Last week I met up with a mother from school. She is married to a British man, but was born and raised in the Middle East. She is highly educated, intelligent, well read and cosmopolitan. She speaks four languages, has degrees from universities in two different countries, neither of which were undertaken in her first language. In short, she is one smart cookie.
So, what does she DO exactly? Well, she looks after her three children. She cooks their meals, arranges their social life, ferries them too and from school, arranges their holidays, helps them with their homework, entertains them during the holidays, buys their clothes, clears up after them, shops for them, takes care of them when they’re ill etc etc. Yes, all those things that a mother does…. And is that it? Yes! It’s a full time job.
But what I found so interesting about her, was that having told me all about her early life and studies, she told me straight out that her ‘job’, in fact her ‘life’ was about her children. Despite her obvious intellect, she sees raising her children as the most important thing she can do. She wants to study more, but this would be for her personal interest and would not encroach on her responsibilities to her children. Within her culture, it is the correct and appropriate thing to do. In fact, to leave three children at home and go back to work, would be questionable to her society.
Now, before you start shrieking the obvious at me - I do of course realise that my friend is in the very fortunate financial position that she does not ‘have’ to work. I know there are countless women out there who would love to be that financial position.
And before the other half of you start yelling at me… I know there are women who have worked hard to build up a career, want to go back to work and have ensured that their children will not miss out, by providing suitable childcare arrangements.
This post is not about the ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’ of the ‘should mothers go back to work’ debate.
The point I’m trying to make is that I think she is lucky that she is not faced with the issues that many of my friends have. I am talking about the women friends I have who have chosen to stay at home with their kids, often accepting a reduced standard of living in order to do what feels the ‘right’ thing to them. These women seem to have the same conversation over and over again. It goes like this:
“So, how many kids do you have?”
“Oh, just the three.”
“How lovely. But what do you DO?”
Instantly, these women are put on the back foot. Their role running the home, looking after the kids and being a wife are instantly given zero respect and value.
And I know this, because it has been said to me too, on many occasions. Why do people always ask ‘what do you do’ as if being a mother is not a job? Why does our western society seem to place a higher value on a job that earns us an income, than the role of ‘mother’?
Why can’t people say:
“You stay at home and look after the kids? How fantastic. What a great job you do.”
And why do I feel so under attack when people say “but what do you DO?” Well, I’m the product of a western society that is mixed up and messed up. I have a brain that I want to engage. It’s one of the reasons I blog. Well, that and the fact that I’m trying to re-establish the career that I gave up to be a full time mother. Being divorced, I no longer have the luxury of a husband who can ‘provide’ for me whilst I care for my children. Neither do I have the career path I once had. And I know that I’m not alone in this conundrum.
But whilst I am forging ahead, doing the best that I can, all I want (and I believe I am speaking for many other women I know) is a bit of respect. Surely our western attitude towards women is about giving women ‘rights’. The right to choose our path without being looked down on.
I do realise that in many other countries women do not have the same educational opportunities or social choices that my friend has had. I have no doubt that some people will think it a waste that a woman should have had such a good education, only to ‘give it up’ and look after her kids.
Personally, I think that if our societies’ attitudes met up in the middle somewhere, we would all be a lot happier.