From dealing with colleagues, maintaining a social life while raising kids that don’t miss out on anything, the life of a working mother is full of challenges that mount into pressure
"Why is everyone exhausted?" a genuinely concerned host asked her friends at a dinner.
"You won’t get it," a nasty answer, "because you don’t work."
The host forced a smile, "Yes, and you don’t have to either."
A recent study -- or a groundbreaking Harvard study, as they liked to be called -- past summer revealed that daughters of employed mothers are as likely to turn out to be happy adults as girls raised by women without full-time jobs. The study seems to compare the childhood impact reflected in career and personal choices in adult life. And the mom wars continue.
Working mothers often have to defend their ambitions, or needs, before complete strangers who see motherhood demanding as it is, without room for a challenging career and a busy schedule outside the house. A woman’s profession, especially if it isn’t seemingly impressive or high-paying, is seen as a pastime. That being especially true for women who have no obvious financial constraints to share with their spouses. And single mothers who run households are constantly trying to make up for the void left by the missing parent, using recycled energy day after day to keep up the balancing act between family issues and work pressures. Guilt becomes a permanent houseguest.
Stay-at-home mothers take charge of everything that needs immediate attention to the long-term impact of family decisions. Without a job outside the house, their involvement in domestic matters has financial benefits too, since they assume multiple roles. By micro-managing, they remain involved in their children’s lives as well as the upkeep of their own interests. They also end up taking up a fair share of their spouse’s responsibilities within the house as well as the emotional toll packaged with the inability to explore their own potentials.
As the family’s dependency wanes, mothers often see their investments as futile. Guilt lives here too.
Entertainment media contains the role of a working ‘aurat’ (vernacular for woman) in two ways: she’s either forced out of the house in the absence of a male breadwinner and hates her life; or she is a strong, independent woman whose liberation comes with fashionable clothes she can afford to buy herself. The ‘gharelu’ aurat (housewife), on the other hand, is a desi Stepford wife whose house is her ‘jannat’ (heaven) and whose kids are her ‘dunya’ (universe). She remains busy in the intertwining of domestic politics. Her good side is her selfless devotion to the household.
This media bias is painfully real in the reciprocal attitudes of women who work and those who don’t (outside the house that is). Stay-at-home mothers complain their devotion to family is seen as regressive in what they call an overdemanding culture. How many possible answers could there be to "So what do you do all day?" or "How do you spend your time?" or "You have so much time on your hands."
They, on their part, complain of being snubbed for their roles in keeping it together. Unlike working moms, they don’t get to expand their social circle and enjoy a more versatile company. Their intelligence is questioned because they choose not to use it in making money. Mental health issues are often ignored as their source is attributed to too-much-time-to-think prejudice. Because thinking is an illness?
Mothers who don’t work see their working counterparts as a threat to their own ideals of a woman’s primary duty -- a selfless caregiver.
Working mothers argue that they have double the plates, and they’re all full. Working outside the house does not mean that you get to choose one over the other; it means you don’t get to choose, you deal with it, whether it’s a personal choice or a compulsion.
It’s nearly impossible to satisfy the curiosity of a person who demands to know your child’s diet because, ‘you work!’. "Do they miss you?" or "Why work when he makes enough money?" "I would never trust anyone with my kids." From dealing with colleagues, maintaining a social life while raising kids that don’t miss out on anything, the life of a working mother is full of challenges that mount into pressure.
Only researchers have the time and resources to study psychological impact of female employment on families (as if a working mother is an aberration with many possible side effects). Women, in both capacities, struggle to satisfy the never-ending demands of being good at ‘it’-- an allusive model of postmodern motherly perfection.
Mothers are exhausted. Always. Everywhere. Because everyone is telling them what to do. Why they should be working and why they shouldn’t. Between two extremes -- religious idealism and Instagram-mom-celebrity perfection -- mothers are denied the personal satisfaction that comes with nurturing, because of the unachievable goals. They are not exhausted because their bodies fail them; they are tired of proving they can do it!