One of the biggest decisions a mother has to face since women were allowed to vote and work: whether to be a working mother or stay-at-home mother. There are many factors surrounding this decision and most of them are as a result of your family situation. If you’re lucky (or unlucky, depending on who you talk to) you may have had the good fortune to grow up in a well-to-do family (or married into one) and therefore have the opportunity to stay at home and be a full-time wife and mom. On the other end of the scale are those from poor backgrounds (what they call these days the have-nots), who may be uneducated and unable to work, or have 7 kids and can’t afford childcare. Most of us fall in the middle of this scale and end up continuing to work after having children because of financial commitments or our preference to have a career outside the home.
I’ve noticed an increasing trend of wives and mothers opting out of the workforce and staying at home fully to manage the household. This, in my opinion, is a great development. No matter how many times I think about it, or angles I look at it from, I don’t waver from my belief that being a SAHM is actually the hardest job in the world, and hence why it is such a difficult thing to do for most women, including me. News headlines these days are full of depressing news about abusive maids/teachers, kidnapped and murdered children (al-Fatihah to them) and kids who grow up lacking attention from busy career-driven parents. Therefore, in my opinion, the more moms who are able to stay at home and raise their children, the better it will be for the world.
However, many mothers are not able to make that decision. First and foremost is the financial factor – most mothers need to work to help support family expenses, and it is estimated that the costs of raising a child is up to RM500k. On the other hand, most Malays have grown up with the saying ‘anak itu rezeki’ (children are blessings) and believe that the financial needs will somehow sort themselves out – primary and secondary education will somehow remain free but will be sufficient, tertiary education can be local (or funded by scholarships), jobs will be abound and in the end the children will take care of them when they grow old. Although I agree that children will bring blessings (and spur you to work harder to provide for the family) it is a little dangerous to just ignore the financial requirements of raising each child, and parents do need to keep this in mind (particularly to those who are very subur and are thinking of having child no.5, for instance). The future is still largely uncertain – the quality of public education is argued to be declining, the costs of tertiary education is rising and the long-term trend will move scholarship selection to those who merit it rather than by race or quota. You do need to worry about it – it’s only the responsible thing to do as a parent.
Secondly, most working moms justify their decision to go back to work by saying that they, simply put, need to. We’ve all heard about mothers who, unfortunately unnoticed by the world in most cases, sink into depression and ‘lose’ themselves little by little as a result of staying at home full-time and constantly catering to the needs of someone else. This i notice is mostly prevalent in the West, where moms typically don’t have any domestic helpers and try to do all the 1001 things by themselves – cooking, washing, laundry, ironing, vacuuming, mopping, homework, schedules, finances, soccer or piano practice, what have you. They forget to put themselves first and as a result end up forgetting who they are and what makes them happy. A lot of working mothers say they are happier as they have an intelligent and creative outlet during the day, and at night they go home to their families and become a mother again. A win-win situation, apparently.
As a working mom, I too cite the two factors above for myself, and in my case, going back to work was not an option – I had an 8-year bond to serve after having my tertiary education sponsored by my employer. But I don’t pride myself in saying that this was a better decision – I just have to have faith that God made me where I am today for many reasons, and hopefully the right ones. But I do have an increasingly passionate opinion that circumstances need to improve for the working mother – for instance, lack of quality childcare, limited support from employers (nurseries at the office and part-time work already exist elsewhere in the world, CEOs and bosses – come on!), the daily suffering from commuting/traffic jams and the lack of funding for moms to run small businesses at home. The government and the private sector must realize the importance of the family institution and help to make the situation better for women so that they can make the right decision. After all, you know what they say about women actually being the heart of the family – it’s really true. Provide the right environment for moms, and they will provide for their families, and the world inches to be a better place, bit by bit.
To all the stay-at-home moms out there, I salute you and I hope one day I can find the courage and strength to be like you.