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”.