Working mom or stay-at-home mom? The inevitability of this question plagues every woman at some point in their lives. For me too, the scenario was similar. When I realised I was pregnant, all I could think about was my physical wellbeing and that of my unborn child. Nothing else mattered. Doctor asked me to be cautious and under medical advice, I began to work from home and didn’t travel either. At the same time, I found out that for ‘business reasons’ the office was planning to lay me off. They, of course, did it the legally right way by giving me my medical benefits, so three months after the birth of my daughter, I stopped working.
A year later, after I had weaned her off and found full time help, I began wondering about going back to work. But every time I looked at my child, I felt that I had to give it some more time. And in between, I debated about being a ‘better’ mother if I stayed home and spent more time with her. Also, I justified to myself – I’d lived the life of a career woman. I knew the thrill (or the lack of!) deadlines, meetings, tours and travels, outbounds, appraisals. I’d been there, done that! In addition, I was in a good place. I could take this decision without too much thought. My husband was doing well in his job, earning enough and more. He was working even harder to ensure a good future for our daughter and ourselves.
We had longed for a child and I really wanted to become a mother. Now that she was here, why was I still debating? What was there to decide?
Then, I met a close friend who asked me the same thing – her daughter was 10 years old and struggling in school. She asked me if she should quit. I was taken aback as I wasn’t expecting that question, especially from her. If she’d called me to say she was quitting, perhaps, I wouldn’t have been so surprised. The fact that she was ‘asking’, suddenly brought the debate back into my head.
We spoke for a long while. She was keen to quit or work part time. She knew it meant less salary but the flexibility of having more time to help her daughter with school work was enticing. Then slowly the conversation veered towards the house loan, her financial contribution to running the house, the possibility of having to spend more time with her in-laws (as she would now be more ‘available’ to them). Her sister-in-law was a stay-at-home mom and often, it irritated her that she would only talk about her child, her school work, her not eating or watching TV. Suddenly the thought of becoming just like her sister-in-law snapped her out of the conundrum. She decided she had to find another way to deal with her daughter’s problems in school!
Why do we make things so difficult for ourselves? Why do we think so much? Or is the problem that we’re constantly questioning ourselves?
At my daughter’s pre-school, there are two other mothers who were working professionals before their children were born. Yes, both like me do sometimes have regrets. But they regret for a different reason. Their contention was that it’s tough to be with your child 24×7 without a break and being responsible for them for everything, all the time. They actually wanted a break from 24×7 parenting. They were looking for some ‘me’ time, alone time to do as they pleased or perhaps simply not do anything at all. Also, their need to get back into the job market wasn’t to experience the thrill of work life but to once again, feel the emotions associated with a job well done. As mothers, whatever they did was expected! If they performed well, there was no appraisal or performance hike. And when they were failing or struggling there was no personal development plans in place to help them do the job better.
It’s evident then that the thought of being financially independent is only a part of the ‘quit job’ agenda. The emotions associated with the different aspect of a professional career are what tug inside to make us feel as if something is missing. Some might comment that the grass is always greener on the other side. But somewhere I think the lack of respect that people show when a woman takes the plunge is the deciding factor. Nurturing for a baby is natural but the baby’s dependency on a caregiver (and most often the mother) is taken for granted. Society and we, women ourselves, make this a moral issue attributing to it, the underlying pressure tactic of doing the ‘right’ thing. Women who don’t, therefore struggle to adhere to that sense of righteousness by trying to juggle too many things.
In my three years of working part time and being a stay-at-home mom, I’ve realised that what bugs me the most is that no one truly cares. Either I’m told that I’m capable of so much more, or that I’m restricting myself by not availing of opportunities as my child will soon become independent and I’ll lag behind my peers. Or, I’m told that with so much time on my hand, I should be doing a lot more!
So I’ve now decided to simply stop listening! It’s a decision I’ve taken and I’m going to live with it. Every time my mind wanders, I will not entertain those thoughts for too long. I will simply yank my mind back and shut the door. It might sound extreme but the point is that the more I allow myself to think, the more it bothers me. Simultaneously, I don’t want to have to continue explaining myself to people. I will tell myself, when people fail to understand, they’re not being mean. And if they do show concern, then just accept it. I will live in the moment and enjoy my child for as long as I can. Because of her, from being just another professional, I’ve now become an entrepreneur, baker, blogger and mental health counsellor. I have so much going on for me right now that the charm of my earlier career doesn’t appeal to me anymore.
I choose to refocus solely on the concept of the diverse opportunities that motherhood offers me, now.
(I’ve Chosen To Decide…was first published in Momspresso (formerly mycity4kids) on May 18, 2015)