A Job Only Mothers Can Do

"How could you eat in a restaurant like this? No air-con, loud-mouthed waitresses, holes on the tablecloth, chipped glasses and plates, and wooden chopsticks! Everything here goes against sophistication and style!" LL complained as she wiped the sweat from her forehead with an imported, perfumed tissue.

"The dim sum here is great and cheap! I don't see any problem eating here at all!" I shrugged my shoulders.

LL wiped her mouth with another tissue that she took from her designer handbag. She pushed her plate away. "You know," she said, "you've changed since you've become a mother."

"Of course, I see things differently after carrying a big tummy for nine months!" I laughed as I looked unwaveringly at her eyes. They emanated the confidence and assertiveness of a high-salaried banker who could assess a customer's credit worthiness in minutes.

LL's eyebrows cocked. Her dark brown pupils narrowed from beneath her fashionable green contact lenses. "It's not ‘good’ change. It's - let me call it – ‘bad’ change."

"Bad change?" I stopped laughing.

"Look, I've to tell you this frankly. You've lost your "uumph" for success!"

She paused to let her words sink into my mind.

"You used to have this enormous drive to achieve great things in your career and you enjoyed being a yuppie, but now you stay home with your daughter doing nothing, happy to be poor and you like doing cheap stuff like this! What has happened to you?"

"I do nothing?" I protested. "I arrange my business so I can work mostly out of home! I don't want to leave Little R with a maid all day long. The responsibility of teaching her values and discipline is mine.

This is the best way to be close to Little R while I make money to pay the bills! It's not your traditional nine to five job, but it works! Do you know that one million American mid-career professionals leave their corporate jobs each year to set up small businesses, working from their homes so that they can be close to their children? If I am one of the pioneers here, is that wrong?"

"Those are Americans but we are Malaysians. Why do you want to follow them?" LL questioned.

"I'm not following them. I find working from home a great mothering cum career alternative. Instead of listening to office gossip and backbiting during tea breaks, I go downstairs to hug my daughter, read her a story or play a game with her. My outside activities are arranged to avoid traffic jams and crowds. Since I work for myself, there's more incentive to be effective and efficient. And I've got time to exercise daily! Look at my figure! Not bad for a mother, eh?"

"You're wasting your education and work experience to stay home instead of achieving success in your career. Kindergarten teachers can teach your daughter all the values she needs."

Her face came closer to mine. "Quitting for a few years will set you back for the rest of your career. You should be out there now getting a real power job and concentrating on getting to the top just like me. You should be making more money to buy property and shares for a comfortable retirement. You've got only one life. Live your life fully. Mooning at your daughter all day long is a crime to yourself!"
"So what if I don't make much money!" I retorted. "As long as I can pay my bills, I don't have to own so many things, go to expensive restaurants and travel overseas!"

LL said in her cold business voice, "If you die tomorrow, what material things are you leaving for your daughter? She needs money to go to school, buy roller skates and have fun like other children. She can't do any of this if all she has are your photos!"

I felt like a deflated balloon. LL wasn't the first one who had pointed her finger at me for quitting my career since my daughter's birth. Several friends and family members also had a hard time accepting the fact that I chose my daughter as my life's priority. Most saw me as a failure, quitting just as I was on the way up.

Very few people I know have good things to say about educated mothers who stay home for the children. A neighbour once introduced me to her friends as a homemaker who had time on my hands to do voluntary work. Another time, I overheard a relative describing me - "She must have gotten fired from her international job. Who in her right mind would quit a good job to be a housewife?"

For a while I doubted that I had made the right decision. The pressure for me to get back to my career to prove I wasn't a failure was so high that I went for a job interview in an international organisation after my first year at home.

The interview confirmed my decision. The two senior managers who interviewed me jumped right into the reasons for my choice. One said, after listening to my explanation, "We need people who have the drive to perform. Although motherhood is a noble responsibility, women who have career drives don't have this type of commitment to motherhood." The other asked me how I defined success. I replied, "Success means happiness and fulfillment."

He laughed and said, "That's too vague. Everyone who gets a job here sees success as career achievement! Our organisation will go downhill if the people who run it place their families before their jobs. This organization is not into welfare. We demand excellence!"

An invisible wall came up between them and me. A mixture of anger and helplessness surged through me. Their eyes spoke of hypocrisy. I had seen them expounding the virtues of women's development in international conferences, yet they weren't willing to give career mothers practical support. I had heard them affirming women's advancement as a key symbol to development, yet they gave motherhood low status and believed that mothers are unreliable performers in a competitive work environment.

A gust of cool, conditioned air blew onto my back as the automatic door of the big, grey building slid shut. I heaved a sigh. The organisation would stifle my ability because it wouldn't accept me as I am. "I'm going to do what is right for me," I said to myself. "Someday, I will work for an organisation which values me as a responsible, courageous woman."

I was stressed from a deadline the other day. I stared at my computer blankly, feeling guilty that I was not making money by letting time slip by. Little R yelled from downstairs, "Mamee, wo hen ai ni-ah!" (Mandarin: I love you very much). Then, she broke out into a Mandarin song, "Mama Hou" (My Mother is the Best).

I slumped onto my chair to listen to her, feeling so blessed and rewarded. When her song was over, inspiration rushed onto me for the rest of the afternoon as I saw what success was about.

It has many forms and I can achieve them all in many ways.

By Chong Sheau Ching


  1. Hi, I had been following your column in the Stars previously until they stopped. I just found my way to this blog though I've been receiving your newsletter for quite some time now. I've stopped working for more than 1 1/2 years to be with my kids and to get my health in order. Now that I'm much better health wise, I'm trying to find something to do and it feels like search for a needle in a haystack. This article of yours have put me in the right frame of mind to continue my search for something to do so my kids can have the financial securities as well as the mummy around them all the time. Thank you.


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