My son goes to a baby class every Saturday. Many times I join him, but the nature of my work sometimes requires me to work on weekends. So there have been times when only my husband goes, or Leizl, Jan’s trusty Tita-yaya.
Last Saturday, I was there, after many Saturdays not being there. The teacher assistant, with a bright smile, told me: “So good to see you today, Mommy! I guess you have no work today! It must be so hard for you when you have to work on weekends.” I think she meant nothing by it, of course, but it gnawed on me nonetheless. I felt reproached, attacked, and — most of all — guilty. Because, well, I realized that it has NOT been particularly hard for me when I have to work on weekends.
In 2019 in the Philippines, or at least in the urban middle-class section of it, work-away-from-home moms (my boss gently corrected me when I described non-stay at home moms as Working Moms, because all moms are working moms 😊) are the norm. Women don’t get judged for pursuing careers. But it seems that women still get judged for loving their careers or overtly coveting professional success. It’s like, yes ok you can work, but please be pained about it, please fulfill our social expectation of you as a reluctant, agonizing, guilty career woman. (In contrast, men are told to be as driven and as ambitious as they can possibly be.)
See, I love my job. I love it with a passion. I like that I am able to help influence national policy and legislation, particularly for women and children. I know myself enough to know that I cannot be a SAHM — I don’t have the patience for it and honestly, I can only read Green Eggs and Ham a maximum of two times a day (I do not like it Sam-I-Am..) before I go crazy. And yes, I do recognize the privileges I enjoy that allow me to pursue the things I pursue, and I know that these privileges are not available to a lot of women.
Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s super important to be present in your child’s life. I won’t miss any of his milestones. I’m happy to take a leave from work if he falls sick. I’ll cheer wildly at all his sports games (or spelling bees or master chef competitions). But I’m also going to put on my office clothes and high heels with a pep in my step, not with a huge albatross around my heart.
There’s this famous commercial in the Philippines that asks “para kanino ka bumabangon?” (Who do you wake up for?). And it suggests that people wake up and slug it out in the rat race for their family and the people they love. I’ve always felt ambivalent about that commercial because, well, I wake up for my family, but I also wake up for myself. I wake up to a new day to make me a better person, to be part of the conversations that matter, to improve and develop the parts of me that aren’t necessarily mommy.
And, at the end of the day, doesn’t THAT make me a better mommy?