Q for mothers : To Work or Not to Work ?

Malavika Nataraj, mother of two under-fives (who are fast growing up and moving on) ponders the eternal conundrum that faces mothers everywhere …

Having missed International Women’s Day by at least a month, I owe a short tribute, although belated, to mums – both the office-going kind, and the stay-at-home kind. In fact, the phrase ‘stay-at-home mum’ conjures up images of a lady of leisure lying on a soft sofa in a silk robe, nibbling chocolates, and studying her pedicured toes. So very far from the truth. But label we must, so to make things easier, all mothers loosely fall into one of two categories – working mum, or non-working mum. To me, these are labels that make no sense at all, because there is not one mother in the world that does not work.

Whether it’s a corporate work environment, or a domestic one, each day arrives with a to-do job list longer than my arm.

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While the Stay-At-Homes are mistresses of play-dates and school activities, the Corporates have the unpleasant added challenge of juggling work meetings as well as parent-teacher ones. The upside, in this case however, comes in the form of that nice paycheck – reward! –  which arrives each month.

With maternity leave in Singapore typically not being more than three months long, it is hard for the mums who have jobs to get back to wallow for too long in a babymoon. But for those who traded presentations for potty training and black coffee for green tea, there does come a time when the kids, who are growing up fast, become quite busy with their own lives. And suddenly, there are blank spaces in the day that need filling up. A sense of despondency settles like dust around them. The days become monotonous, without any rewards. That is when  the big to work or not to work? question comes up. So what does one do then? Research, research, research – the Internet is filled with articles on the topic.

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Anyone who has been out of the workforce more than three years will know that clearing a path through the corporate thorns is as daunting as fighting a dragon. But more than facing the terrifying prospect of new colleagues and a new job, is the guilt that sticks to the decision like gum. While one half of you wants to reclaim a part of your old, driven self, the other half is crying out How can you? The kids need you…

And so you find yourself torn, obsessively searching on the internet, for answers and articles that you can use to justify your decision; a see-this-is-why-I should/shouldn’t-go-to-work; a bit of proof that you have done the right thing.

Recently, a friend whose daughter is now five years old, went to meet a head-hunter, merely to suss out the job market, but landed a good job. When the head-hunter called to give her the news, he was stunned to find her sounding depressed, rather than jubilant. “In just one year,” she said, “I would have been ready. But this is so soon…”. In the end, she took the job, but not without guilt.

And who can blame her? When such a lot of research points out the detrimental effects that being a working mother can have on the child, it takes a tremendous amount of confidence to sign that contract, and meet the rush hour head on.  Like, for example, an article in the Daily Mail which stated that children whose mothers return to work are more likely to do worse at school, become unemployed and to suffer mental stress than youngsters whose mothers stay at home to bring them up.

But every time my daughters throw a screaming fit, or one of them pinches another kid out of sheer meanness, I do wonder if, in fact, the reverse might be true. Perhaps the kids – and the mums – will all in a better mood when they have had some space from each other!

SingaporeforKids offers no solutions to this one, but what we can help with is making parenting easier. We have researched and compiled an exhaustive list of options for various age-groups and interests.

Browse  SingaporeforKids and check them out.

Pictures by Malavika Nataraj and borrowed from http://changethis.com/manifesto/show/24.WorkingMothers and  http://www.empowernetwork.com/tracywhite/blog/importance-of-being-a-stay-at-home-mom/