Wednesday 16 April 2008

Saying No to Working Mother Guilt

One of the baby girl card’s I made came in useful yesterday when I went to see the first of the expected newborns that had landed. Bubba was gorgeous and her mother was fine, so we talked and she asked me lots of questions about health visitors, babies and recovering from birth.

Then the topic turned towards how my job was going and she mentioned whether it was difficult to work with children. I said yes and no and explained my arrangements – better half and brother-in-law have them during the day, and book their jobs for when I got home or the weekends, no matter how much you do, whether you work or not it still doesn’t seem enough as they grow so quickly. She insisted that this was terrible for the kids and looked at me pityingly. I had to consciously stop myself from feeling like a villain when I explained the kids were fine and actually when I spent a whole day with them I was usually much more exhausted, and often a bit more irritable than when I was at work for part of the day. The way we are organised, both hubby and I get part of the day with them. She wasn’t very convinced; despite being educated and “modern” she still believes as a Muslim that it’s shameful for the father to be doing things like changing nappies. She’s not the only one. Family and friends have made snide comments about my husband pushing prams that is beyond pathetic as I am so proud of the fact that he is so involved in his children’s lives.

I keep returning to this topic of raising children and guilt because it is something that is always with us no matter how good a mother you are and it affects us all Muslim or not.

I had a conversation with my neighbour, who could not understand the idea of a woman working if she could at all afford to stay at home – “It’s just sheer greed isn’t it?” I recall meeting a lady during hajj who asked me about myself, how many children, what I did. When I told her she slapped her wrist and said “You have your priorities sorted then”. I spent half of my Hajj moping and feeling terrible and thinking I must leave my job. Later during the Hajj I met an amazing businessman from my hometown, I talked with her about what was bothering me and she gave me a ticking off. She had five daughters, a doctor, a lawyer and three at university, all lovely girls (three were with us). She had worked since she came to the UK doing tough market work and had her daughters working with her, even re-building her business following bankruptcy. Her lawyer daughter had faced the same dilemma as me and left her job after the birth of her first child only to realise she couldn’t sit at home. She found employment again, but not at the same level she had left. The love and respect her daughters had for her and their good manners were enough to convince me that there was nothing wrong in working.

Funnily enough I get the most support from older women like my grandmother who warns me against leaving work. To rural women like her raising children was not the intensive endeavour we have made it, it was something that just happened alongside everything else that had to be done – bringing in the harvest, taking care of the livestock, taking care of the community. They worked alongside the men and took care of the “women’s work” as well and this earned them the respect of the men-folk.

In comparison, to them, the idea of staying at home as a mother is something they had not envisaged. Even my mother who my dad didn’t want working outside the home, spent 20 years working at home as a machinist. This is not to denigrate those women who stay at home with their children at all, it’s just an affirmation for this who chose to take care of their children and work, whether through necessity or choice. Even many of those who do term themselves as stay-at-home mothers are busy with home-businesses, studies, community work or halaqa’s (Islamic study circles), after all our brains don’t suddenly switch off when we have children; our creativity and talents remain and our faith doesn’t say that we must lock them away. Nor do I intend to live through my children, I have my dreams, they have the right to theirs. The guilt seems to be not just because we leave our children, but because we want to do something for ourselves. Why do so many of us not think we deserve this?

I think its time to change my attitude. Next time I get asked if I still work (which is often), I wont say “umm…yeah…” like I’ve been caught doing something dirty, I’ll say “Oh yes, absolutely, of course I do”.


  1. Assalamu alaykum,

    One of your best essays yet. I already feel guilty about leaving my little sunshine with family, when i return to work. It should only be for 2 hours before my husband picks him up, but it slays me that I will be absent from his bedtime routine 5 nights a week. It also brings me anxiety, that my family who live close in proximity will either spoil him rotten in the eves, or totally upset his routine. (We believe children need routine, and this is how we hope to approach child rearing). I need to know that while I am gone my husband will pcik up where I left off. Im hoping that when we have the weekends off, that bedtime wont be a nightmare.

    I have no choice but to return full time. I know my husband probably feels bad about it too, and I keep reminding him it is temporary (his career path is in the works). Even if/when his career takes off, I will have to work at least part time. How will we every own a home without riba? How will make car repairs, or purchase a vehicle? How do the children get a college educations? It all makes me feel dizzy.

    But you know what? I like my career, its interesintg, dynamic and requires that I keep my skills up. I find comfort knowing that I can help support my family. That is probably what makes me feel the most guilty.

    Ive already heard my share of negative feedback from some women. People can be cruel.

    So whats my plan? to be home by 12:30-12:45am, shower, take a snack and nurse baby boy. Then sleep, wake up for the next feeding since hubby has to get up early. Will try to prepare dinner in the morning, get out with baby for a brisk fitness walk, come home, nap when he naps. Will try not to plan too much, as baby and I need to be packed up and out of the house by 3pm so I may arrive to work on time.

    At work, we are given one hour break time. I need to talk to my boss and explain that I will need to break the hour up into 2 or 3 segments, so I can pump milk to keep my supply up. Dont know how long that will last, and where i will find time during these breaks to pray and eat something. It will all work out inshaallah. I guess I could eat while Im pumping, I dont know. What do I know? Ive never done this before.

    May Allah give me the stregnth as I know I will be one busy mama. May Allah give all mothers the strength to do what is best for them and their children.

    Any tips?


  2. Asalaamu Alaikum Sisters,

    Wow! Another right on time post. I am already having anxiety about working or staying home. If my mother in law or other family were here I wouldn't worry so much but since we don't have much family here the baby would have to go to daycare :(. I was never in daycare as a child so I don't have good feelings about a stranger caring for my small child.

    I also wonder how I would cope being a SAHM. I've been working for a long time (since 14 or 15) not because I had to but because I enjoy working and having my own income.

    Oy vey these are hard decisions to make.

    ma'a salaamah,


  3. women who come out with silly comments like that are usually the ones who like to stay at home just so they can gossip and pass judgement on women like u, u could call it jealousy. You are a role model for plenty of girls and women out there so ur right in thinking u shud be more confident in saying u work as well as look after your children. your also lucky to have a man who helps with the kids as most men in this culture see it as a 'woman's' job, as if they dnt like gettin their hands dirty! sod them and carry on, we're proud of u.

  4. This should sum up wat u do at home plus as a working woman...

    Just Doing Her Job:

    A man came home from work and found his three
    children outside, still in their pajamas, playing in the mud, with empty food boxes and wrappers strewn all around the front yard.

    The door of his wife's car was open, as was the front door to the house and there was no sign of the dog. Proceeding into the entry, he found an even bigger mess. A lamp had been knocked over, and the throw rug was wadded against one wall.

    In the front room the TV was loudly blaring a cartoon channel, and the family room was strewn with toys and various items of clothing. In the kitchen, dishes filled the sink, breakfast food was spilled on the counter, the fridge door was open wide, dog food was spilled on the floor, a broken glass lay under the table, and a small pile of sand was spread by the back door.

    He quickly headed up the stairs, stepping over toys and more piles of clothes, looking for his wife. He was worried she might be ill, or that something serious had happened.

    He was met with a small trickle of water as it made its way out the bathroom door. As he peered inside he found wet towels, scummy soap and more toys strewn over the floor. Miles of toilet paper lay in a heap and toothpaste had been smeared over the mirror and walls.

    As he rushed to the bedroom, he found his wife still curled up in the bed in her pajamas, reading a novel. She looked up at him, smiled, and asked how his day went.

    He looked at her bewildered and asked, "What happened here today?"

    She again smiled and answered, "You know every day when you come home from work and you ask me what in the world I do
    all day?"

    "Yes," was his incredulous reply.

    She answered, "Well, today I didn't do it."

  5. Wow! How great to meet other young moms and moms-to-be struggling with this.

    I knew staying at home was not for me, and I'm lucky that my work has offered me a part time schedule.

    My son is 15 months and I've found that over time I've started to find a balance between how much time I want to be out of the house vs. how much time I want to be with my son. I went back full time initially, and cut back to part time, with an emphasis on being home about an hour before his bedtime. We also moved cross country to be close to family because nanny/daycare just didn't feel right. That's the big thing we didn't realize until he was born - how hard and wrong it felt to leave him with a stranger. Maybe over time I could have adjusted, I guess I would have had to, but I didn't want to.

    I've learned that if you're going to rely on your family, then you will have to accept that they are going to do what they think is best and you'll have to compromise your ideals about routine, spoiling, etc. or else limit your child's time with them.

  6. thank you for sharing muslim mom!

  7. Much appreciation to you all dearest working sisters, not just working mothers, wife, but working ladies. I would love to go back to work but I have too many reasons that keep me indoors.
    One day insh'Allah...
    Love this post!

  8. Anonymous20 June, 2008

    Asalaamu alaikum,
    Staying home is not all that it is cracked up to be, perhaps, especially if you are not a happy mom doing it. Every situation is different. I don't have family to help, and I am nursing. I look forward to being able to pay off my school loan someday, and have some guilt free money. I think it is fine to work, as long as you are not leaving your kids at home alone. One plus to working must be the great big hugs and shouts of "mom!" when you come home. Very rarely to I experience this, but hubby gets it every day!
    Another plus is that your kids are getting quality time withyour Husband and their Uncle.
    Glad you have a workable situation.

  9. I had to revisit this post. I am literally having anxiety attacks regarding this working/staying at home/daycare issue. I think my sister in law will be able to watch the baby but I will have to change my work hours. Oy! I'm a little stressed.

  10. ASA
    I am also a new mother with a 3 month old son and getting ready to go back to work next month. I have been sooo stresses about this situation- have been searching for a while for auslim blog or forum to seek advice andfinally found this- very helpful!! JazakhAllah khair! I know you wrote this 2 Tera ago or so but I still can relate.

    I have my hubands mother (mil) who will watch my son while I return fulltime to payoff my loans and try to make some savings. Alhumdulillah I don't have to work for financial reasons such as running the household as my husband Alhumdulillah is able to do that but he still wants me to work for savings and because he feels that if his mother lives with us and is able to wath our son then it should be okay for me to work. I dishree with him because just because she ia here it doesn't mean that my son will by need his actual mother for that many hours a day... I don't know--- maybe I'm jealous that my son will get more attached his grandma more than me or that once he starts caring for him I will have less say jn his upbringing. I'm
    scared , anxious, jealous and maybe a little hurt by my husbands thoughts. I would live to work eventually but just don't feel ready now while my son is so young.

    I just keep praying that Allah swt make it easy for me , my son, and the whole family- make me contented with whatever decision is beat for my family and raise my son up to be an outstanding Muslim leader, son, grandson iA. Ameen

    jazakhallah for your thoughts and please share any advice you may have for me

  11. Assalam-alaikam Dear Sis,
    please e-mail me at and perhaps we can discuss. Sounds like you are in a tough place subhan'Allah, may Allah SWT replace your every difficulty with ease.