Commentary: Can Mums Still Fulfill Their Dreams?

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Commentary: Can Mums Still Fulfill Their Dreams?

Releasing the weight of expectations

By June Yong | 30 April 2021

Are you a SAHM, WAHM, FTWM or PTWM?

No matter which acronym best describes you now, do you feel like you’ve had to press pause on personal aspirations and your career to tend to the needs of your family and children?

PTWMs, do you feel sidelined by your employers because you’ve chosen to step down somewhat in your role, or simply not take on too much, just so you can maintain your sanity and energy level to better serve those you love?

FTWMs, do you feel the heat and strain of trying to balance both worlds on your shoulders while carrying the extra burden of mummy guilt at missing out important information or school events?

No matter how hard we work at all fronts, there is bound to be a ball that is dropped occasionally (a missed work project deadline or overlooking an important test), and mums, we know how hard we can be on ourselves to get it right all of the time.

Whether we work in or out of the home, we tend to be our own harshest critic. We often feel like people are judging us, at how well we are doing in the professional world and also in the domestic realm.

Why is there so much invisible pressure on us?

Mums, we know how hard we can be on ourselves to get it right all of the time.

The baby effect on working mothers

According to data published by the Pew Research Centre, mothers were much more likely to report experiencing significant career interruptions than fathers in order to attend to their families.

They were also more likely to report that these interruptions had a negative impact on their career, compared to men. While they may have no regrets making the leap out of the boardroom and into the kitchen, they acknowledge that this puts them at a disadvantage at achieving their professional aspirations in the long run.

At the same time, there is a societal ideal that is often seen in the media – the elusive woman who has it all, who can look glamorous and put together, be assertive in the boardroom, while enjoying good relationships with her children and husband.

When we scroll through social media feeds, we often wonder why we don’t have the same “good life”, no matter how innocuous that thought may seem. It is no wonder then that we begin to doubt our ability to ever achieve that level of “success” and feel disgruntled at the sacrifices we’ve made.

Instead of acknowledging the fruits of our labour where we sow, we feel like masters of mediocrity, and wonder if (and how) we could ever pursue the dreams we once held dear.

No need to pigeon-hole mums

Yet not every woman has such industrious and lofty aspirations outside the home. Some of us feel the calling to be truly and fully at home, caring full-time for our children, pouring our creative energy into making the home a warm and inviting space, and preparing wholesome meals or delicious bakes.

Do we sometimes feel less worthy than our career-focused counterparts?

Do we wonder if our education is going to waste?

To be fair, the work-home divide may not be so clear in this technological age, especially post-2020 with the new norm of working-from-home. Many “stay home” mothers I know have started online businesses or are actively volunteering their skills and talents with various organisations. Their circles of influence extend beyond the home. Yet others have taken steps to hone their professional skills, or augment their skill sets with new ones.

It is clear that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to women’s work. And women are often creatively and intentionally carving their own niches in life, whether building a business or honing a skill, particularly as their children grow older and more independent.

Is it time that we shift the narrative from an either...or..., to both...and...?

Women are often creatively and intentionally carving their own niches in life, whether building a business or honing a skill, particularly as their children grow older and more independent.

Knowing ourselves and our strengths

Nobody appreciates being told what to do or not to do with their lives. (Just ask parents of teenagers; this particular penchant for autonomy might ring exceptionally true.)

We may hold a first-class honours degree in (fill in the blank) but if our desire to be home and nurture our young ones exceeds that of climbing up the ranks in the corporate world, we shouldn’t feel bad or ashamed about stepping out of the workplace, or second-guess our choices.

Whether our goals lie within the home or in the professional domain, cultivating a close circle of like-minded mums may be helpful. With the support of peers who neither feel threatened by our desire to pursue our goals, nor judgmental of our decision to stay home, we can muster the courage to carve a brand of success that is unique to us.

Likewise, we can be such a friend and cheerleader to other mothers too. And perhaps it is within such authentic community that we learn it isn’t just a job title or payslip that accords our lives meaning and value, but how we tackle the challenges we’re facing, the relationships we forge, and the small ways we contribute our talents to better our world.

Maybe it is in accepting our limits, while also recognising our unique strengths and using them to make an impact – starting with those dearest to us – that we can truly embrace motherhood and life, with all its paradoxes and imperfections.

As for the question, “Can we still fulfill our dreams?” Perhaps the answer is already clear. We can still dream dreams, and chase our aspirations, and there will be hurdles to cross when we get there.

Meanwhile, let’s give ourselves credit that we are doing all we can for our family and children, and that is enough – for now.

© 2021 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.

Dear Mum, when was the last time you dreamt for yourself? Today, take some time to rediscover your dreams, motherhood, and ultimately your story. Try the guided tool for mums at www.family.org.sg/MumandMore.

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