Thoughts on this topic constantly (daily??) knock about in my head… so I wanted to write it all down for posterity at some point.
As I dragged my feet along, this linky happened! Perfect kick-on-the-behind to finish this and post it up before the end of the month.
So. Why am I an FTWM? How did I come to decide upon this apportionment of time spent at the office and at home?
As I mentioned before, I had always seen myself as an SAHM, and had a 14+ month stint at it when my first child was born. Thereafter I went back to work, since I knew we wanted another child, and 4 months of paid maternity leave was too good to give up.
The regained sense of balance that washed over me when I went back to work was a little shocking at first.
I realised that if I had continued staying at home, I might have become resentful, self-pitying, a malcontent. I cherished my daughter’s first year and a bit more, when it was all so new, though each day was a harried routine. In those months, my dad especially, urged me to go back to work. “You’ll have lots of time to spend with her still. You have your weekends, your many days of leave, even public holidays!”
It surprised me, that his words became true to me. Rather than being snappy at home 60%, okay 70% of the time, I could come home from work fresh (okay so my job is not very demanding) and ready to face the kids. Very importantly, I could give more allowance to my parents who do depend on me. Rather than have them go out to work, they’d rather look after my kids so I could go out earn some pretty decent dough and support them. Their grandchildren are their greatest joy (I didn’t turn out too badly but nothing quite compares to K&B in their star-studded eyes), and before I was pregnant both times, my mum volunteered to look after them. Indeed that was a blessing.
And when their health made it hard for them to be the main caregivers, the helper who has known my hubby since he was 10 (and worked for his family for 13 years) agreed to work for us. That was the second major blessing. This allowed me to leave B at home with Aunty Susan with full peace of mind, as the hubby and I walked K to school every morning before we went to work. After school, the gramps would come over for lunch and stay till dinner, so Aunty Susan has ‘reinforcements’.
So I work, with the calm assurance that both kids are in great hands, and in the care of family members as well as a helper who really loves them. It takes a village to raise a child, and when I open my heart in letting others help in caring for my children, and take joy in the bonds they foster with the kids, I feel less that my children are wholly and solely mine, which might be a good thing, since I don’t feel like I have to control and be hawk-eyed over every aspect of their little lives.
I do love my job (oh how do I count the ways), and understanding supervisors mean that i can take childcare leave at very very short notice, and goodness knows how often kids get high fever these days. That helps me live with myself a little. 😛
There is always some residual nagging guilt that my kids might take this seeming prioritization of work over them, against me. Even if not now, maybe later.
But I assuage it by equivocating that I do spend some 12 hours with them, and I care for them for at least 8 hours a day, since we co-sleep (and I used to nurse interminably through the night). On weekends, our helper takes a back-seat. Every Sunday and public holiday, she gets the day off to go out. Whenever we are around, even on weekdays, we take over, from changing poopy diapers to feeding and bathing the kids. So in some ways, I don’t feel any less present than an SAHM whose kids go to full day childcare.
[Addendum 2016: Online articles that go on and on about how you can never regain a chance to spend these early years with your kids have a way of guilt-tripping me even now. But some of my lovely SAHM friends have honestly shared that most times, they too don’t feel like they are intentionally connecting with their kids. Rather, their lives seem to be a series of function-based interactions, where they are hustling the kids to do this or that, and they are caught up with cooking and the like, not quite bonding in the sense these articles tend to suggest.
These days, when I get home, I make sure I interact intentionally with them, whether it is over a board-game, over chats, or over reading a book. I don’t have to log on, or be sub-present when I’m home. So all things considered, perhaps the time of intentional meaningful interaction evens out between the SAHM and me? Haha.]
Though I must admit that by most Sunday evenings, I find myself yearning for the placid equanimity of the office, the predictable universe marred only by infrequent boss tantrums and meltdowns. It does seem ironic that at times, I find myself on the brink of falling ill after the weekend, possibly from weariness. But I’d be able to restore my health slowly by Friday, given that office work is not physically strenuous, and I can sit at my desk downing copious amounts of warm water without having to yell at discipline 2 kids every 10 minutes. Yes, I used to quip to disbelieving single colleagues that even the most demanding day at work (back-to-back internal and external meetings, irate Big Bosses, moody staff, intractable work issues) was less physically draining than a day alone with two kids under the age of 3.
Ultimately, I figured a balanced, happy mum would do them (and myself) more good in the long run.
Moreover, there were enough testimonies from friends and family; some who are really close to their FTWMs, and others who have strained relationships with their SAHMs, and the latter would usually say that their mums being SAHMs had contributed somewhat to that. [Some SAHMs become rather controlling, and find it harder to ‘let go’ as their child grows up. Some build their self-worth upon the performance of their kids, because they have given up so much to stay at home, which is a lamentable outcome for both child and mother.] Of course these examples do not the rule make, but there are enough of them to help me realise that it wasn’t a straightforward correlation of SAHM = great relationship with my kids. [Or WAHM = ill-behaved kids because they lack attention or sufficient discipline from their parents.]
The living example of my mum was also a warning of what I could become, given the similarity in our genetic make-up, and what staying at home protractedly could do to our psyche. Our relationship is a case in point of an SAHM who did not develop a great relationship with her only daughter.
SAHMs who love the life and have wholly embraced the harder path have my greatest respect, and it irks me when others run them down. In fact, I find myself leaping to the defense of SAHMs when the ignorant rant about how they do not deserve childcare subsidies because they are “shaking leg at home”. As if! [In my work where I have the opportunity, I try to fight for the rights of SAHMs and create a fair working place for those with children, whether they are mothers or fathers. So I suppose there is a point for mothers to continue to work, if only to help other parents when they get the chance to.]
All in all I acknowledge that I’ve been very blessed. I might have become an SAHM if I did not have my current options open to me. My (many) friends who are SAHMs might not have become so if they had the options I did. Ultimately each family has its unique circumstances in a particular season of life.
I count myself yet more blessed as my two lovely children consistently choose me over everyone else (except for B, when it comes to my own dad, when it’s bedtime!! But am happy to let such a stellar grandpapa pip me at times.). [When I ask them periodically if they would like me to stay at home like so-and-so’s mum, their answer surprises me. “It’s ok, mummy. You can go to work.” Perhaps they have reached a level of maturity, or perhaps they do see quite a bit of me, or perhaps children really do need us less than we like to think. They are their own people, and can spend time exploring and learning more about the world alone, without us hovering nearby all the time!]
So, I look at the mother kissing her 2 year old son’s head, clutching him warm against her body as she walks from the bus stop to the childcare centre in her high heels, work clothes rumpling up, heart aching so. And I KNOW, this mother does not love her child any less. Not one bit. Rather, she works knowing that she’s building a fairer workplace that her child can enter and continue in if she so chooses. And that as she grows in the workplace, her child will also grow to be so, so proud of her and the difference she has chosen to make in the world.