By MAE LORRAINE RAFOLS LORENZO
Early this week, I was busy trying to finish a presentation a possible client was waiting for since the weekend when out of the blue my 11-year-old son told me, “Mama, my teacher said I should probably buy new uniforms.”
And that’s when it hit me. I looked at my son intently like it was the first time I was really seeing him and noticed some glaring differences. My son was absolutely taller, his face was changing, and his physique was starting to turn into a young man’s. I never really noticed because as what every mother would probably tell you, your kids remain the same in your eyes.
But looking at him I realized how I wasn’t really paying attention that he was growing up so fast. And this is a big contradiction in my life since I chose to do freelance work and be a stay-at-home mom.
I wanted to spend more time with my kids and have some semblance of a successful career. Yet here he is, his uniform struggling to fit his torso, shirt un-ironed (gasp!), and me gaping incredulously wondering how I could have missed it.
Suddenly an avalanche of feelings started to engulf me. There was guilt for ignoring what seemed like a trivial need, anger at the teacher because how dare she embarrass me, doubt for possibly making the wrong life choices, and deep sadness because I felt I wasn’t being the kind of mother I envisioned myself to be.
This is a big blow for someone who followed the path of being an entrepreneur, a journalist (a career that I really love), and a consultant while taking care of my family fulltime— without a maid at that!
Working at home can also be exceptionally difficult as it blurs the line on when you should stop working to take care of the fam. Most of the time, I’d be catching up on a deadline while cooking sinigang (or ordering McDonald’s for dinner, which I’ve done so many times). On days I find myself a caretaker for the day, I would end up feeling guilty for leaving my kids—I’d often escape from them as soon as the yaya arrives—so I would find myself going to a self-service laundry where there’s a strong WiFi and preferably a cafe so I can catch up on work as the machine spins.
The truth is that it’s hard to be a mom in this day and age when society has bred superwomen who could carry a career and a child at the same time. At (late) 30-something, I am placed in a position where I compare myself to young career women who are having the time of their lives, in both their personal and office lives. Yet I also measure myself against seasoned mothers out there like my mom and mother-in-law, who raised six kids by themselves while the husbands worked.
But can you? Can you really combine the fulfillment of pursuing your dreams and at the same time raising a family whose husband is happy and kids are well-behaved? The truth is that I’m probably not alone in this situation (I refuse to acknowledge it as a predicament).
I once attended a Filipina STEM Leaders Forum where the speakers are considered to be the Alpha Females of the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) sector. These women have achieved it all, career-wise. They are the presidents and CEOs of their own companies and yet they still struggle every day to keep their families intact.
They would lead meetings and sales calls then go home to clean their house and cook dinner. They would hire and terminate employees, then send a fax or e-mail kids their worksheets for an upcoming exam.
During the forum, which was sponsored by the International Labor Organization in the Philippines (ILO), some facts were shared for us to ponder on. First, is that there’s no better time than now to pursue or make a name in one’s chosen career because the future of jobs is at risk of automation or jobs being done by machines. In the Philippines, around 49 percent of jobs face a high risk of automation, and out of those numbers, about 60 percent are women.
Yet should a woman pursue a career, most of them are concentrated at the bottom of the hierarchical organization not because they are not qualified for the job, but because they face serious challenges in balancing work-family responsibilities.
So it begs the question again: Is it worth pursuing one’s dream career and risk alienating the family?
As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise the child. Mothers (and dads, for the matter) shouldn’t feel the need to carry this burden alone. The government, employers, and labor groups should work together to help women reach their dreams and at the same time support their innate desire to nurture. We’re slowly seeing this kind of support (such as the expanded maternity leave law that was recently signed) but it would be good to see more changes in legislation and office environment.
As for the feeling of guilt and the frustration that comes (as with all types of motherhood), I guess we should always remind ourselves that it’s ok to take some time off. Disappointments in life are there to create a different perspective on what path we should take, and that in the hardest times we learn to remember and acknowledge the good things because they are our lifeline.
At the end of the day, there are just some things we can’t control. We can, however, control how we value ourselves. So no matter which path you actually take in the long run, just remember: Woman, you’re doing a great job!