International Women’s Day (IWD) is a always time of reflection for me.
I think of the many ways I am a woman and all the ways I find myself challenged, whether by society or by myself. This year, I choose to celebrate me as a mother. With 3 children – one almost off to secondary school (I’m crying), I’ve decided that I want my greatest purpose on this earth to be mothering. To be the nurturing and raising of these children.
Children who know right from wrong, who call me out when I veer off course, who recognise what they call ‘gender-bias’, who make me want to do and be better.
Mothering is not the easiest task in all the earth and I’m not the best mother in the books but there’s love – pure love and that is worth everything.
Five years ago I wrote the piece below when I lived and worked in The Netherlands, and my children were younger.
Not much has changed :), true but what I’ve realised is that I’m not alone in the challenges I face as a mother, and that my children have their own lives as individuals, distinct from being children to me.
These days, my children make choices to be with their friends at certain times. I often pass up opportunities to go out with mine…because I’m worried about leaving them, so guilt swarms and swamps – as though doing so lessens my love for them. My children, on the other hand go away with friends but I never once doubt their love for me. Their affection is ever sure.
I’ve accepted that having a life for me is not to the exclusion of the love I have for them. No mutual exclusivity.
And so, this International Women’s Day, I celebrate motherhood and children and self.
For if you aren’t full, how can you fountain?
Not even mid-thirty, starting to go grey and juggling a full-time job with motherhood, friends and hobbies, brings its challenges. I feel as though I’ve gone from being a rebellious child myself to assuming the role of responsible mother, without any training. One thing I know is that being a super-heroine won’t cut it.
Working 40 hours a week means I’m the mom who can’t always be there. Quite often I miss school events and after-school activities and also sometimes have to sacrifice evenings and weekends with the family.
I felt so guilty. I shouldn’t have.
During the summer months, with long, light evenings, I made an effort to get home early to be with the family. My reward upon returning home was lots of kisses, and then off they went to play with the other children in the street only coming back to eat when it finally started to get dark.
They didn’t have time for me. That was my wake-up call to make time for myself and not just my family.
I went to Paris with a friend who was leaving Europe to return home to India.
Although I had been away from the family before, for work reasons, this was the first time I was going away by choice – to do something I wanted to, for myself.
As lovers of good food, we ate, shopped and saw the sights without having to wipe children’s faces or make rushed trips to the toilet. I did miss the little darlings, but upon my return home, I realised they had survived without me, and I without them.
My coping strategy is to try and minimise my absences from home.
To do this, I bulk cook their favourite meals and freeze them in portion sizes. When they get hungry and I am still at my desk in the office, I know they can have a bowl of ‘Mama’s rice’. Thankfully there is some flexibility in my job which has allowed me to align my home and work schedules. There are days I go to work early and then return home in good time to help with homework, make dinner and relax a bit before we all go to bed. On other days, I get to kiss them goodbye and even take them to school, knowing that coming home late will be fine, especially if they have after-school activities.
Sometimes it doesn’t work out that way; I will ring home whilst stuck on the bus in a traffic jam with at least an hour to go before I get home. The voices of three crying children, insisting they won’t eat a thing until I get home, drives me to tears. Thankfully these days don’t happen that often.
Occasionally, I’ll take the morning or afternoon off and head to school, armed with baking trays, flour, butter, sugar and eggs. On arrival, I am ready to ‘make up’ by rustling up something delicious. Apple cakes out of the oven and children clamouring for third slices, peace comes, and with it the knowledge that food can atone for many a sin. The icing on the cake comes weeks later when a boy in my daughter‘s class says ‘Your mom is the best cook in the world’. The pride that causes her head and my heart to swell, knows no bounds.
I don’t think it really matters why we, as mothers, work – some need to, others want to. What is clear is that finding balance is not impossible. Some planning is required but there is a way out, which includes self-acceptance amongst other practical solutions.
Taking care of ‘Number One’ (yourself) is top on my list. I recommend finding time for you (and your partner), and doing something that is just for yourselves. In my case, it is food. A year ago (2009), I started a food blog, chronicling my kitchen escapades and through it I have found me, in the leaves of green vegetables and the pages of cookbooks. For you it may be gardening, walking or even dancing the ‘Zumba’. Whatever it is, do it, because nothing liberates the spirit as much as finding personal purpose, over and above being everything else, even if it doesn’t pay the bills.
Realise that talk is not cheap: share your thoughts and feelings with your partner, with the carers who are there when you aren’t; teachers, nannies, family. Let them know your values and desires. This way, you can work together to bring balance when you’re not there. A word of caution – when you hand over the reins of control: leave them to it, do your best not to interfere with the other party’s routine except when absolutely necessary – remember they are the ones who play the authority figure when you’re away.
Plan ahead. If you have home help, get them to help with basic tasks while you work – grocery shopping, laundry and meal preparations. Otherwise, combine tasks: it may be better to spend an evening a week where you accomplish
a lot but are flat out than to spread these tasks throughout the week, but that is personal. I prefer to set out school clothes for the entire week at once, but some people prefer to set them out daily. Let them be.
Pick and mix the school events you can attend, and of course, find a great day care if you have young kids, I chose the Teddy Kids Leiden day care, which for me is one of the best ones. Find suitable occasions to go in and do something with the kids – a craft, volunteer on a school trip or just to read a book. Find out, what your child would like the most, and work with the class teachers to organise it. I’ve gone in to school to do ‘volcano’ experiments – erupting model volcanoes with baking soda and coloured vinegar and bake cupcakes, prepare parfaits.
On a final note, I will share one thing that has helped me on this journey of full-time work and full-time parenting – it is the realisation that I’m not alone in the challenges I face.
I have learnt a lot by sharing my issues and challenges with other mothers and knowing that as women, and mothers, we tend to be extremely hard on ourselves. Take it easy, as in the end, we will get there.
By the way, I love the silver strands in my hair – I think they make me look learned and distinguished, a true testament to my amateur skills managing home and work… a true life juggler.
Some great reads
‘Five Messages to my Younger self’’, written & compiled a few years ago, featuring thoughts by Female senior leaders in the Citibank organization – outstanding and inspiring
‘For mothers in the workplace, it’s death by a thousand cuts – and sometimes it’s other women holding the knives’ http://t.co/s8hDOwR7Iq
— Kitchenbutterfly (@Kitchnbutterfly) March 6, 2015