The other day, a fellow mom and I were seated outside, basking in the warm Kenyan sunshine as our children played. We both have two sons, each aged 3 years and 5 years. Our boys were playing in a group of 11 children – six girls and five boys.
Their play area was quite muddy and so were their shoes, as it had rained just a few hours before. But as the weather changed from the warm sunshine into a windy, cloudy affair, with signs of the skies soon opening up again, we instructed the children to each wipe the mud off their shoes before proceeding into the house. Time for play was up!
While the girls immediately began wiping the mud off their shoes, the boys continued running around, begging for more time in the playing field. They even argued that it would ‘be much more fun’ to play in the rain. Their joy lasted for a few more minutes before they finally gave up, realizing that we were not going to relent. They then sat down, disappointed, but nevertheless ready to begin wiping the mud off their feet. But it really got my neighbor and I thinking.
No sooner had the boys begun working on their shoes, than the girls swiftly started doing it for them. Quite effortlessly, they asked the boys to relax, that they would do clean the mud off their shoes for them.
That surprised us!
Our instructions had been very clear – that each child was to wipe the mud off their own shoes.
But it happened so mechanically, so swiftly, that the girls, aged between 5 – 8 years, took it upon themselves to wipe not only their own shoes, but those of the boys too. And to be honest, the boys looked like they were not going to protest the offer at their disposal. Even though we quickly stopped the girls from going ahead and instructed the boys to undertake the chore themselves, it got us thinking: why do women (and girls) instinctively feel the need to wait on boys and men? Is it automatic? Are we born with it? Is it in our DNA? Or perhaps it’s cultural? Could it be how we were raised? Are we raising our daughters this way? Or is this how we are raising our sons: to be more than accepting to have girls and women always wait on them?
The episode took me back to a conversation that I had recently with my colleagues. Why does it happen that when in meetings, when tea time arrives, many women feel the urge to serve the men tea, even though they are all equals in that meeting? Even when she doesn’t feel like it, she just feels as though it’s her responsibility to do so?
When a fellow board member says he is thirsty and could do with a glass of water, why is it almost always that the woman will unconsciously rise up to pour the man a glass of water, and not only stop there but go ahead to ask other men around the room if they’ll have some water too, then pour it for them? Why do we impulsively feel the need to serve men, even when it’s not necessary to do so? Is it something that we learn from our childhood? Is it instilled in us?
The incident of our sons and their girl playmates was quite revealing, I must say. How are we raising our daughters? How are we raising our sons?
This is an original post for World Moms Network by Maryanne Waweru-Wanyama of Mummy Tales in Kenya.
Photo courtesy of Women Deliver / Flickr.
There’s a reality that’s been gnawing at me for a long time. I’m talking about the pressures that face women – unwanted pressures from society.
As soon as you hit the age of 25, people start asking, “When will you get married?” After your wedding they will ask, “When is ‘our’ firstborn arriving?” If your firstborn child is a baby girl, they will ask, “So when are you giving ‘us’ a boy?” And if your firstborn is a boy, they will ask you, “When are you giving ‘us’ a second child?” Even if you are lucky enough to give them all of that, they will demand a third, fourth and fifth child, because you must give them a namesake. In my African culture, we name our children after our relatives. It is a great honor to have a child named after you. Therefore, every relative will constantly put pressure on you to have more children so that you can give them a namesake.
In my country, there is a certain celebrity news anchor who recently married an equally famous gospel musician. The wedding was in December of last year, just eight short months ago. Since then, the public has been DEMANDING that the lovely couple give them a child. The public reacted horribly when the woman recently shared an old photo of herself on social media. It was a throwback photo of herself as a teenager in high school, reminiscing of the good times she had in her youth. The photo somehow made it to a popular online entertainment and gossip site, and the comments that followed the post were shocking.
“Stop showing us photos of your past, we want to see photos of you pregnant!” the commentators yelled.
“So now you are showing us photos of when you were a girl? Why not of now? Are you trying to hide something? Are you barren?” another asked.
“Give your husband a child now otherwise he will go looking elsewhere,” another said.
“If you’re having problems getting pregnant, inbox me. I’ll sort you out,” another offered.
Hundreds of comments followed, all of a similar nature.
It made me sad. Why does society put so much pressure on people? On couples? On women? What if the couple is not able to have a child? Or if they have been trying, unsuccessfully? What if they have suffered pregnancy loss – something they may not want to openly talk about? Or if they do not even want a child in the first place? Is it the public’s business? Society’s business? Their relatives’ business? Or is it between the husband and wife?
Seriously, as women, we have a lot to deal with, and we do not need societal pressure adding to our nightmares. Unfortunately, that is exactly what we face. In a society where a woman’s worth is valued by her reproductive prowess, it is indeed sad. In my culture, a woman may have achieved many notable feats and broken the glass ceilings over her head, but if she is not married (or, even worse, does not have a child), then she may just be nothing. Society will be harsh on her. That is, if they even recognize her.
But you know what else is interesting? Who is this society that we are talking about? Who are these people?
It is you and me. Us. We are the society. We are the same people who, when we meet a friend who got married over a year ago, will, while shaking her hand, be staring at her belly, trying to catch a glimpse of how swollen it is. Or whether it is swollen at all. Sometimes we do it consciously, sometimes we don’t even notice we are doing it. It just comes naturally. And then we talk with our other girlfriends saying “Lucy is not getting any younger, I wonder when she’s planning to start having babies.” That’s the pressure I’m talking about.
We all need to be a lot more sensitive to what fellow women go through. I hope you and I can make the difference.
This is an original post for World Moms Network by Maryanne Waweru-Wanyama of Mummy Tales in Kenya.
Photo courtesy of Frank Douwes / Flickr.
Over a sumptuous dinner with my girlfriends last weekend, we naturally got talking about our children. One of us had just enrolled for an eight-week programme specifically for ‘Mothers with Sons’.
For a cost of about $150 USD, with learning taking place once a week (Saturdays) for two hours, the course teaches how to raise our sons into fine young gentlemen. This is a good idea, if you ask me, because there is something about the crop of young men that we are increasingly seeing in Kenyan society today –men who are not as ambitious or focused as their fathers were, and men who would rather take the back seat as women take up the role of being the heads of the home.
In Africa, and I believe the much of the rest of the world, it is traditionally men who take up the leadership of the home. However, we are nowadays seeing more and more female-headed households.
This is due to a myriad of reasons, one of them being the fact that some men are just not willing to take up that kind of responsibility. This leads to the question: how were these men raised as boys? Weren’t our core values of hard work, discipline, consistency and responsibility instilled in them by their parents? This, I suppose, forms the rationale of such a programme that my friends and I were discussing last weekend.
The majority of moms who attend the programme are urban moms – career women who have enviable corporate or NGO jobs or run their own businesses. They are in their thirties to mid-forties, with their children mostly below the age of 12 years. These are women who receive updates from Baby Center and other informative parenting sites on how best to raise children. They attend First Aid courses and other related programmes about parenting. Some of these programmes are church-based, while others are sponsored by brands that seek out these types of moms and their children. Keen on learning different things about raising their children, you’ll find many urban moms today engrossed in courses and informative material about how to best raise their children.
But as my friends and I asked ourselves over dinner – do we pass on all we learn to the people who are helping us raise our children, specifically our housekeepers and nannies? In Kenya, most middle and upper-income families employ housekeepers and nannies to help with the domestic chores and take care of the children. They are the ones who actually spend a significant amount of time with the children during the day.
With all the demands of today’s modern woman – challenging jobs that require them to leave their homes at the crack of dawn and return at about 9pm – after spending hours in the traffic jam, or checking on their small business after work, or attending their Masters’ degree programme in the evening, attending a business meeting, or even having cocktails with the girls. By the time these modern women get home, the children are already asleep. On Saturdays, these women are busy running errands or attending weddings or baby showers/bridal showers, parenting classes and other such engagements and once again, return home late in the evening. Sunday is the only day where they get to spend time with their children.
So six days per week, it is essentially the nannies who are ‘raising’ their children. Nannies actually spend more time with their children than the moms do. So my girlfriends and I wondered, do these moms then pass on the information that they learn in their expensive courses, parenting newsletters and websites to the nannies? If the nannies are the ones spending the most time with the children, should we not focus on giving them the wealth of information we seek out about raising children? We didn’t get an answer, but I hope we will sometime.
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by World Mom, Maryanne Waweru-Wanyama of Kenya of Mummy Tales.
Photo courtesy of Michal Huniewicz / Flickr.
World Mom, Maryanne Waweru-Wanyama, and her son.
I began blogging when I was eight months pregnant with my first son, in March 2011. As a 32 year-old who had worked in both, the media and the development fields, for a decade, I considered myself ‘very well-knowledgeable about stuff’ and thought I knew all there was to know about pregnancy and motherhood.
But in those eight months, I had soon discovered that I really didn’t know much. This is because I would always have so many questions about the pregnancy – very simple, but yet, difficult questions that not even the internet could answer. At each gynecologist’s appointment, I would always have tens of questions for my doctor who thankfully was patient enough to answer them all.
But even then, there are questions that the doctor could not answer satisfactorily. I needed to hear from someone who’d gone through what I was going through, and hence, I would find myself asking many mums about their experiences and if what I was going through was normal – you know – the weird cravings, the forgetfulness, the clumsiness, the sleepiness and extreme laziness that I felt. Had they also gone through the same, or was there something wrong with me?
As the pregnancy neared the end, I asked them about their birth experiences, and if they, too, had felt anxious about labor, and how they had dealt with this fear. It always felt better having their support in my journey to motherhood.
Then my son came in April 2011. That was when it really dawned on me that it does indeed take a village to raise a child. Motherhood comes with no manual, and new motherhood can be completely confusing and overwhelming –especially if you don’t have a good support network.
My mum, mother-in-law, sisters, aunts, cousins and friends were on my speed dial as I asked them hundreds of questions a day. Then there was also my paediatrician, too, who thankfully, would also always offer the expert bit.
When I started my blog, Mummy Tales, at home in Kenya, it was about my own motherhood chronicles, but as my readership grew, my inbox would be filled with pregnant women and new mums asking me the same questions that I, myself, had asked when I was in their situation.
And the more my blog grew, the more women wrote in about their experiences with fertility struggles, miscarriages, still births, neonatal sepsis and more. Some I would answer, while others I would get the answers from doctors then share the responses with my readers.
With time, readers began sending me their experiences, asking me to post on my blog for the benefit of fellow women and mums.
This exchange of information enriched me too, and I realized that many women had undergone unfortunate pregnancy and childbirth experiences because they lacked adequate information. I remember one woman who had lost her pregnancy at 25 weeks due to high-blood pressure issues.
“It was only after I saw a story on your blog about a young woman who had died from eclampsia that I came to understand that I had actually been lucky to survive. In my next pregnancy, I paid more attention to everything I was going through, religiously attended all my antenatal clinics and paid attention to my pressure and urine levels during each visit, unlike before. I also became very keen on unusual swelling on my face, hands and feet. This time round, I asked the nurses many questions unlike in my first pregnancy. Even though I still developed pre-eclampsia again, I knew both my baby and I would survive because I was more informed. I was put on medication until the end of my pregnancy, and delivered a healthy baby. Thank God I had become more knowledgeable because of the article I read on your blog,” she told me.
Some of the most common questions I receive on my blog are about the warning signs in pregnancy, foods to eat and avoid during pregnancy, how to prepare for the birth experience and how to generally maintain a healthy pregnancy. I also get lots of questions about breastfeeding, weaning and baby’s nutrition. The answers I give come from my own personal experiences, the experiences of fellow readers, as well as the input of experts.
My blog today is an information hub with real-life practical experiences of motherhood. The ‘tales’ are relatable and as an online community, we are raising our children together, learning together, saving lives of both, mothers and children, and raising healthy babies together. My goal is to ensure that women and babies survive pregnancy and childbirth, and that mothers go on to enjoy the blessing of motherhood, by putting authentic information in their hands.
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by World Mom, Maryanne Waweru-Wanyama of Kenya of Mummy Tales.
Photo credit to the author and World Moms Blog.
Last Sunday, my closest friend became a mother for the first time. It has been excitement galore from all the people who know her: her family, her friends, her colleagues, neighbors, acquaintances, and just about everybody.
When I visited her in hospital, I found myself giving her all kinds of advice about motherhood from breastfeeding, to weaning, to walking, to teething, all that and more.
Then I quickly told her that I would add her to some Facebook groups that would be of great help to her as a new mum. I began by adding her to a group that is exclusive to Kenyan mums who are breastfeeding. As I did so, I amused myself at how Kenyan mums have turned Facebook into their go-to resource center.
There are plenty of Facebook groups by and for Kenyan mums whose membership constitutes a certain phase of the motherhood journey.
For example, when one is trying to conceive, there is a group to join. When she conceives, she then swiftly moves on to a group for pregnant mums. Once she has her baby, she moves on to the next group –that of breastfeeding mums. After that its a group dedicated to weaning, and where nutrition advice is offered –by fellow mums.
Then there are also larger groups made up of Kenyan mums with babies of whatever age, a general group where everything about motherhood is discussed. From schools, to detergents, to diapers, to cooking fat, tissue paper, to the very critical issue of house girls (nannies). Everything goes. Each of these groups have thousands of members, with one even having slightly over 90,000 members!
I have been in all of these groups, and I am still members in some of them.
In the traditional African setting of the past, new mums were guided into the motherhood journey by the older women around them: their mothers, their aunts, their grandmothers, older cousins and female neighbors.
However, in today’s society some of these traditional fabrics are slowly ebbing away.
More women have to work to supplement the family income, which leaves little option for staying at home to look after the children. In fact, we are seeing less and less of the special interactions between generations of women when it comes to raising her child.
Consequently, we are turning to our friends, our online friends, most of them strangers, for advice that would otherwise have been given to us by our ‘African mothers.’ Combine that with modern technology where access to the internet in many African urban cities is growing, and accessing information and connecting with mums online becomes inevitable.
Sometimes when I think about it, I believe it’s unfortunate, especially for those of us who live in the urban towns, that we no longer have easy access to those traditional pieces of motherhood advice that we would have received directly from our mothers. But, in turn, we are grateful about how the internet has made our parenting journeys significantly easier for our modern lifestyles. Because, it truly has. But, it is only natural to wonder if we may be missing out on something lost.
How has online motherhood support played into your experience as a mother?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by contributor Maryanne Waweru-Wanyama of Kenya.
Photo credit of Kenyan women to the author.
Quote image credit to World Moms Blog.
Where in the world do you live? And, are you from there?
I am in Kenya, East Africa. I live in the capital city of Nairobi. This is my home country, and I have lived here all my life.
What language(s) do you speak?
I communicate in fluent English and Swahili, which is our national language.
When did you first become a mother?
I first became a mother in April 2011 when I had my first son. I became a mother for the second time in April 2013 with the birth of my second son.
Are you a stay-at-home mom or do you do other work inside or outside the home?
I work as a freelance journalist, so most of the time I work from home.
Why do you blog/write?
I blog because I have a passion for informing and educating people (hence my journalism work). I specifically blog about motherhood because there is so much information that we moms could do with. Especially, because there is no manual to motherhood, you just learn things along the way. So why not learn together and from each other?
How would you say that you are different from other mothers?
I really can’t say I am different from other mothers, as I see that we all go through the same challenges and have the same desire to give the best to our children. I can only say that I am extremely passionate about ensuring that our experiences and our learning moments as mothers are captured somewhere. I try to capture these moments on my blog.
What do you view as the challenges of raising a child in today’s world?
For me it has got to be the fact that we are living in a very individualistic world, especially we who live in urban areas. Long ago, it was the entire village that would raise a child, but nowadays children are raised by their parents alone (and some are raised solely by the nannies as parents are too busy with work). When I was growing up, I knew all the homesteads within a 10 km radius, and could name all members of each household.
But that is not the same nowadays, where even knowing your next door neighbour is too much work! Society is so busy, with technology (computers, cell phones, video games) lessening the interaction of both parents and children. I fear my sons may never enjoy what ‘communal parenting’ is like.
How did you find World Moms Blog?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Maryanne Waweru-Wanyama of Mummy Tales.
Photo credit to the author.