When I became a mother, the thought of being a stay-at-home-mum (SAHM) occurred to me approximately 3 times. And all 3 times, I brushed away that possibility. Perhaps, in the future, it may be an eventuality. I don’t know, truth be told. With higher costs of living, expandable careers, the rise of the capital market, the income I generate from my work as a solicitor on a monthly basis, is much needed fodder for my family. I’ve read countless articles, participated in debates, on why a mother should, first and foremost, owe her allegiance to her children and family. It is something I thoroughly agree with, but on the work and career front, sometimes that isn’t altogether possible. That saddens me.
I leave my daughter with my parents, who care for them when I am at work. In the evenings when I’ve finished for the day, I leave the office in the office, and switch to Mummy mode, and pick up my daughter, relishing the few hours I have left with her before it is time to go to bed and begin the work day all over again the next day. I am lucky because I have my parents. But parents grow older with each passing day- I know I have to eventually look into other means of caring for my daughter. Day care? Play school? Nursery? The thought scares me when I know that I have to leave my daughter in the hands of other care-givers. At the same time, though, I do not have a choice.
I questioned my motives for wanting to keep my career and to keep moving on, climbing up the corporate ladder, penetrating the glass ceiling. I work at a law office, a wonderful place where there is (not yet, at least) no office politics, no bickering, no red tape, flexible hours, and mostly, because I am a woman, and a mother, I have the understanding and compassion of my bosses, who are themselves parents and have to work hard to make a living. But I’m afraid to test the waters. I think employees always are, no matter how ideal their work conditions. So I persevere, become a tough person at work, striving to do the best and broker the most beneficial deal for my clients. I have to be a worker first, a mother second. Is that fair to my daughter? I’ve asked myself that question a million times.
I long for the day when I can attain financial freedom. I am certain that I do not want to retire completely when the time comes- but I want the freedom, the liberty, the flexibility to watch my children grow up and to spend quality time with the family. Long hours at work do not allow me that luxury. But I don’t complain, because this is what I am programmed to do, how I am, as an employee, programmed to think.
I am afraid of letting my instincts as a mother take precedence over my work. Does that make me a terrible mother? Last week, my parents fell ill and my mother had to be hospitalized for a few days. I struggled for hours on a Tuesday night, wondering what I was going to do with my daughter: my employers had insisted that I take a few days off to care for her, in view of my plight. But I also remembered my roles and responsibilities in the firm, that there would be no one to handle the pressing load of files creaking on my desk if I wasn’t there. I also wondered if there would be an ensuing prejudice if I had, in fact, taken a few days off, shunning my responsibilities as a worker bee of this organization.
I did the next best possible thing that I could do: I brought my daughter to the office with me, after informing my employers that I could not find a babysitter for the day. My daughter, a usually-active and cheeky 2-year old, thankfully, was a model of good behaviour, quietly drawing lines and squiggles on a piece of rough paper, colouring pictures and playing with my stamp pad and name chops in my room. But not all people are as lucky as I am. And it was torturous to have to see how uncomplaining my little babe was about that state of affair- she even fell asleep later after lunch and I was all prepared to unload the travel mattress I had folded into my SUV, so that she would be able to take a nap in my room.
Before I became a mother, I was also a career woman. I truly admire SAHMs because I think it takes a great deal to give up a career and devote your life to your children. Caring for children 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, is a full-time job. But it is not something all mothers can do. There are other mothers out there, like me, who have to grapple with their role as mothers vs their role as workers on a daily basis, simply because we cannot afford to be SAHMs. Is that something I’d like to do? Eventually, perhaps, I don’t know- I love my career at the moment and cannot fathom giving it up completely someday.
What I do hope to achieve, though, is the respect and understanding that it is alright to be a mother AND a career woman at the same time. That it is not a handicap or an imperfection if you need to take a few days off in a year to care for your child. That I can still maintain a fruitful career (part-time, full-time or flexi-hours) and still be a good mother. That I am not evil to my child because I am aiming high, for that corporate glass ceiling that promises greater benefit for my family and myself, for partnership that will give me the financial freedom I so desire and to provide for an adequate tertiary education for my child.
The government of a country’s administration, I feel, is crucial in advocating this understanding. Women in the workforce are not asking for equal opportunities, because we already have equal opportunities. But women in the workforce who are, or will become mothers, are often looked upon as a liability, a handicap, because when the baby is due, she will be away for a 2-month maternity leave period. Isn’t it ironic then that women were the ones who gave life to the leaders of our nation?
We are women. We need to be mothers too. It is our basic instinct, because God had made us this way.