Posted by Kesang Menezes who is a facilitator at Parenting Matters and mother of two girls aged 11 and 15.
We live in a society where the majority of women are forced into stereotypical roles and barely given choices about what they would like to do with their lives. But yet there is the emerging middle class which is empowering its girls to go ahead and achieve whatever they would wish for. These girls are doing well academically (and on average far better than boys) and surging into careers like engineering, management etc. I come from such a family as well, where I was brought up to believe that truly the sky is the limit for my ambitions. I spent my teen years only thinking about what career I wanted and dreaming about all that I would achieve. And then I got married and had a baby... all of my own choice.
What happens when you become a mom? Hard choices!
But nothing in my upbringing had prepared me for the wrenching dilemma I faced then. I had thought that like every modern middle-class woman, I would have a maid to look after the house and a day-care for my child, and I could happily carry on with my career. But when the time came I could not go back to work. I think every new mother can identify with the trauma of this choice and whatever decision you take, it’s hard to feel completely at peace.
I chose to take a long break (a few years?? Would I ever be able to get back?). My peers who were surging ahead in their careers wondered at my decision. Most of my friends and relatives said ”We never expected you to become a housewife. What was the point of studying so much?” As my daily routine became more mundane, I found my self-esteem plummeting. And when I looked around, I found many others like me - angry, frustrated or depressed moms who had chosen to stay at home for the sake of their children but were feeling resentful about it. A friend said to me”My husband and I met at business school. We were equals. Now look where he is today and where I am.”
Not that the situation is any better for those who choose to go back to work. It tears at their insides too. Is it fair for a woman to have to make that choice? And for some it isn’t even a choice. It is a necessity.
Aren’t men and women equal?
All this was all the more disturbing to me as I have always been a die-hard feminist. I started questioning the belief that man and women must be the “SAME”. We must be treated as equals, yes ... but we are different. After all, nature has created the woman to bear children and breastfeed. The role of nurturing which is actually one of the most important tasks we have as a human race. But our patriarchal society has traditionally thrust this role on women and denied them any choice; also, while eulogizing the role of the mother, has in practice placed little value on it. Now in wanting to achieve “equal status” with men, middle-class women like ourselves have started thinking in a similar way: we are dismissive of our role as nurturers and place a very high value on professional achievement. That is why the “stay-at-home” moms feel worthless.
What will happen to a society that does not value nurturing?
Can we imagine what happens to a society that places the least value on the task of rearing children? Having recognised the breakdown of society that is happening from not supporting women in the task of parenting, the most advanced European countries like Sweden and Norway are giving not just women but even men up to a year or two off from work to be with their children. And after that flexi hours and part time jobs. Here I am told that when a professional woman asks if she can work part time she is told that there are countless others ready to work full time and over time so why should an employer bother with you.
What message do I give my daughters?
Knowing this I wonder what I want to talk to my teenage daughters about in preparing them for life. Do I prepare them to be a career women or a “housewives” (as we are still called!). Do I tell them not to get into fast track corporate careers because that becomes really hard when you have a child?
After much reflection these are the messages that I now give my daughters - who are now in the process of making decisions about their lives and careers. I tell them about how important, joyful and amazing the task of raising a child is, and that they should never consider it to have a lower status that working outside the home. (However, it is very important to be qualified and to be capable of supporting oneself.) I tell them that if they decide to have children, there will come a time when they would be faced with some hard choices between their nurturing and professional roles. If they are not sure about what they want to do, it makes sense to consider careers which give them flexibility.
Maybe I could be accused of limiting my daughters’ thinking or being anti-feminist, but I don’t want motherhood to hit them in the face like a sudden nightmare. They know that they have all these are choices- to get married or not, to have a child or not, to be a career woman or not. But as a parent I would like to prepare them for all the various roles a woman may play, so that they may make these decisions with awareness and joy.