Since my daughter was born, I’ve been mostly a stay at home mother. I am in graduate school, but go part time so that I only have to leave my daughter with my mother-in-law twice a week for a few hours.
Recently I was invited to attend an out-of-town conference. In order to go, I would either have had to take my toddler and a baby-sitter (one of my younger sisters-in-law for the weekend, or leave her for one night while I attend.
She was weaned, so she didn’t depend on me for physical nourishment. She was very comfortable with our family, and of course my husband was there. I was still hesitant, but since my expenses were being paid by the conference committee, I thought it was only fair to bite the bullet – and travel alone.
Man, did I feel guilty. My family – mostly my husband – talked to me at length explaining that I had nothing to feel guilty about, that my going was making me a positive role model for her, and so on. Rationally, I agreed with everything. But I still felt unsettled.
I knew she was going to miss me and I empathized, but that wasn’t the only issue. I felt like I was shirking my responsibility as a mother. But where did I get the idea that my responsibility as a mother entailed never leaving my child’s side for more than a few hours, especially if it had to do with something “superfluous” like speaking at a conference? The Prophet (saws) was sent to the desert for years to be raised by a wetmaid, as was the custom. In India and Pakistan, caring for children is often a joint responsibility by joint families, with most of the work done by the grandmother. And by “American” standards, I am probably devoted to my daughter to the point of being “oppressed.”
Bhawana Kamil lives in Santa Clara, CA with her husband and daughter. She is pursuing a Masters degree in Philosophy and is the head of her local Muslim American Society Outreach Department – but only on the side. Her real job is watching (and hopefully helping) her little girl grow up!