Today, I bumped into a university classmate whom I haven’t seen in about ten years.
“So…are you still a stay-at-home-mother?”
“Yeap, I am.”
“Oh my…but it’s..it’s such a waste..! You could be a high-flyer by now.” (At this point, my friend was in disbelief, placing a palm over his forehead.)
I knew he didn’t mean any harm. I knew that he was just thinking aloud about how a girl who used to be one of the top students in the cohort could go from having a paved road to success ahead of her to being a mother who stays home now.
A few months ago, I would have been utterly shattered by a remark such as this. Because that was how I used to feel about myself most of the time, that I was worthless because I was doing something that couldn’t be measured by assessments, key performance indicators and results, and hence, it felt like I was doing nothing even though my exhaustion and lack of time to myself spoke otherwise.
Today, I blinked back my tears (that reek of years of being ridiculed and talked about) and put all naysayers (intentional or not) in their rightful place.
“No. I choose to be with my children. I am lucky in that we don’t need two incomes to survive, so I decided that it is more valuable for me to be with my kids than to be out there advancing my professional life. It is hard, because I don’t like everything that is associated with staying home, but we choose what we choose.”
“But, wow, you could have been…”
“Yes, I could have been a professor or a research director by now, but I am raising my children to be the future of our society, and that is priceless.”
“…Yeah…I guess women can choose. Men can’t.”
“No, men can choose too. My husband chose and lives with the consequences and ridicule from family, friends, colleagues and patients everyday. But, we choose what we choose.”
I have always known that I am not the sort who can juggle work and family life. I know I would not do remotely okay at all, on both ends, because I am an all-or-nothing sort of person. In a parallel universe, I would be completely focused on my career and having children may not even be part of my plan. But right here, right now, in this universe, I am very blessed to be in a situation where my husband is alright with and comfortable with being the sole breadwinner. We are not in need and do not require both of us to work to make ends meet. When I was faced with the dilemma of going back to work and staying home for the family, my hands and legs were not tied, and I chose what I chose because of my circumstances and outlook then. Faith refused to take the bottle and I didn’t have an alternative, trusted caregiver who was willing to take care of her when she was screaming bloody murder at every feed. M was working 100 hours a week and we hardly saw him. I knew that I wanted to be home for Faith, to tide her through; weeks became months, months became years. I don’t like everything that is associated with the (at-times) thankless, mundane, unglamorous job of being a stay-at-home-mother. I have struggled long and hard with it over the past five years and I often questioned myself if I was doing any good being home. Over the past few months, certain things have surfaced on the personal front and I have changed; I am no longer that person.
Now, when someone says that I am wasting my talent, intelligence, education and time by being home, instead of letting them run me to the ground, I wonder, in defiance, if people would say that it is a waste of a woman’s talent, intelligence, education and time by being the director of a company or the top investment banker instead of being home all the time to take care of her children. Not common, I’d say. But, I know how people jump to conclusions and say that a working mum isn’t spending enough time with her children and how ridiculous it is that she should delegate caregiving to helpers, nannies, or grandparents when she, as a mother, should do it, as if these naysayers know her struggles and tears? How can it be fair to the mum who works herself to the bone, trying to succeed, make ends meet and be there for her children at the same time, when someone says something like that to her? And how can it be fair to someone who stays home like I do, when I am being told that I am wasting everything I have got by being home?
We walk different paths, steered by circumstances and our personalities which ultimately shape our decisions. Some decisions are more easily made than others, some decisions require a heart (not guts!) of steel to pull off, and some decisions have us wondering if we are doing the right thing for the rest of our lives. We make a myriad of these decisions, everyday, and it is terribly taxing on us.
So…working mums, SAHMs, WAHMs, mums with help or not, we are full-time mothers. It’s hard enough as it is to be a parent, to raise our children to be decent, loving people in this mad, mad world. Let no one run you down, whether the person is doing it intentionally or not, because it takes an ocean of courage and unparalleled strength to walk the paths of thorns we chose. Take a deep breath, assert yourself, look at the person in the eye, and say, “We choose what we choose.”