I’ve been mulling over some thoughts in my head, these conflicting ideals of what our society thinks motherhood is all about. If you choose to stay at home to raise your kids it is considered as using motherhood as an excuse to sit at home and ‘do nothing’, yet if you choose to have a career you are looked upon cynically as someone who chose a career over motherhood.
From personal experience, the one fallacy I have to come to realize since becoming a “working mom” (in Nigeria) is the unspoken expectation that a woman cannot be a good mother and have a career. Deciding to go back to work after having a baby is surprisingly still frowned upon.
In mommyhood vocabulary “career” is often made out to be an unflattering word, in the same redundant catalog where “formula feeding”, and “caesarean section” have been unflatteringly categorized. The phrase “career woman” is often used in a condescending manner – as if to suggest “selfish career woman, daring to have her own aspirations beyond the family, to have needs of her own!”
Why? Why is it that once a woman becomes a mother she is expected to not have goals and dreams outside of keeping the family?
Personally, my family is undoubtedly my number one priority, my heartbeat. As a working mom, my time may be limited BUT I’m IRREPLACEABLE. I can outsource the care of my son for a few hours a day, I can outsource cleaning or cooking but I cannot outsource what I mean to my son or my family. As a family, we may be imperfectly perfect, but we are inseparable – as the neck is to the head.
On the other hand with my career I am most definitely replaceable. Another lawyer with similar qualifications and capabilities can certainly carry on if I’m replaced. If ever I were in doubt about my ability to adequately function simultaneously as a wife, mother and lawyer, I would, without hesitation, take a back seat in pursuing my career. Because my career is a thing, not a beautiful breathing living person with an impressionable mind that needs to be nurtured.
So you ask, why then may a mother choose to go to work for approximately 1/3rd of the day, rather than spend the entire day tending to the needs of her family?
In answering this, it is important to first recognize that there are countless variations of parenting – mothers who have no choice but to work, single parents, stay-at-home dads, working from home moms, momprenuers, Moms in school, blended families, etc. I don’t claim to know those experiences and I recognize that your individual struggles (in terms of societal expectations as parents) are not any less valid. However, I’m writing mainly from my perspective – as a working mom.
Secondly, I’ll explain what I believe a career could mean to some working moms, and why (personally) I won’t apologize for it.
To some working moms, a career represents personal goals and dreams. Yes, we have those – because we are human beings first, before our blissful responsibilities as wives or mothers or both – a lot like the oxygen mask analogy.
From personal experience, I’ve realized that having these goals makes me a happier and a more fulfilled person. Moreso, I LOVE being a lawyer, and I’m blessed to enjoy the work that I do. It keeps my brain sharp, utilizes the education and expertise I’ve built over the years, and makes me appreciate the time I spend with my family all the more! I work because I want to, and I know I am blessed to have a choice.
So it is a bit lot disappointing when “society” continues to portray an unflattering image that a woman cannot simultaneously have a career and be a good mother. On this understanding, a number of women have quit jobs following pregnancy and childbirth; not necessarily out of choice but because of a perceived compulsion to choose between having a career and raising a child.
A more valid point we should establish in any discussion on “working moms” is that all moms are “working moms”. Moms are always at work, and that has to be acknowledged. It shouldn’t only be considered “work” when it involves a paid salary, a promotion or remuneration of some sort.
The real work is what we do everyday; the overlooked and undervalued work we do throughout our lives to keep the family (and society at large) flourishing; by having children, nurturing them, raising them, keeping a home, all while attempting to maintain our sanity. The truly important stuff women have always done – devoid of the hollowness of monetary compensation.
Society needs to be more tolerant of the choices made by mothers. In reality, without all these tags, we are all simply moms. I believe that as long as a parent does what he or she truly believes is the best thing to do for his or her family; it should be respected as the right thing. Sometimes it’s a choice, sometimes it’s a circumstance; but if it’s your way, it’s the right way.
If you are a Stay-at-Home-Mom (SAHM) reading this, please know that I recognize and admire your ability to look after your kid(s) all day without expecting any promotion, salary or remuneration. I appreciate that you are a dedicated, constant and qualified figure in the life of your kid(s) even when it may be exhausting – because taking care of our kid(s), that’s the real ‘work’.
To all (parenting variations of) mothers, I know the guilt, pressure and judgment you may feel and the constant need to justify your place in society. I understand how important and invaluable your role is because I’m also a mother.
When I’m at my job, I’m a mom. When I come home, I’m still a mom. It is my “tale of 2 abilities”.
But somehow, I will endeavor to be present for my family, while simultaneously striving for excellence in my career. There will need to be sacrifices from both – so I must learn to accept that I may not be at every school play and in the same vein, I will have to turn down some avoidable work engagements.
If you are a “working mom” reading this, no matter what society dictates don’t let anyone make you feel that you should give up on your goals and dreams in order to be a good mom. You can strive for a work-life balance with a clear conscience and clean heart. But ultimately, you should make a decision that suits you and your family.
Let’s discuss, what are your experiences with preconceived societal expectations as SAHMs or WMs in Nigeria?