Thursday, November 17, 2011

on working as a Mom

In A Park, by Berthe Morisot - the artist's sister and her children

So my aunt came by yesterday. It was during this space of time when Ro was having her nap, and I was having a breather and getting some of my own things done. My aunt looked around, observed my seeming aimlessness, and said, "Don't you want to go back to work? Don't you feel like your life is just wasting away here?"

OK. You may already have some idea about how I feel about parenting, or being a full-time Mom. I am honestly tired of hearing this kind of… thing. Making money or working for "the Man" is not the be-all and end-all of a fulfilled, successful life. Getting on the train first thing in the morning and being far removed from my kids till nightfall does not capture the term "motherhood" for me. I have no regrets about giving up my high-paying, highfalutin job with the nicely carpeted corner office space, and the 2-hour lunch breaks.

Once upon a time, being a mother meant that you actually stayed home with your kids and, well, mothered. Today, the role of mother or parent is often passed on to grandparents, sundry relatives and minders, or childcare centres. Even in families that could reasonably live on one parent's income, this has become acceptable, and even expected.

Does having that corporate career define a fulfilled, un-wasted life? Do I have to put on my power suit and high heels, and walk purposefully about, clutching my folders with that grim expression of one dealing with the life-and-death issues of that quarter's advertising budget or the CEO's annual report message? Well surprise - fulltime motherhood is real work too.

Sure, I'd love to have steady part-time work in a proper organisation somewhere – ideally a welfare organisation – but I've yet to find one that offers part-time hours and doesn't say I'm "over-qualified" (how could one be over-qualified to help the needy?). They're convinced I'm expecting high pay, that I'd get bored by the "mundane" work, and won't be committed enough to stay long. But when you consider what they do end up with…

So now, this is an aside, and a bit of a vent – but take the XX – sorry, can't name names – but a well-known Christian organisation that purports to help the "poor, homeless, hungry and destitute". They are perpetually looking for people to work in their various children's and nursing homes. Well of course they are – as a volunteer, one does get an insider's view into what's going on! – there's high turnover: the staff are largely young foreigners who are building their careers and will go where the money's at. Well, that's fine and natural I guess.

But then there are those who are just stuck working there for now, not because they altruistically want to help the "poor, homeless, hungry and destitute". These are the ones who simply dump bowls of food in front of ill, elderly people who can barely clean themselves, or shove hot food in their mouths because they just want to hurry on to their next task. That may perhaps be "natural", but it's certainly not fine.

Which leads me to think – good job HR people! You'd rather continue giving such individuals their full-time jobs with their low pay, than allow for some part-time hiring of committed people who really care. I've applied more than once and each time I was told I'm "over-qualified" or that they want someone full-time.

Well, this is a society that doesn't offer opportunities for, or encourage a real, effective balancing of parenting and career – where kids see their classmates and teacher or minder far more than their own parents – why do we even wonder at the moral laxity of today's youth, their psychological and emotional challenges, or their vulnerability to abuse and violence.

So anyway, like I've said, I have no regrets about giving up my career. I did not have my kids just to become – as my mother-in-law likes to say of certain women – a "turtle" who lays a bunch of eggs, and then leaves.

I don't mind spending days upon days, and years upon years, enmeshed in child-centred activities, conversations and entertainments – not just because I believe (and know from personal experience) how important and valuable a strong parent-child bond is – but also because it means not missing those moments in time that can make such a dramatic impact on a child's life.

I mean those moments where my actual, physical presence could make a real, vital difference – where my care and guidance could keep my kids from doing or experiencing something that could cause them a lifetime of pain, heartache or regret. An acquaintance's son, for instance, left almost entirely in the care of the telly and Nintendo, in front of which he'd spend hours with no one saying him nay, now has to wear glasses. He is only seven.

Someone else's young son, left in the care of a maid who was quite content to let him ride his bicycle alone on the road, without protection, was hit by a car and is now scarred for life. The tragedy of instances like these is that they might have, could have been avoided.
Of course, we can’t control a lot of things in life, but I'd hate to be one of those parents who looks back over their kids' lives and says "I wish I'd…" or "If only I'd…".

A friend recently sent me this article. Perhaps I should send it to my aunt.


my thrifty closet said...

thank you for this post, I'm right behind you. I've heard this "when are you going back to work?" for years. People are not tired of asking even after 12 years of asking. I've already given up explaining to them. It's a conviction and vocation that people would not understand even some fellow mothers. I can totally understand how you feel. Nevertheless, stick to your conviction, there is so much satisfaction that comes with being a SAHM that people will not know until they stay home themselves and be hands on about raising their kids.


Kris said...

ignore! i'm sure you'll be glad that you did when the girls grow up to be fine and outstanding individuals. even if for nothing else, they'll do well in terms of morals and values. anyway, I'm glad you're with them also.. I shudder when I remember abt the incident at the park. thank God you were there with them!

Anonymous said...

Ahh yes...I get asked many times too, even from working moms who ask incredulously how I can bear not working and spending the whole day every day with my kids! Like you, I've never regretted quitting my outwardly fabulous job 3 yrs ago, and only regret that I didn't do so even earlier when I had my first child.


Unknown said...

I am glad we agree on the topic, no wasted life being a stay home mom. More money could be nice but nothing really compares to seeing your babies grow, protect them and guide them. Why having somebody else do it? My Xavi will be 7 years tomorrow!


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