For the past month or so, F has been telling me that she doesn’t want me to go to work. Now, this caught me by surprise because I have never spoken to her about my thoughts about returning to the workforce. She understands that Papa goes to work to provide for us, and that Mama bakes in the night whenever she can to help with minor household expenses.
Being a SAHM was not part of my plan when I gave birth to F. Back then, I struggled with the decision to leave the workforce (a decision made for a few pressing reasons) and it was indeed painful to say goodbye to my career after years of hard work in research and graduate education, as well as time spent working in London. I still struggle with the consequences of my decision today, especially when I get that-tai–tai-flak for being a SAHM or when people seem to think that I have no aspirations post-PhD, that I do shit at home and bake for fun because I am a Stepford wife or something. But, I have to say that I am better at embracing this decision we have made as a family more than three years on, because this is what works best for us, even if it means making sacrifices that can be unpalatable or very stressful at times.
Now that E is older, I have thought about going back to work (even if my tendency lies with being home with the kids), and if I do, it would be (mainly) to help with the finances. I would love to take the pressure off the husband, but I would be doing it at the expense of my time with the children, something that I have had the privilege of enjoying over the past 3.5 years, and I don’t know if it’s worth it. Sure, there is a small part of me that misses being out there, working on projects, getting back into the kind of research I was doing after grad school, and I miss being in the rush of problem-solving that doesn’t involve getting tangles out of my daughter’s hair, negotiating naptimes or the best way to change my son’s poopy diaper without him kicking and screaming, but that’s not nearly as important to me anymore in the grander scheme of things. Perhaps a part-time arrangement would work better for us, financially, stimulation-wise, kids-wise, or maybe part-time work wouldn’t get any of us anywhere, I don’t know.
These are just some of the many thoughts that tear me apart from time to time, and I do look to the Big Man Upstairs and ask, “What am I to do? What would You have me do?”
Then, out of the blue, F comes along and says, “Mama, I want you to stay at home. I don’t want you to go to work because I don’t want to be alone.” So I guess that’s that. For now. Clarity, closure, an answer to quell the uncertainties I had on where I would be better placed in our current circumstance.
Perhaps, things may change in the future. The children may have different needs. It may very well do the children more good, in one way or another, if I were to go back to work. Who knows? But right now, F’s repeated request makes me feel okay about staying home and not helping out much financially. I don’t feel as guilty about the husband working so hard because F made me realise that I have done something (intangible yes, but) valuable enough for her to want me to be home, and that, I can’t just write off like I typically do with my best and worst efforts. What I do means more than what I give it credit for, and it germinates and nurtures something that I can’t see or measure. It doesn’t make me less of a mother, even if I don’t have the means to provide for their necessities and nice-to-have’s, and it certainly doesn’t make me less of a role model even though I am not that driven, career woman for them to look up to. If staying home means that we have to make some adjustments financially and that the journey to getting where I want to be aspirations-wise has to slow down, then so be it. I am just thankful that I have the husband’s and children’s blessings to still do what I do, and that we are still living comfortably without having to make huge sacrifices whilst on a single income. I am also thankful for F to say this out loud to me every day; I know her desire for me to stay home is implied and yet, obvious, as with most children who yearn to be with their parents, but listening to her speak up about this issue, which I have never brought up to her, is nothing short of a divine and timely reminder of the importance of what I do.
Most mothers I know, working and stay-at-home alike, go through some variant of this emotional turmoil. It doesn’t matter what form the struggle takes; we have all been torn apart by stereotypes, our aspirations, needs, roles and wants at some point, or for several times in a day. May we continue to do what’s necessary and what works best for our families.