As farmers or traders, African women were historically known to be active economic players on the home front. Polygamy and communal living enabled women to be both child bearers as well as financially independent.
By the 20th century, western notions of a ‘traditional’ nuclear family was introduced, where the father went out for work and the mother stayed home to be a full-time homemaker. This soon became the aspired standard among the privileged and highly educated. Even when mothers worked at all, they worked at jobs with shorter hours such as teaching and secretarial positions, and these, only with their husbands’ ‘permission’.
Traditional Gender Roles
It wasn’t very long before the flaws in this system became obvious. Traditional gender roles that hindered women’s personal aspirations became unsustainable. More feminists and trailblazers began to assert their right to make their own choices. However, this progress has been achieved with an often-unacknowledged consequence. Some women began to disdain those to willfully chose to be full-time housewives. It appears that childcare and housework are looked down upon as unskilled labour. And less privileged women who do such jobs for a living are underpaid and overlooked (This is a whole other topic, in fact!). For this reason, modern women who choose to be stay-at-home mums are often regarded as unserious or unambitious.
Being a stay-at-home mum
Until 2016, I was a full-time stay-at-home mum. I had been married for just over a year, and I had a baby under one. Having gotten married straight out of school, I hadn’t started on any career path. So, there I was, a full-time homemaker, with a baby, a big house to look after, and no job in sight. In addition, I had a domestic help doing the bulk of the housework while I cooked the meals and oversaw things.
Before long, the lectures started. ‘You need to go find a job and stop being a liability to your husband’, some said. Some others came under the guise of concern for my dignity and safety saying, ‘If you don’t make your own money, your husband will not respect you and you won’t have any say in your home’. When I replied saying that I wanted to be available to raise my son myself, a regular response was that ‘You’re not the first to be a mother now. How will your son respect you if you don’t have a career?’
Caught in the middle of the drama, I was torn between those who encouraged me to take my time and resist the pressure to get a job for its own sake and those who made me feel stupid and less than for not applying for every job advertisement under the sun. I knew I would eventually start a career, but I couldn’t understand why a choice, either way, made me more or less worthy of respect.
Raising a family is serious business
I’m a work-from-home mum now, running my home while holding down a job. I don’t think I am better than the woman who doesn’t. Raising the next generation is serious business, no small matter at all. And not everyone wants to or can afford to outsource the job. You may have the resources to do both, but you should recognise that as the exception. You might also want to admit that there might be one or two people you are not quite giving their due credit, such as your child’s nanny and/or school teacher. It has always taken a village to raise a child, and the modern world hasn’t changed that fact yet.
More importantly, you need to respect the life choices of women who choose differently from you. You may have some sound reasons for disagreeing with a choice to stay home. However true respect has never been dependent on agreement. It is enough to acknowledge that we are all important to the growth of our women, children, and whole economies. We need the support and respect of one another. This is how we make our world safer and richer than it was yesterday. We are all enough.