Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Thoughts about Mother

I do believe it is 'Mothers' Day' in most parts of the world this weekend. Us here in Britain celebrated 'Mothering Sunday' some weeks ago, before Easter. (This weekend is important because we have Eurovision!)

My thoughts had been on a viral video, the one exalting 'being mum' as the 'toughest job in the world'.

Of course full-time mums love it, but then the criticisms quickly rolled in: what about the full-time dad? Or working mums? Are you telling me that being a full-time mum is more difficult than juggling a paid job and motherhood*?

Some feminist commentators of course jumped in to say that to put the full-time mother on the pedestal is a step back in the feminist struggle. How DARE you even suggest that after all the sacrifices made by women to give women the right to education and work that we should dignify a video which celebrates the work that mothers do AT HOME?

I don't want to write a long essay on this. I can only speak from my personal experience, just as every other mother (or father) would speak from their personal experience.

I had been in a job where I worked from 8.30am (or earlier) to whenever. There were days when I was at the office for so much of the day that I never saw the sun. This is Singapore, mind you: twelve hours of glorious sunshine every day of the year.

One day when I left work, unusually, before 6.30pm, I found myself thinking: O wow! The sun is still up and I have finished for the day. It was a treat.

Then I chose to be a stay-at-home mother. Probably the biggest mistake of my life.

Probably the biggest mistake of my life? (question mark).

Check back with me in seven years' time as I do not have the verdict for now. (The 'jury is still out', as they say.) But there were days when I used to yearn for those exhilarating days back at the office.

Not because of the tedium of 'housework' (cleaning, ironing, etc). I have outsourced much of this work. But the role of the mother is unrelenting, full on, day in and day out, often unchanging, ad nauseum and it often seemed ad infinitum.

When one's children are very young, there is a danger of the mother's thinking turning to mush.

I envied my husband. At least he had the time during the two hours he takes to travel to and from work to read the newspapers. There were days I only wanted to have space, but couldn't.

Probably too much information here, but it will be nice to be able to go to the loo and lock the door, so that your toddler wouldn't traipse in after you and bombard you with questions about 'What are you doing?'.

I envied my husband. At least if his staff were uncooperative or plain rebellious he could tell them off, reason with them, sack them. Even if bosses are being unfair, you could turn to independent adjudicators for help to decide what is and is not fair.

With a child, what? He's screaming, hitting, biting. You have to remain cool.

I envied my husband. He could sleep through the night (before he was overtaken by his current illness). Mothers are like SAS soldiers, some people think. We sleep with one ear open. I could tell when my child was not well just by listening to the way he slept, with or without the baby monitor.

So I am the one who gets up, check him, medicate him, sponge him, clean up after him, whatever.

Did I wish that I was a working mum instead? Yes. The plan was that I returned to work, but that plan fell through because of circumstances and we just had to adjust our plans accordingly.

Sure, when children start school, we do not parent 24/7 as in their pre-school days. Do those who work think that this is 'gift time', 'down time', 'tai tai time'?

For some mothers, perhaps. I seemed to be perpetually planning and organizing family stuff, the little things, the 'non-important' things, like getting uniforms ready, the sports gear cleaned, getting people in to repair this, waiting for the engineer to sort out that.

Nobody even stops to think what would happen if the washing is not done, the cooker is not repaired, the grass is not cut, the bins are not emptied, etc. etc.

Yet because I was not in 'paid work', I had a great sense of guilt, and I plodded on.

If I had been able to find a job that allowed me to work school hours, I would have. The opportunities to spend time with other adults would be mentally stimulating.

As it was I was only able to volunteer in the community, doing very responsible but unpaid work. And no money. (I also have a little business, but that is more to engage the brain and make a difference rather than to make money.)

So please do not diss those mothers who either chose, or had, to stay at home due to family circumstances.

*I know many mums who confessed to choosing work so that they did not have to look after their children full-time. For these, being a working mum is the easier option. Other mothers want to stay at home but need to work.

We are all trying to do our best and it does nothing for one section of the 'sisterhood' to accuse another for being anti-feminist or simply not doing their bit.

Would I have done it differently? Was staying home the biggest mistake of my life?

My son was perfectly happy that I was always home for him. That was the pattern he was comfortable with. However I sensed recently that he had become just a teensy bit embarrassed that his mum does not have a 'real' job, as in a paying job, like the mums of most of his mates.

Getting a paying job after more than ten years is an uphill task. After many, many disappointments (and that is another story) I had finally landed a part-time job, paying very little, but which I enjoy. It lets me use my brains.

Our family is what it is now because of what we decided to do. I see many clients who had become single parents on the flimsiest of excuses. I am almost certain that, had I been in a paid job outside the home, my husband and I would have split up by now given all the physical and emotional challenges that we faced, and our son would not be the very happy teenager he is now.

This is not to say that I am such a wonderful person. Please. It is very difficult to be a stay-at-home parent if one's spouse is not very supportive. It is so easy to start belittling the stay-at-home spouse, making him/her feel second-best, or to take for granted the hundreds of tasks one quietly completes day after day after day.

Every family has its issues (家家有本難念的經). Sometimes it's money, sometimes it's health, relationships, etc. As a couple we struggled with our issues and did what -- at that point -- we thought was best for the whole family.

So, let us not judge. Some stay-at-home mothers (and fathers) DO have the toughest job -- in relation to what they cannot do or what they prefer to do, or what they are gifted to do. If we merely adopt our own experience as the default and correct position, we will never agree with anyone else who has/had to live life from a different position.

Be ye kind, one to another.

This weekend, be kind especially to your mum.

No comments: