“Doctor, Judge, Housewife”. Three blank lines, three responses. The following year, we received the same form to fill in. Without thinking, I jot down, “Lawyer, Housewife, Doctor.” No matter what I picked, “housewife” always tumbled forth as one of the three choices. I was in elementary school then, and my choice of aspired vocations has evolved over the years. You would think that I would have outgrown those childhood ambitions by now.
Yet here I am, twenty something years later, a housewife, or rather, a stay-at-home mother. You know how they say you become what you envision yourself to be? Well, I suppose that was what happened to me. In my subconscious, I aspired to be a full-time mother, and without knowing it, I actually strove to reach that aspiration. However, I also indirectly achieved my other childhood aspirations, for I am also a doctor, lawyer and judge. What mother isn’t?
Of course, growing up, “housewife” was never deemed to be a valid ambition. Who would want to be one when you could be an engineer or a doctor? In my high school years, I toiled, under my father’s constant urging, to achieve superb grades so I could pursue medicine and become a doctor just like him. I was convinced that was what I wanted to be.
However, when the time came, I had a change of heart, much to my father’s consternation. He then made sure I received sufficient career advice from his friends. After all the consultations, Computer Science was deemed to be a promising field for me to take up. Thinking only of studying overseas, I acquiesced to the suggestion. They were right. In the years to come, computer scientists were in high demand, but there was one problem: I no longer wanted to be one.
I married at the age of nineteen, in my second year of college. Six months later, my husband and I flew to the United States to complete our bachelor’s degrees under a government loan program for Malaysian students. Little did I know then that the course of my entire life was soon to change from what was expected of me by my family and country.
As soon as I set foot in the United States, my life began as that of a pregnant, foreign, undergraduate student. Acrobatic slips on ice patches, trudges through knee-high snow, prenatal visits to the doctor between classes, and struggles to fit my growing belly into campus seats were common challenges I faced. Suffice it to say, I never envisioned pregnancy as being part of the equation in my college years.
That summer, I was introduced to the world of motherhood, at the green age of twenty. Where I thought life was challenging before, it became even more so as the baby I had carried for nine months demanded my attention outside the womb twenty four/seven. My life as a student then began to take a path that very much differed from those of my friends’. While they spent laborious hours in the computer labs working on programming assignments, I spent just as many hours bathing, nursing and putting my daughter to sleep so I could do my assignments. While they struggled with group projects, I struggled trying to keep up with my daughter’s doctor appointments and the overwhelming information on childhood ailments and safety precautions.
Every morning, my husband and I would bundle up our daughter, and bolt out the door into the frigid winter air to drop her off at the babysitter’s. Then, strapping our bags to our backs, we would walk to class in subzero weather, just like any other student. Sitting in class while my milk overflowed was the only reminder that I was not like other undergraduates. As soon as classes were over, I would rush back home, often dropping one or two soaked nursing pads along the way.
As soon as winter left us, I was pregnant with our second child. I was in my fourth year then. Having two babies within a period of two years while still in college really tested my mettle as I ploughed through my senior level classes with a growing belly. While quitting school would have been the easy way out, the thought never crossed my mind. I was too stubborn to hand victory over to those who predicted that early marriage, motherhood, and education do not go well together.
Allah (SWT) had come to our aid more than once in all those years, and I have to say that it is only due to His grace that I finally graduated. On the last day of my finals, I rushed home in joy, and embraced motherhood as a full-time career. It never occurred to me to use my acquired degree to land a job. My childhood aspiration of “housewife” had caught up to me without my realising it, though little did I know back then that the term “full-time mother” would have been more accurate. To me, the two children I had conceived and cared for during my undergraduate years are my hard- earned degrees. The piece of paper I soon received in the mail, I slipped in with the rest of the certificates I had attained throughout my school years. Motherhood overtook me, and before long, Allah (SWT) endowed me a with graduation gift: another baby.
While my friends pored over job search engines and sent out resumes left and right, I stayed home enjoying my two daughters. While they prepared for nerve-wrecking interviews, I prepared for yet another delivery. As is the human nature, tongues soon began to wag.
What a waste!”
“You could have made a lot of money!”
“Are you sure you don’t want to work?”
Despite my elation of finally being able to stay home full time, their words struck a chord in me. The society I was raised in didn’t consider “full-time mother” as a vocation for an educated woman. As a developing country, Malaysia expects its educated citizens to land jobs in the workforce, thus propelling the country into the growth it is seeking. By taking motherhood as a full time job, I was disappointing my country. Guilt began to kick in, but I stuck with my decision.
For five years I agonised over that decision, while trying to justify it. Every time people made comments about it, it would send me into long-winded self justifications for my decision to become a full time mother to my three children.
My mother told me that people would say to her, “What a waste of an education!” “Education is never a waste,” was her response. My father told me, “If you want to work, take up teaching, so it won’t take you away from your children that much.”
I had my parents’ full support, but I was still troubled by what people were saying. Someone even said to my husband, “Your wife would have made more money than you if she was working.”
Nevertheless, as the years went by, I grew into my role as a mother. I occupied myself with harnessing the education I attained by learning as much as I could about parenting and methods of child rearing. My innate love for reading, I transferred to my children by surrounding them with library books and educational videos. By the age of three, my firstborn was reading. I had taken up my mother’s suggestion of employing the Glenn Doman method for teaching children how to read. It took a lot of effort and time, but time was what I had in abundance with regard to raising the children, and I used it for that purpose. Where I didn’t have time to sit with my children before, amidst the piling programming assignments, I now had time to explore the world with them. Of course life wasn’t all smiles and laughter, seeing how I was always exhausted on the couch by 4 pm every day, but I took it one day at a time. Before I knew it, my children had acquired a love for reading, and were even reciting their surahs by themselves. Without realising it, I was home schooling my children, which, alhamdulillah, still continues to this very day.
As the years go by, I become more and more convinced that being a “stay-at- home mother” needn’t be something to look down on. Women, especially those with education, have the added advantage of giving the words “full- time mother” a new meaning. I suppose when I wrote down “housewife” as one of my ambitions all those years ago, I wasn’t that clueless about what I wanted to be when I grow up.