Feminists or Cowards?

When eHomemakers was started more than 11 years ago, an acquaintance from a women’s organization chided me saying, "Some of us who are fighting for women’s rights are upset with you. We want equality with men. We want women to join the workforce, but there you are, encouraging women to be housewives"

I explained that eHomemakers encouraged women to balance career and motherhood, and that we were helping women recognize the right to choose the appropriate path for their families and career as every woman has a unique situation. We were also encouraging women to take charge of their lives by being entrepreneurs instead of job seekers.

Refusing to listen, she said in a huff, "You’re supposed to be a feminist, having worked in women’s development projects before. Now you are overturning women’s advancement with your middle class ideas!" The phone clicked.

I was rather disturbed. However, after mulling over it for several days, I realized that her misgivings had to do with her understanding of motherhood. Being a single woman from a one-child family, she probably did not have the same first-hand push-and-pull experiences that mothers in the 90s do.

The same misunderstanding is prevalent among many other people I meet while organizing various events for eHomemakers' members. When sourcing for sponsors and venues, I am often met with derision and sometimes laughter.

"A conference for housewives to talk about diapers?" asked one. "You are encouraging my wife to be lazy!"

A senior woman manager reprimanded me saying, "You’re telling women like me to depend on our husbands for money and stay home to cook all day long? No way!"

I sigh with sadness hearing these comments. No doubt, there is a misconception that motherhood means either staying home to be a homemaker or working outside full-time to make more money for the children’s material comfort.

Homemakers are perceived as uneducated, having only household skills or as rich ladies-of-leisure. Worse, educated homemakers are seen as failures having wasted their education just to do housework. The misconception that homemakers don’t contribute positively to the household and to the economy makes staying home an unpopular option for women.

Many of us are women warriors of the nuclear family without parents staying with us to help raise the children. We have to work because we need the income, but we are also the primary caregivers for our children. Snatching a few minutes with the children here and there and calling it quality time is lying to ourselves. Talking to the children for half an hour while driving or supervising homework while doing laundry is no way to attend to attention-deficit children or those with behavioral problems. Stressed parents who are impatient bring out the worst in children.

Some children are naughty, clingy and withdrawn because they are crying out for their parents’ attention. Yelling, punishing or buying toys don’t solve their problems. Maids and neighborhood child minders can’t replace the parents’ care. To fix the children’s problems, one parent needs to spend more time with them. Unfortunately, it is often the mother as no one else can replace her care.

As much as we would like to see fathers staying home, we know that it is difficult for them to do so due to societal prejudices. As it is, women homemakers are facing put-downs and ridicule. We hope that our efforts as a community network will make the working from home idea more acceptable to the public and that eventually, more mothers and fathers will consider it as a way to nurture their families.

Like more and more women around the world, we find that the Supermom image of the 80s – the mother who could be a full-time career woman and a full-time mother - is not feasible. Something has to give temporarily until the children grow up.

Quitting full-time work doesn’t mean that one is out of the workforce completely.

During a visit to Canberra, Australia, I met many mothers at playgrounds. They read books or relaxed under the sun while the children were playing. They looked like serene ladies-of-leisure.

Talking to them, I found that they were professionals who telecommute, or are allowed to have part-time office hours in their companies. It is socially acceptable in Australia to quit full-time careers to become homemakers and Australian companies cater to mothers’ needs.

Another impressive experience came from a retrenched father who attended one of our working at home conferences. He began to see that his retrenchment was actually an opportunity for him to be with his neglected family. Our conference message of turning your hobby into a business opportunity has helped him. He is now a scuba diving instructor for children and adults. When he is not instructing, he is reading books by the pool with his family. He hasn’t smiled so much for a long time.

Other mothers who have turned their gloomy situations around after the conferences are housewives with retrenched husbands. Most of them are now supporting the family with their homebased catering or baking businesses.

And there are mothers like me who see working from home as a way of life since our children’s birth. I see this period of time, working from home as a precious time of my life in which I am loved and pampered. No amount of money can buy this time I have with my daughter. When she’s bigger, she will have her own friends and have less time for me.

It’s also a time in which I have become more whole. I finally have the luxury of an hour each day for myself to exercise or listen to music. I discover that I like being with myself and that being alone doesn’t mean that I am lonely. I have also discovered that I can write thought-provoking stories in English, a creative aspect I never knew I had when I was climbing the corporate ladder.

As for my daughter, I believe that my working from home is the key factor of her cheerfulness and confidence. She has learnt discipline without any yelling and punishment, modeling after my behavior at home. She was taught that I have to work to make money to buy things and she has to work too by learning to read and write so that one day she can buy things for me.

Although I work longer hours than when I was working outside, I am much happier. The feeling that I have more control of my life and time is liberating and powerful. I am not answerable to anyone else except to my family. Besides feeling calm, I am relieved that I am not involved in any office politics that drains my energy.

Is it wrong to share a viable option that brings the best out in a woman - her nurturing capability and her strength?

By Chong Sheau Ching


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