Changing Hats

 I’ll be honest, it might not show but working away from my family eats away at me. Especially in the early months of motherhood, it pained me to leave my daughter behind. Now that she is more independent, the burden of my working has shifted slightly from causing me self-inflicted pain, to being verbalized by my daughter who pleads with me not to go to work every morning. For a while I thought no good would come to my family as a result of my job, and that working was an entirely selfish endeavor. In my most optimistic view point, I was at least being energized by breaking away so that the moments I spent with my daughter were as happy and fun as can be. But, all children have their downs. When you invest so much hope into maximizing the 2 or 3 hours a day you spend together, having that time overtaken with tantrums and fights with your toddler is particularly heart-breaking.

Working like everything else has benefits in addition to such drawbacks, and I constantly oscillate between the two. The feelings of guilt or neglect for not being with the children linger. Realistically, little else is as fulfilling as being there for your family. At the same time, if dealt with properly, parting from them could mean a stronger more intense bond during the times you are together. Working also allows me to keep part of myself to myself, without sharing it with the kids/family. Although this might be hard to appreciate now, I am sure this will be valuable later in life.

Often dealing with work, home, and juggling the two creates stresses that can naturally spill into the marriage. Going from home to work and vice versa is not as easy as changing hats. The divisions of responsibilities among husband and wife become blurred and create tensions when roles are not well-defined. This becomes a great exercise in communication and cooperation. Another fact of life for the working mom and her family is being on a tight work schedule. Having time constraints means working moms are not privy to as much socializing with other moms where valuable things can be learned. On the other hand, tips gained from socializing can alternatively be gleaned from, e.g., blogs which can provide another community and a more concentrated dose advice from other moms.

In my experience, one of the biggest challenges is the little support beyond the immediate family (husband, one’s own mom, etc.) for working moms, especially ones who aren’t working out of financial need. I spend most of my spare time with women who either don’t work or have part-time jobs, and who are not career-oriented and who are rarely interested in what I do. Very little conversation takes place about what I do outside my home, which is a big part of who I am that is left feeling invalidated and isolated. There are others yet who idealize the notion of working and having additional income. They repeatedly wish to be in my position without first fully understanding my feelings and circumstances, a fact that underscores the need for open and honest discussions among working moms and moms of all types.

Although I don’t personally know that many working moms, I’m sure that I’m not alone in this. Unfortunately, there are not many working mother role models in my life―it is my hope that through this blog we can muster enough honest personal reflections and opinions from mothers and daughters who have been or have had working moms at some point in their lives. I wonder what challenges other working moms face. What effects has working had on your children, for those with older kids? If you have had a working mom growing up, what was it like? And has your perception of it changed now as you look back at it?

The advantages I listed here are among a few reasons why I choose to be a working mom. Besides for my family’s support, which I could not have lived without, I also find that changing my perception of what a “good mom” is has dramatically improved my outlook. That perception began with my mom, who devoted her life to exclusively raising us during our childhood. I so appreciate how great a mother she is that I want that for my family, which has made it difficult to accept slightly lower standards for myself for e.g. meal preparation, household chores, etc., etc. I constantly tell myself that alhamdulillah, as long as my daughter is in a wholesome environment, clean, happy, and healthy—she is doing well. Ultimately, I thank Allah for providing me the choice and the ability to make it, and ask for contentment with my decisions once they are made.

Dalal Kanan

Dalal is currently a chemistry graduate student living in NJ interested in learning more about how people manage their various hats. Above all, she loves being mom to one gregarious toddler. 

  • Tuqa

    Thank you for this thoughtful reflection! It’s very timely for me personally, as I debate with myself whether to go back to work after having my first baby. I always assumed that I would be a working mother but of course things change when you become a mother :) Like you, I’m not surrounded by many working moms, which doesn’t help ease my feelings of guilt. My field is such that it would be very difficult for me to re-enter it if I take a prolonged break. So I feel like it’s a now or never option. We definitely need more working-mom-friendly support groups in our community…

  • mountaineer mama

    Salam,

    Jak for this post.

    As a child I had a full time working mom. As an adult I see how much of a role model she was for me. As an immigrant she finished college with 3 young children and worked full time. She worked out of necessity to take us out of a poor neighborhood into a district with good schools and well mannered families. We had fairly good baby sitters or family to watch us when we were young.

    When i started school ,my elder sisters took on a lot of responsibility to make sure that I was picked up and brought home safely. They could not join after school activities because they had to watch me. They let me to watch tv and eat unhealthy snacks until my mom came home. As tired as my mother was, she would always make a very healthy dinner. In hindsight it was too much responsibility for my older sisters. They missed out on some of their childhood and as a result grew up to be very serious minded and full of more worry/anxiety then others.

    As a child, i always wished to have a mother who was home and could receive me at the door with a hot meal, spend time baking cookies with me and get to know the other mothers who volunteered in the school. I often wished my mother was more like them. When i was around 9 yrs old i would sometimes pretend to forget my house key so my neighbors would let me over to play. I was better than being alone at home waiting for my sisters or mom to get home.

    My childhood experience shaped my areas of interest and career choices. I chose a field that would allow me to be home with my children during the week. I worked weekends when they were babies and let their dad take care of them. Now, I returned to work part time, leaving a day or two to volunteer at school and make a hot meal. I do everything for my kids that I wished my mother did for me. But also, sometimes i leave them in the after school program and pick them up a little late so they can experience that as well. I try to give them a taste of both, life with mom at home always vs. mom at work and gets home late.

    I know my mothers circumstances were different. She made her choices based on her circumstances and both my parents spent a significant amount of time with us on the weekends. We saw and did everything a middle class family would do. Because my mothers extra income allowed for it. We were actively involved in the masjid and that was also significant in shaping my identity.

    In the end, I learned early how to manage when left alone and had developed a inner strength and confidence that one gets when having to face difficult challenges/ baby sitter enviornments at a young age. I also, sometimes lack confidence in trying new things for the first time because I was pushed to be brave and handle things on my own before i was truly ready.

    An interestting thing to note, is that out of all my childhood friends, the one who had their mother at home decided to work full time and put thier kids in daycare. As for the ones who had working moms at a young age, they are now mostly stay at home moms.

    I hope this brings insight to those who needed to hear this reflection. i would be happy to answer anymore questions.

    my dua,

    ws.

  • Maha

    Your post outlined the struggle that goes through many of our heads. I really enjoyed this post because it made me think very deeply about my choices.

    Mountaineermama, your comments really added a lot of food for thought. Thank you for sharing.

  • http://Nadiasbandukda.blogspot.com Nadia S. B.

    Love and appreciate your honest post! Looking forward to hearing from other moms inshallah– may Allah put ease into everyones personal and professional lives–.

  • Um Hadi

    Thanks Dalal for bringing up a very important subject – like you, I also find it a constant challenge to balance the need for work and being there for your child/family knowing that women at the time of the prophet peace be upon him were very much involved in society and many were the pioneers of great things that we enjoy and benefit from today, yet they also raised some of the greatest men and women alive who made a profound difference in the world. Like you said there isn’t a lot of support for muslim working moms so would love to keep in touch in sha Allah.


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