with MyndStories is to have more founders talking about mental wellness. We had Portea’s friendly CEO, Vaibhav Tewari, have an engaging conversation on The MyndStories Podcast in December. Before that, we had Karthik from Neurostellar explain just how they believe wearables can change mental health science.

In this candid conversation, Runam and I spoke about parenting, the myth of finding balance, and the joys of life. 

Would it be very cliched to start with what parenting means to you, Runam?

Parenting is a daily challenge, to be perfectly honest because you just have to constantly account for the mental and emotional capacity of a much younger, much less evolved (in some ways) human being, right? So you have to really work hard at balancing your own needs versus that of your child. And I think we’re always taught to put the child first. 

I find that simply does not work for me because there are times when I need to put myself first. But every time you do that, you have to then do it in a way that your children don’t feel rejected. You can tell an adult, you know what, I’m just going to do this by myself for a bit. And they’ll get it. But children don’t hear it like that. The child hears that my mom doesn’t want to spend time with me, and maybe she doesn’t love me, or maybe therefore, I have been bad.

It’s this constant dependency that the child has on you. And you don’t want to traumatize them. You don’t want to scar them. You don’t want them to feel rejected. At the same time, I think it’s only fair that you get what you need as well as in any relationship. I think this balance is much harder to maintain with a child than with an adult.

You were 32 when you had your first child, and one of the things you mentioned is that you and your spouse follow ‘active parenting.’ What is that?

We made a conscious decision to have a child. When I conceived, I knew that I would not stop working. I wanted to continue to work. Our parents are not around, so we have to build a village ourselves to bring this child up. 

Very early on, when I was still pregnant, we decided that my husband would actually take a three-month sabbatical between jobs to facilitate my going back to my workplace. I had five months of maternity leave, and I joined back a little early. In the meantime, we found a nanny who, fortunately, has been with us for five years now.

My husband was there for this crucial early stage. He cooked, fed, played with, and bathed the baby. In fact,  I think my daughter was bathed by one parent or the other till she was 18 months old. I massaged her every day after she turned four months old till she was 15 months old. This is what I mean by active parenting: We are raising our child; she isn’t growing up in auto mode. 

These days, I sometimes think a baby may be born with an Instagram or TikTok account already set up. Given that, what is your approach to introducing your child to the online world? 

We have decided to limit the digital world with no screen time.

My daughter is five. She hasn’t watched a single movie so far. No full-length cartoons. She probably watches 10-15 minutes or so on a Sunday once a month.

What this means is that, for example, if I take a flight, I can’t just seat her in front of a screen. It means I have to be actively involved with her. Either reading to her, playing a game with her, talking to her, or feeding her. 

You have to make up for the fact that your child is not sitting in front of a screen for 2 hours a day, every day. Then you do puzzles or write or draw with them. And that means you’re spending that time actively engaged and not just being around. 

One of the things that I see bandied about on social media these days is the whole conversation around ‘finding the balance.’ What does balance mean to you? Is there a balance at all that you can find in parenting, work, and life?

Everyone has balance. Whether that balance is working for you or not is different. The only way to function honestly is to strive toward being as balanced as possible. For example, I haven’t stepped into a movie theater for five years. I don’t want to spend 3 hours watching a movie and not spending that time either with my daughter or at home doing other things that I think are more important. 

But there are many things that I do for myself. I do not deny myself all the time. I take an hour every day to either read or do yoga. Yoga is a priority. On the days I take a physical break, I read. I spend at least 2 hours a week on social contact and another 5 hours on exercise. Add another 2-3 hours for reading and writing. 

How does your daughter take you having your “me-time?”

The question is how to make her understand that her mamma needs to do this for herself. It doesn’t take away from the fact that I love her and I love spending time with her, but I also have to do what I need to do. 

You don’t have to put the entire world ahead of yourself all the time. I don’t feel guilty about spending time on myself. 

Guilt. How do you silence that inner critical voice of guilt when you do spend time on yourself?

Be mindful of the sacrifices you make so that they don’t feel like sacrifices. I am ok with missing movies, for example. But I’m not ok with missing my yoga! If I were to not do yoga every morning, it would leave me very resentful of whoever it is that is keeping me from it. Think of what counts as a ‘sacrifice’ and be at peace with it. 

And has parenting impacted your work? In what way, if so?

I think it’s made me more efficient. I don’t think it’s impacted my work negatively, frankly. After I became a parent, I led B2B strategy for Portea. What helped was I had been in the company for many years and built my credibility and connections. Even if I had to get stuff done from a distance and via a team, I could do it.

I led home isolation during Covid-19, which was a crazy time. I then moved, changed jobs, and am currently the CEO of this company. So, my career never took a hit. But what I needed to do after becoming a mother was asking for flexibility. For example, between 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm, I don’t work or take calls – that’s the time I feed my daughter, and read together with her. 

That sounds like the perfect way to set the right boundaries around work and home. But where has parenting changed you emotionally? Who was Runam before she became a parent, and what has changed?

I was an extrovert. I was very carefree, ambitious, and committed. I am still ambitious. I was always a feminist, but I think it’s become an issue closer to my heart after bringing a girl into the world. Because there is so much I want to do, and so much I want to be in order to leave the world a slightly more equitable place for her. 

I realize how much of a primary role model I am to my daughter, and I am mindful of my actions as a result. I make it a point, for example, to drive the car occasionally so that she sees her mother in that role too. And my husband also cooks one meal a week so that she sees that the kitchen is not just a place for women.

Runam Mehta

Ultimately, you learn to put yourself as parents who are also flawed human beings sometimes and accept that you may make mistakes on this journey, even as you acknowledge the wonder you helped bring into this world.