Nigeria was tough under military rule. Many families needed multiple streams of income to retain any semblance of middle-class living, and mine was no exception. My mother had two jobs: she was a company secretary and she ran a side business supplying poultry products to restaurants and retailers. It was a simple operation. Every weekend, she drove to a poultry in Sagamu to purchase hundreds of crates of eggs and sacks of frozen chickens. Her driver and salesgirl did a “milk-run”; delivering products to customers in Ikoyi and Victoria Island. It was a simple business model, but it was moderately successful. We sold out every week.
Despite her busy schedule, I don’t remember feeling deprived of my mother’s attention. I never begrudged the time she spent away from us. Precisely because a working mother was all I’d ever known, I didn’t know to miss her presence. It’s something I remind myself when I feel guilty about putting my baby in daycare or when I choose to do an online course instead of playing with my toddler. Yes, the first 1000 days are important. But so are the next 1000. And the ones after that.
Before I became a mother, I had no idea how difficult being a working mother is, especially when you work outside your home. On some level, I appreciated the constraints. I knew it would complicate my life a bit. I understood that it might make me a bit more busy. But if I had understood the sheer magnitude and scale of what motherhood entailed, I might have thought twice about it!
Because some women make it seem so easy, right? I don’t remember seeing my mother as stressed out as I sometimes feel. Maybe she hid it well. Maybe I didn’t know to look out for it. But part of the reason why I felt working motherhood would be easy was because my mother made it look easy.
Granted, she didn’t have mommy websites and blogs bombarding her weekly with parenting “nuggets” that were at variance with what was familiar to her. There wasn’t Google serving her all the latest (conflicting) research on child development, telling her that everything she was doing was wrong and that we, her kids, would grow up with sociopathic tendencies. (Maybe we actually did, huh?) My mother would not recognise the term “helicopter parenting”. Because just how well can you “helicopter-parent” four children when you have a job and a side business?
My mother believed in “good enough” parenting. It’s a lesson I’m learning now as I struggle to balance work and life, family and friends, spirituality and self, motherhood and marriage. Good enough is good enough.
So here the top five lessons from my mother that have helped me the most in my motherhood adulthood journey.
Integrate your work/life
Life isn’t something that happens when you leave work. Life is always happening. We schooled on Lagos Island, a short drive from my mother’s office in Ikoyi. After school, we went to her office and spent the time till she closed from work doing homework in the reception. Not every company will permit this, but my mother’s company did. And so I got to spend time with her even when she was at work. I also accompanied her on many of her Sagamu trips. Nothing bonds like frequent road trips. How do I apply this principle now? Even though it’s not the best daycare in the area, my kids both went to my company’s creche. I take them out with me on errands and to “child-friendly” appointments. I don’t mind having them underfoot in the kitchen, if I’m carrying out a relatively harmless task e.g. baking or doing dishes. It’s how I learnt to cook, after all.
Delegate (and be kind to your help. They’ll last longer)
This one is a no-brainer. If you can afford help, get it. But more importantly, if your children are old enough, get them to help out. At age 9, I was babysitting my younger siblings during holidays while my parents went to work. All we had to do was keep the gate locked till the adults returned. We did chores, even when we had paid help. My mother treated the domestic staff like family. They ate what we ate. They got new clothes when we did. My mother taught me to appreciate the part they play in ensuring the smooth running of our home. Yes, there are some bad eggs out there who will take advantage of you, but kindness will take you farther with the good ones.
Get out of your children’s way
My mother pretty much let me do whatever I wanted as long as it wasn’t illegal and my chores were done. That was the great part. She also never did homework with me. That was the not so great part, which I couldn’t understand. Did she like me being the only one in class who got four answers right out of ten? My friends whose mothers did homework with them, did they have two heads? (I never said these things out loud, of course.) Despite my whining and scolding, my mother would not do homework with me. With time, I learned that if I sat with a problem long enough, the answer would come to me. It gave me confidence in the power of my own brain. It also taught me not to sweat the small stuff when it comes to education. The point of homework is to build a work ethic. Did I write the wrong answers on my homework every now and then? Yes. But it taught me that, like in the real world, you don’t get an “A’ for effort.
The best way to teach virtues
You learn patience by being in situations that try your patience. You learn discipline by being in situations that demand your discipline. You learn resilience by being resilient in the face of stress. I learnt to be responsible for my siblings by being left at home to watch them. No long lecture. Just, “Don’t open the door for strangers. Warm the rice when it’s lunch time.” My kids are still small, but I find that the same principle holds. Instead of figuring out how to teach kindness, order and hygiene, I just ask it of them. It can be tough to make a toddler pick up his toys, and it’s so much easier to just give in and do it myself. But by asking it of him, day after day, he’s learning to appreciate order.
Quality over quantity
My mother died in 2000; I wasn’t even a teenager then. I have effectively spent more years without her than I did with her, but almost everything she taught me still resonates with me. Family first. Be kind. The most important thing you can do for your kids is pray for them. Sometimes, I can’t believe how much I’ve internalised her values. I realise now that the value of our lives, the value of the time we spend with those we love, is not in the quantity but in the quality.
And this is the one thing that has helped me in my quest for balance, happiness and satisfaction. It’s not the number of hours I spend with my children (husband, friends, family, and even work) each day, it’s the quality of the time that counts.
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