My ambition was to be a full-time working mother
A few of you may know this story.
I was fresh out of junior college, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, hoping to land a scholarship like all my other peers. At one of the interviews (by one of my dream organizations to work for), I was asked “where do you see yourself in ten years time?” I did a quick mental calculation – she meant 29.
I was without a boyfriend then, but somehow I confidently replied “oh I see myself happily married with kid(s)” and as an after thought added, “with a successful career”. The interviewer stared at me blankly, grinned, thanked me for my honesty and said that was the most original answer she’s ever heard (probably a euphemism for “hello, which world do you come from??”) And nope I didn’t land the scholarship. I was not ambitious enough for these organizations.
All I wanted to be was a full-time working mother.
My point of relating this story is to explain how I never viewed parenting and having a full-time job as mutually exclusive. I always knew I wanted to have kids (I love kids!!) but I also always knew that I wanted to do well in my career.
1) My mum shaped my thinking
My younger sister and I were raised in a family where both parents worked. We were cared for by a domestic helper. The good thing was that they both held 9 to 5 jobs, which meant we got to spend our evenings and weekends together. I remember my childhood very fondly because our weekends were always packed with activities and we often took road trips to Malaysia. My parents would take us on a holiday almost every year and we travelled to many places as a family. Life was comfortable and neither my sister nor I ever felt neglected (right sis?) by our parents. To this day, we spend a lot of time together as a family and we share a close relationship. This is why I never saw a full-time job as an impediment. In fact, my mum has always encouraged us to be financially independent and to continue working after marriage/kids.
And so to be perfectly honest, it never crossed my mind to be a SAHM. A PTWM, maybe. But it’s just not in my genetic make-up to want to quit my job entirely to stay home with my kid(s).
2) A job with regular hours works for me
In fact, how i have shown my commitment towards my family is to quit my first job that would have otherwise provided us with a very comfortable lifestyle. But the hours were horrendously long. I spent a good 4 years selling my soul to this company when I finally made the decision to leave before I got married. I loved that job but it wouldn’t allow me to pursue the other part of my lifelong ambition – to be a good wife and mother. And so a compromise was made. I left for my current job that promises more regular hours, and which generally supports work-life balance.
3) Why do I choose to work?
With a job that allows me to get home by dinnertime on most days, there was no reason for me not to continue to work full-time.
I like being financially independent and more importantly, I wouldn’t want any unnecessary stress to be placed on the husband, which would happen if he is the sole bread-winner. A dual income would mean that we could live comfortably and allow us to indulge a little more when we choose to. I would also be able to provide for my parents who have semi-retired. They have provided for me and I want them to be able to retire without having to worry about life after retirement.
I enjoy the intellectual stimulation from work. Although there are days when I have many complaints, the truth is I do enjoy the nature of my work and I do take pride in my work.
This brings me to my next point. I work because it keeps me sane. Lunchtime is me-time. I get to meet up with friends and engage in adult conversations. My entire universe does not revolve around my family and Aly. I work so that I don’t lose my identity as an individual. And this is important, because my preserved sanity certainly helps me be a better parent. After all, a happy mum = a happy child.
4) A tough balancing act?
I admit it can be tough when I am absolutely zonked from work. Whilst I appreciate the mental stimulation, there are days when I am so mentally exhausted that all I want to is to hide under my blanket and dive into lala land the moment I reach home. But to be honest, most of the time, I forget about how tired I am when i see Aly’s smile and when I hear her go “Mama mama mama!”. In fact, she’s my source of comfort and strength. And after my four months of maternity, I wouldn’t say the SAHMs get it any easier! In fact, they have my utmost respect since they work round the clock!
5) Mummy’s guilt?
Mummy’s guilt? I definitely get bouts of that. I feel my heart ache a little when i get reports of Aly reaching milestones from my parents or in-laws. Every morning when i drop Aly off, I would stare out of the car window wistfully, wishing i could be the one bringing her to the market or to the playground.
But i make up for whatever lost time by making sure that I drop everything to spend time with her once I get home and during weekends. I do not ever take any minute with Aly for granted and she has my undivided attention whenever I am with her. Other than in the day when she is left with her grandparents, we are very hands on and pretty much do everything ourselves, because we don’t have a helper. We drop her off every morning and pick her to go home every single day, just so that I get to tuck her to bed and lie beside her and cuddle her for a while. The routine can get exhausting because we shuttle to and fro everyday but I think it is necessary to bring her home everyday and that it is all worth it.
Of course I am thankful that Aly is well taken care of by her grandparents, which means I get to focus on my work when I get to the office. I have to admit that I may not be so ready to resume work full-time if not for the fact that I know Aly is in good hands.
6) Whatever works for a family
I have learnt that the factors contributing to a mum’s decision to stay home or to work full-time are so varied, and every family has different circumstances. A SAHM is not necessarily more sacrificial than a FTWM and a FTWM is also by no means more capable than a SAHM.
Whatever choice one makes will be accompanied by some form of guilt. A working mother will probably feel guilty about not being able to spend enough time with her family and the guilt of a non-working mother will probably stem from not being able to contribute to the household financially. There may also be the fear of being judged by fellow mothers, family members or even your own spouse. However, we are really often our own worst critic.
At the end of the day, we all try our best to play the many roles we assume, whether as a daughter, a sister, a wife or a mother, as best as we can. And as a mother, all we want is to give our best to our child(ren). Whether you are a SAHM, WAHM, PTWM, FTWM or FTSM (full-time studying mum – I know one!) and wherever you are in the world, we are faced with the same fundamental parenting challenges and all experience the same joys in watching our child(ren) grow. All mothers are united in our dedication and unconditional love towards our child(ren).
So, if you are a mum, give yourself a pat on your back because you are doing just fine!
Signing off with one of my favourite quotes:
Oh, and to my interviewer, I did have the foresight! I did achieve my ambition by 29.
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