A few weeks ago, I found myself rubbing a strained back, while contemplating a few dozen cardboard boxes, spilling with myriad possessions. My family and I had just shifted residence and while the bigger home was welcome, the sense of being uprooted, was downright disturbing. Over the days and weeks, while I got back to arranging cupboards, emptying out the boxes, and deciding what went where, there was an almost palpable sense of shaping and creating a living space imbued with warmth. A feeling that this apartment was slowly but surely turning into “home”.
That got me thinking. What is it that binds the woman so closely to the sense of “being home”? Why are bachelor pads the butt of jokes, almost as if they can’t be anything more than functional places of stay? And what is it with mothers, that transforms a space with walls and ceiling, from house to home?
Keepers of memories:
“You can’t possibly throw my old soft toys” was the plaintive wail over the phone, from my now grown-up teenager, studying engineering, hundreds of miles away. The tall, bearded young man can dismiss tech troubles and maths equations with ease, but will turn into a 7-year old when confronted with the threat of parting with his precious old buddies of childhood. While I laughed and assured him his dear Spiderman figurine and other assorted ‘friends’ would continue to live with us, part of my mind wondered about how easily mothers slip into the role of “memory-keepers”. In my family, I get to be the person who decides about the keeping of old birthday cards, letters (yes, we still have those!), hand-written notes and little reminders of days gone by. And so there are three burgeoning bags labeled “Sentimental keepsakes”, holding varied treasures such as a favorite insect-print shirt of the sonny-boy when he was a toddler, a teddy-bear with a missing eye, painstakingly created art projects and more. I guess being the protector of the little tangible reminders of precious reminders comes with the territory of being a mom.
Strands of love:
Bidding goodbye to the previous apartment was very difficult due to the myriad of experiences and special moments that had enriched our lives for 16 long years. Would this new home hold a special place in our hearts too? I sighed and realized that when a family lives in various places in succession, no two homes can ever hold the same position in the heart. Each place is linked to a distinct palette of memories. Children are born and they grow up, moving through the years with frightening speed. Our parents leave us, moving from the earthly plane to a higher and better place. We shed our hair and gain some pounds and our faces reflect the battles lost and won in the arena of the world. And our children leave their homes, to find their own wings. Amidst these milestones, big and little, the home remains our sanctuary, the shelter where we return to find ourselves. And so, woven in our homes are strands of love and laughter. Of care and sacrifice. Of sleepless nights and faith-filled days. And again, mothers seem to gravitate towards this process of “weaving love” almost effortlessly.
Mothers are often, thus, the binding factor, transforming houses into homes. It does not matter whether the mother is the caretaker of a child with special health-needs or the mother of a potential Olympian athlete, or the mother of a daughter in a country where females are routinely treated as second-class citizens, or the mother of a little child, living in a refugee camp, trying valiantly to use lullabies and a rag doll to create the illusion of a home for her little one. Home isn’t a space alone – it is a physical space that is imbued with the most sublime of human feelings and emotions. It is the sparkling magical reaction between a safe dwelling place and a mother’s love.
No, this isn’t a political post, unless you consider that on some level every post written by a woman is a political post whether she intends it to be or not.
This is about the apocalypse, Armageddon-style chaos and anarchy that happened at my house last week. That’s right, y’all. I got sick, Influenza A to be exact.
For anyone who has not yet experienced the unique experience that is being-sick-while-mommying, please stop reading now. Or gird your loins or something because I don’t want your mom calling me and saying my post is the reason she will never have grandchildren.
I realized very quickly that no one else knew the details of our household: where underwear are kept, what time children need to leave for school in the morning, who has pool on what day and what that entails, what time dinner needs to be started to get children to bed on time, etc. I am truly both the lowly servant girl and the CEO of this organization.
Five seconds after the first epiphany, I also realized that no one else is interested in learning and remembering these details. It’s my job to be everything to all people, as far as all other people are concerned. They are “just helping.”
Convenient, that. I never agreed to be both lord and serf of this manor, but because I have been thrust into that role, I am also unable to demand excellence (to be honest I would settle for basic sufficiency) from the people around me. If I do, I’m being ungrateful.
But I don’t seem to receive much gratitude.
All of the physical and mental tasks involved in keeping a house and family going, the mental gymnastics of scheduling around other people’s needs, all of that “woman’s work,” is real labor. When mom is down, other family members realize that, but make no real effort to take any of it on for themselves long term. It isn’t an ignorance issue. Is it an entitlement issue? A laziness issue? Why should I be fielding where-is-the-swimcap phone calls when I am sick in bed?
How do we find ourselves in this position, and what can we do to relieve it? The basic truth is this: my time and labor should be just as valuable as other family members’. I should be able to be sick without the world falling apart.
What happens in your family when mom falls ill? How do others cope?
The holiday season is upon us, and that therefore means that the winds of change for the new year blow ever stronger as we draw ever closer to year end. In reflection of 2016, I cannot help but celebrate it as the year that truly was for the Woman. Yes! The Year of the Woman. I celebrate the efforts of women (and some men) across the globe to advance us towards gender equality and squashing gender roles bit by bit.
Ladies, do not get me wrong, I know we have not yet reached our final destination. We have not yet achieved all of our goals, and the road is ever-covered with blind spots. For a moment, let us simply celebrate the successes – and indeed the failures – that have shaped the plight of gender equality for 2016. So yes, let us celebrate YOU, for changing the world by loving your family and raising your kids right. It truly is the first step towards the world becoming a better place.
So, for 2017, I pledge to affirm my stance on gender equality right at home. I’ll do this by not waking up early every day all on my own, but rather letting my partner pull those early morning shifts, drive for carpool and make goodies for bake sales, in equal measure. Did you ever wonder why bake sales are primarily a mom thing? Well not anymore! At least not around here. Oh yes, ladies! I mean progressive! Equal shares of making dinner, juggling kids, and all that jazz!
This radical change goes against the traditions of my mother’s generation. A man’s position in the family is very established where I come from. But for my family, this is a new world order! I am grateful, because my husband agrees with my radical changes.
And so, committed to our resolve and in the spirit of setting an example to our brood, here is to wishing you a gender equal Christmas, and a prosperous and progressive 2017!
Wish us luck!
This is an original post written for World Moms Blog by Nancy Sumari in Tanzania.
Image credit: Tara Wambugu
The moment I saw the title of the book, I knew what the author meant. It was as if it was written for me. Black Milk by Elif Shafak, renowned novelist from Turkey, is a memoir described as ‘a thoughtful and incisive meditation on literature, motherhood, and spiritual well-being.’
Although I enjoy reading, I am not good at writing book reviews. As a lover of books, I can talk about what I read with friends, who, like me, are still amazed by the creativity of authors. I find it easy to talk about my favorite books, and the stories that stick with me, ones that I will never forget. However, writing an objective book review is something I find very challenging. Yet with Black Milk, I believe I owe mothers out there. I owe them sharing what I gleaned from reading this groundbreaking book.
Shafak wrote about herself – but it could have been about me. Me, a mother who experienced postpartum depression; a new mother who felt at a loss, and who thought that she should not feel this way; a woman who stopped doing things for herself and thought that motherhood should be more than enough; a mother who experienced fluctuations in her feelings 100 times a day; a woman who did not really understand what was going on.
Black Milk describes those ups and downs encountered by many new mothers, especially those experiencing anxiety about the huge change they’ve embarked upon – those mothers who overthink things and believe that they should be able to control the world, and not stop and ‘relax’ for a moment and ‘blend’ with the world.
In the book, Shafak has many inner conversations with her ‘Thumbelinas,’ who each represent aspect of herself. These tiny ladies are constantly fighting, trying to overcome one another to be the dominant part of her personality. Shafak is very objective in writing about them, and instead of hating them, you feel the opposite. In writing about the competing characteristics within, she seeks to find some kind of unifying identity for herself.
Shafak writes about western female writers as well, including Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, Simone de Beauvoir, and Alice Walker. She explores their lives, the way they found balance between being writers and mothers, or the way some of them chose one role over the other. In these women’s lives, Shafak seeks balance between her life as an artist, and her new life as a mother.
Being a mother and a writer means seeking some sense of self, besides the role of motherhood. The same applies to any personal career or decision a mother takes. Such a choice was not common in the West until recently, and it is still not acceptable in many eastern societies to this day. Thus this subject, though some might consider it a personal issue, is more of a political one that is affected by patriarchal societies. Elif Shafak does not make judgements, and why should she – this is a subject that has no right or wrong to it. The ability to choose and be respected for whatever choices you make should be totally acceptable.
Shafek’s book touched me, as a mother, a writer, and a woman. I really identified with her struggle, her experience with postpartum depression, and her personal crisis as she adapted to motherhood.
How do you find balance between your own personal well-being and the demands of motherhood? What books have inspired you on your journey?
This is an original post for World Moms Network by Ibtisam Alwardi of Oman.
Photo courtesy of Raúl Hernández González / Flickr.
In the Philippines, we have a saying that the mother is “ilaw ng tahanan.” In English, it’s literal meaning is “the light of the home.” Beautiful thought, right? It conjures up images of a well-made home, filled with laughter and warmth and hope.
It’s nice and meaningful. In fact, I think it’s sometimes a far-fetched notion, because honestly most times I feel I am the polar opposite. It’s hard to feel like “the light of the home” when — like me — you feel like a looming cloud of darkness, failure and hopelessness. I know I’ve felt this way many times, especially in the past year when our family situation was shaken up from its very core.
We have had a tough past six to seven months in our family. When my husband lost his job at the end of 2015, we knew we were going to have to make some big changes as a family. Perhaps the most heart-wrenching part of this episode was saying goodbye to our rental home of five years. I remember my son crying huge tears for several days as he saw his bedroom being packed away little by little, and our house gradually emptied of its furnishings… and most of all, his memories. I felt as though we had let him down.
It’s a common setup in the Philippines to go to family when a situation has gone awry, and that’s what we did.
It just so happened that my mom’s guest house out back had been made available, and I humbly asked my parents if we could stay in that house until we could sort things out. “You can stay as long as you need to,” my mother said, and she meant it. It’s been six or seven months since we moved in, and every day she assures me of the same thing.
And there, I see what it means when a mother is the light of the home. Because for me, my mother restores my hopes each day. We’re still working to get back on our feet, and her encouragement for us remains constant. There is nothing but acceptance and love for myself, my husband and our two young children here in this tiny little home in our childhood garden and backyard. I’m reminded every day of the goodness of my parents, and the Filipino sense of family in which our people so pride themselves. A “light of the home” isn’t something whimsical or aspirational. A mother is a light to her home when she restores hope to a darkened situation or state. No mention of keeping a perfect house or a spotless kitchen!
Maybe you’re not feeling much like a “light of the home,” dear mama reading this today. It’s OK. Like candles, we all get snuffed out at times; we get burned out and we get spent. It’s times like these that we have permission to rely on our fellow moms: friends, our actual mothers, mother figures.
There is nothing more powerful than women helping women, mothers helping mothers. In a matter of time, our light can shine again, brighter than ever.
This is an original post by Martine De Luna for World Moms Blog. Martine is a Manila-based writer and consultant for women in digital (bloggers, online entrepreneurs). Find her regularly on Instagram @martinedeluna and on her blog, makeitblissful.com
When I was a teenager/young adult I wanted to change the world (as it happens with so many youngsters). And changing the world usually meant Doing Big Things.
Now, three kids and more than twenty years later, my saving the world efforts seem so distant. I grapple with alternating days when I stay home with the kids, sorting socks and washing dishes, and days teaching classes at the university, advising students’ research, and trying to do some research of my own.
At one point of my life I thought my career would be in the non-profit sector; i.e., I would be a professional environmentalist, forever. By then my volunteering efforts had evolved into parallel paying jobs related to social-environmental issues, and this kind of lifestyle went on for 12+ years.
I continued on to graduate school not because I wanted to become an academic, but because I thought it would be a great addition to what I already did. I found it exciting to go from project to project, often working on more than one at once. I felt almost repulsed by the thought of staying in the same job for the rest of my life, always doing the same thing. I even got a certain thrill from not knowing where my salary would come from after the current project ended.
My husband (who worked for the same NGO) was not as thrilled and dreamed of the day at least one of us would have a more stable job. Since I was already on the academic path in one way or the other, that person became me.
When I first became a professor I wasn’t overjoyed. Although I love to do research, teaching is a different story and it was very hard in the beginning. At this point I already had three children and the “saving the world” type of projects were in the past. Another dream that I tried to pursue (to become a professional writer) had also been buried. I sadly realized I wasn’t really passionate about anything anymore – except, of course, my kids.
By this time my husband had gotten a relatively stable government job, although he didn’t really love it. We were finally okay financially and we were living a comfortable life. Nevertheless, we began to question ourselves about our choices.
Were we still living according to the same principles we followed when we first met (especially in relation to the environment)? Were we fleeing our responsibility of making a difference in the world? Had we left our ideals aside for modern, middle class comforts? Were we still being true to our dreams?
At first I had a good excuse to avoid these issues because two of our kids were very small and I had to deal with all of the related motherhood issues. In parallel, I tried to make the most of my job focusing on the good things: stability, flexible hours, and the possibility of quantity time with my children even if that meant doing a lot of work at night and during the weekend. I told myself (and I still do), that there are many means to make a difference, even if in “small” ways.
After all, in practice, there are no real big things. Big things take place in small steps and often need more than one person involved. Also, what seems like small, local things, often involve a lot of work and may have a greater impact on the world than expected. No wonder one of the most popular environmentalist mottos is, “Think global, act local”.
Today, in my attempts to continue to be of service to the world, I try (for example) to be a good listener to my students because sometimes I sense they are more in need of a friendly ear than anything else. A great number of students suffer from depression and other related disorders, for instance. And it’s not that I serve as a psychologist or anything, but I frequently feel that just treating them kindly and making an effort to advise them extra well regarding academic issues makes a significant difference.
Yet the fact is, regardless of how we do in our present jobs, the sort of questions I listed before has been haunting us for the past few years. Now that our youngest is past three, these questions have resurfaced. The biggest issue that remains is how to be true to our dreams and ideals while at the same time guaranteeing enough food on the table (and healthcare, and a good education etc., etc.)?
This post will be continued in Part 2.
Please share your story below on how you have managed (or not) to follow your dreams, personally and professionally.
This post was inspired by two other posts: “Surviving the turmoil” and “My frame world”.
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Ecoziva in Brazil.
Photo credit to Claremont Colleges Digital Library. This photo has a creative commons attribute license.