I speak with my mother quite often, almost once a week. She calls whenever she’s bored, mostly in the afternoons (Malaysian time) when there’s a lull in the day’s business at my uncle’s grocery stall which he’s owned and run for over 30 years.
Mom tells me of a tree she sits under to chat because, apparently, that’s where the reception is the clearest. We spend 30 mins to an hour, talking about the kids, gossiping about my sister in particular, and our relatives in general. Sometimes, she gives me advice on how to improve some of the recipes she’s given me.
I must say that never in a million years did I imagine that I would share such a relationship with my mother, much like how both of us had never imagined that I would be married, with kids, and a full-time mother who’d actually have the time and inclination to refine recipes. My mother was a working mom herself when we were growing up. Being a housewife was, to her, a privilege, and I guess it still is back in Malaysia where most young families have dual incomes. Ironically, you’d have to be filthy rich to be a stay-at-home mom but only so-so rich to have a foreign maid/nanny. Here in the US, it is the reverse.
“Your sister tells me you’re a wonderful mom,” she’d said to me once. It was awkward, for praise was a precious thing in my family, heck, in my country. We Malaysians have trouble accepting praise gracefully, and may tend even to think that one is being patronising and not genuine when kind words are offered. That’s just the way it is.
“I think perhaps you’re even a better mom than I ever was,” she’d added nonchalantly, something which I’d, being Malaysian to the core, had rejected profusely not only because it wasn’t true, but because I found it really sad as well, that my mother thought my half-arsed efforts at being a SAHM would always be looked upon as being more dedicated than what she had to go through when my sis and I were kids as a working mother. There were no maids in her time, and even if there were, we couldn’t afford one on two teachers’ salaries.
“This is all I do now, so I’d better do it well,” I’d told Mom that day, a little pensively. It was true. Lokes asks me, sometimes, why I’m such a stickler for rules and schedules and, like, breakfast means pancakes, not pizza. Because this is what I’ve chosen to do. If I were still a journalist or an editor, I’d still be a stickler for rules and schedules and eat pancakes for breakfast if it meant doing my job well.
People are always making fun of “supermoms”, painting this really anal-retentive, OCD “Bree Vanderkamp”, Stepford-wife type who drinks in secret and has sex with her best friend’s husband and has everything set on the clock, even Tuesday sex nights (I prefer Sunday afternoons). Seriously, nobody thinks it’s funny when I’m anal retentive and OCD about crunching the numbers and making sure my magazine survives another six months. Oh wait. Then the joke’s about how I’m a sucky mom for being more interested in my career than my kids.
Ah. What do they call it? The Mommy Wars?
This whole Working Moms vs Stay-at-home Moms debate is an old one, but once in a while, it resurfaces like a willful child to nudge and poke us into finally giving it the attention it truly does not deserve. Working moms will always feel guilty about not being home for their kids, whether or not we SAHMs remind them, and we SAHMs will always feel resentful and jealous because delayed gratification isn’t all that fun. We try to be mature about it, think about how our kids will appreciate the scrapbooks upon scrapbooks we’ve filled with billions of dollars of crafty rubbish and pictures from the moment they’re born, and how healthy and well-adjusted (hah!) they’d turned out JUST because we’d been around between 3-5pm everyday, preparing their after-school snack without fail, driving them to and from art class, dance school, track, baseball, soccer, gym, paying our full attention to all the adolescent drama that would put any mid-day soap to shame.
In the mean time, working moms have to contend with stories of the drama from their nannies, all the while feeling jealous and shameful for not having been around to hear these things first-hand, berating themselves to their husbands in bed, “Oh, what kind of mom am I? What kind of parents are we that we have to listen to messages of our kids’ problems from our nannies like some message service?!”
You’ve gotta admit it – it makes a great topic. Gets people all riled up for nothing because there is no resolution. Because there’s no problem. Moms will work and moms will stay at home and some moms will even do both. We will strive to do it all, and do it all well. Forever and ever, Amen.
Because it is all we do.
That’s why we’re magnificent.