My dear sister Cosmic Cook recently commented on my column for the January edition of InCultureParent and had some questions about how I balance motherhood and having to work full time. She got me thinking about what message I am putting out there and whether I am telling my story fully, or whether I have been sugar-coating the facts unintentionally.
I have been having a good think about this and realised that I had to be as honest as possible – not just with my sisters but with myself insh’Allah. To begin, when I became pregnant with Little Lady, I had every intention to return to work after she was born. I was ambitious and keen to prove myself and wanted to get to the top of my profession. It was also a matter of pride that I could manage both work and baby (and grandmother at the time – as I was her main carer too). At the same time, I stopped doing overtime and avoided working late hours to make sre I was devoting the most time I could to my baby.
Part of the reason this worked well was because I had support from my mum and mother-in-law as the main carer for my children whilst I was work. I didn’t have to face all of the anxiety and guilt that comes with putting your child in day care as I knew Little Lady was being looked after by the mothers I most trusted – mine and my husband’s. The other reason, this arrangement worked was because my dear husband was so supportive. He did his fair share of the household work and child care and supported me in the choices I made alhamdulillah and this made all of the difference.
As Little Man and Gorgeous came along, our shared workload in terms of childcare increased. At the same time my mum’s poor health meant that she should not longer help with childcare, mother-in-law was available half the year, but that left us with having to get family and friends to assist on many occasions. Any mother who has worked and has been stuck in a difficult position with childcare knows that sometime this can mean relying on the good will of others and that the good will soon dries up and you begin to feel humiliated and lonely (even if this is not the intention of people around you, your own dignity still suffers). This being the case, my husband set up his own business and started to work around me and the children. Again, I could only manage so well because of his support and help alhamdulillah.
Over time though, my ambition and will to prove myself faded. I no longer felt that I had to prove my worth or ability to anyone. I didn’t have to be at the top and I didn’t feel the need to try and earn more money, I realised that barakah (blessing) in what you have is more precious than having a great amount.
As my children grew older, I also realised how much they needed me: the school runs, doing things more slowly at their pace, catching up with their teacher, making time for homework and reading to them, making time for Quran and Islam in their life, the elongated bedtime routine (where they refuse to get out of the bath, and then refuse to get into their beds).
I assumed that when they go to school they would need me less, but that has not been the case and I am acutely aware that as time goes on I have to be very available for them to confide in me their thoughts and worries. The world today is full of danger and temptations for young people and a mother that hurries by and doesn’t have time to talk will miss picking up on any problems her children are facing.
Saying this, we are still managing, my husband does the school run, and kids and dad come to pick me up from work at 4pm, so I have the rest of the day with them. They are never alone, they have a fantastic relationship with their dad and they still get to spend most of their day outside school with me. Our arrangement is not a common one and I cannot imagine most men being as accommodating as my husband. At the moment, Little Lady and Little Man go to madrassah for two hours every evening, so I have time to spend just with Gorgeous and also a little me-time (good for napping!) which I feel very lucky to have.
I do sometimes look back and think about how fast those few years went when my children were still babies. Even the youngest who still gets called “baby” by everyone is four next week mash’Allah. I feel a little sad that I missed out on the most precious time with them. I think now it would have been nice to have the first few years at home with them. I had two weeks at home with Little Man before Gorgeous was born (Little Lady had started school) and it was the most precious time and we bonded in a way that I realised we missed earlier with me working and his grandparents caring for him most of the time even when I was home. It seems like we will always have an amazing relationship inh’Allah because of that special time alone we had.
If I ever feel bad though, I look at my children and think have are they turning out badly? I feel like I can honestly answer no. They have picked up some bad habits from me (maybe a few words they should not be saying, some irreverence, a liking for chocolate), which they would have even if I had been at home. I also get the occasional “you never listen!” and have become more mindful about paying them attention – but again, I am just absentminded and easily distracted sometimes, which I would be even if I was at home.
Sometime heading off to work is the easy option too. A day at work is nothing next to a whole day with the kids – I find I am exhausted, fed-up and losing my voice by the end of some days with them unless I head to my mum’s with them or have hubby at home to help. When I come home from work, I get a big welcome, but the arguing and fighting for attention also begins. I have been told by numerous people, that they have been good all day and the minute I walk through the door all hell breaks loose, attention seeking behaviour perhaps.
I do find that my children are more independent, partly because I work (and am also lazy) and partly because I think the way men deal with children is so different from women. Where I might have coddled them and done everything for them, my husband always encourages them to do things for themselves while he stands there and supervises or helps where they get stuck. This has meant that my kids were more independent about things like changing clothes, going to the bathroom and asking for what they want when they started school.
So should more Muslim mothers be working? I don’t know, I feel like a hypocrite saying so, but I speak from experience. I do think the more time you spend with your children in the early years, the better for you both, and the time whizzes by so quickly. Can you balance work and children? Yes, but for me this was possible because I had good support and lots of help. Also, as Muslimah’s, once we have children, we know that this is always supposed to be the priority over work and so it can never be a half-half balance.
Sisters have to keep in mind that many of us work because we have to, so it is not always a case of pick and choose what works for us. Many of the sisters I know who work are in the same position as me. My husband came here from Pakistan and had to abandon his career as a journalist and start his working life from scratch almost. I had to get a job for him to join me here. As time went on, his work has grown an insh’Allah we are probably at the point that he can financially support us, so I am thinking about withdrawing from work incrementally if I can. But this means a massive shift in mindset – trusting that I can survive without that monthly paycheque, having to ask for money when I need it, being financially dependent on someone. It’s quite a frightening thought for me, despite the fact I would trust hubby with my life and he would put his money in my hands unasked alhamdulillah.
Also, many women who don’t formally go to the office still work. My neighbour left her job in a bank to stay at home with her children and found she was working even longer hours managing her husband’s business. I intend to do the same, I have suggested to my husband I take over the back-office management of his business if I move towards leaving work and he is keen on this. Then there is the blogging and writing, crafting, I would love to do some voluntary work and I am keen to study further if I get the chance…so much for not working huh?