Issues and Challenges

Working Mommies — To Be or Not to Be

I have always had a problem with the term ‘working mother’. I find it offensive and discriminatory. I think it reduces a woman’s contribution towards her workplace and judges her motherhood. For me, mommies who work are individuals who have kids and have careers. I believe that both men and women have the talent to work and raise a family, simultaneously. I do not think we ever ask a man if he is a working father; it sounds funny and outrageous on so many levels. On the other hand, when women become mothers, they are expected to lead a selfless, quiet life where their main focus should be raising their child and carrying out other domestic obligations. It worked fine for our grandmothers and mothers but it sounds atrocious when it comes to women in today’s world — a world that is enlightened, connected and expensive to live in, where discouraging a woman from pursuing her dreams means losing on almost half of the workforce.
The society in general seems more accepting towards a working woman in today’s world. Most of the multinational companies, schools and software houses are hiring on equal opportunity basis, however, the question is if we are also this ‘accepting’ of a ‘working mother’ or are we just faking it. When we say ‘working mother’, we imagine a woman who is always in a hurry, forgets things, takes off very often, might even take maternity leave, is irresponsible and unreliable as she will always put her kids first and career second (or the other way around) and leaves as soon as the office hours end. If you deny this imagination, then you are either a saint or a liar.
Pakistani women, rural or urban, have always been a significant part of our household economy. From working in fields, managing small cottage industry to all those tuitionwali bajis and darzans, we have seen women contributing financially in almost every household. These women, however, have never been considered to be ‘working’. For decades, our idea of a working woman was someone who went out of the house, worked alongside men in an office and earned a monthly salary. Even in our enlightened, modern Pakistan of today, many women curb their desires and capabilities to do wonders in their careers when they become mothers. In case a woman decides to take the plunge, she has to face multiple challenges, which eventually push her to quit her career.
My son was 3 months old when I was forced to take a break from work. The reason was that my boss was unable to digest the fact that my baby was going to accompany me for out of city commitments or that some days I might not be able to stay late as I used to before he was born. I always say our workplaces are very respectful towards pregnant women but are completely the opposite as soon as the baby arrives. Anyway, eventually I was asked to resign. I am not sure and I also don’t recall the reason why I did not look for another job. I guess I was heartbroken and my confidence was shattered. 
My son is now almost three years old, Masha Allah, and I now have a baby girl too who is 9 months old. Recently, I was offered a job and I decided to go ahead with it. It has been almost 2 months that I have been back in action and, yes, I can write a book about the challenges I face as a mother. The sad/funny part is that I work in an environment where 80% of the employees are women and yet I am questioned every day about my decision to work, leaving my infant at home. Just to relax the readers (if they are planning to judge me), both my children are looked after by my husband till I come back from work. Evil eyes off, I have house help too. This is not the case with most of the women. Many women are asked to quit their jobs by husbands and in laws. The pressure is so intense that women eventually end up leaving their careers. I have met many female doctors who have changed their field after getting married as the nightshifts and long duty hours are not accepted by their families. Sadly, people look for doctor brides but do not approve of a doctor bahu. Teaching is the only profession that is well-accepted by our society, in general, for women. The reasons are shorter working hours, child benefits, female oriented work places and summer break.
Now, when I have restarted my career, I guess the biggest battle I am fighting is within myself. The mom-guilt is real, humungous and clawing. Every morning I feel guilty of leaving my children at home and going to work. My mind tricks me into thinking that I am preferring my earning over them. I think I could have waited for another year. Every single day I have to hush my mind and train it to think about my choice to work with pride only. I force myself to imagine how proud my children are going to be when they grow up and see my dedication towards both work and family. Secondly, I have tried to maintain a sleep schedule and I ask for help whenever I need. I believe that something which can help any working woman is the acceptance of the fact that she is not a super woman and she will not be awarded any medals for acting like one.
My other challenge is to maintain a work-life balance. I keep on messing up. I keep on writing notes and forgetting where I have kept those notes. I am struggling with keeping my mind off my home when I am at work and vice versa. Perhaps I will learn this with time or else I will learn some tricks and tips to be better at both. Until now, this transition has not been easy. The only thing I have been able to manage till now is my dinner menu which I plan over the weekend. Some of my colleagues also take help from older children to manage the household. I feel if the family is supportive, it becomes a lot easier for a woman to work. This is something that I have noticed with colleagues at my current workplace.
A huge challenge as a working mother is the social pressure of being perfect all the time and of course repeatedly justifying my choices. Recently, I went somewhere and my toddler threw a huge tantrum. I was asked by other women if the tantrum is a result of me having gone back to work. The diagnosis was that my child is becoming stubborn as he hardly sees mama home. I will not straight away deny this but I have seen many toddlers who throw tantrums even when their mommies are stay-at-home mothers. By the way, my child throws the biggest tantrums only when he is sleepy or high on sugar. So as a mother, just do not take the pressure of what people would say. You know what is best for your child and you can take this decision independently.
Before I started working again, I was following a healthy diet and exercise routine to feel better and lose weight. I was trying to fix my sleep timing too. Now, all that has come to a halt.  My days and nights are spent in a way that I hardly have any time left for myself. Again, I am trying to hit a cheat code where I can manage my health, family and job, all at the same time.
Working mothers are exploited when it comes to salary packages. Most of the organizations treat a mother’s career as a favour. In schools, teachers are given a fee waiver for their children while their own salary packages are never market competitive.  As single women can stay late at work, mothers who leave office on time are thought not to be performing well. No one cares to think about the extra hours a mother puts in once she gets home and puts her children to bed.
If I look at this situation, minus the stress and social pressure, I would say I feel better about myself overall since my job has started. Whether we accept it or not, capitalism has made us all money minded. I feel that my job has some worth as I am getting a monthly income. I consider myself being more empowered and focused on my children. I am in a phase where I am learning new things every day. The feeling is splendid. I guess it will get even better with time. Until then I do not want to be boxed into any category. All I have to advocate is that let us all be supportive to choices women make for themselves without giving them any tags or modifiers. May we all shine bright with all our might in whatever we do! HH


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