I still recall that moment quite vividly. It was bedtime and I was reading another of their favorite fairy tales as I put them to bed.
“The big bad wolf said to the squash vanilla juice…” my voice trailed off into utterly unrecognizable gibberish and my children looked at each other in stunned amusement. Mummy is falling asleep involuntarily again, and this time raising the bar for totally incoherent bedside stories.
Life as a working mother is hard. Torn between the guilt at leaving my children aged 3 to 7 at the various caregivers before the start of a work day and the fear of not doing a good job as a school administrator, I often feel as though a truck has run through my emotions and physical body at the end of a work day. Then I’m expected to gear myself up for the mummy moment my kids have been waiting for all day – in which I oftentimes screw it up on a grand scale, like falling asleep on a bedtime story.
This was not the worst. There were days when I had to bring work home and trudge into the wee hours after the twelve hour work day. The next morning I turn into a ticking time-bomb capable of killing myself, the commuters around me, and even worse, the people I love. While being chauffeured to his day care, my boy had often had to shake me frantically at junctions. “Mummy! Wake up! Time to move!”
And then I asked myself: What am I doing?
Granted, the job as a school administrator has given me endless joy and satisfaction despite the long hours and added responsibility, but at what price? And to what end?
Since young, I have only aspired towards happiness. I am blessed that I found this happiness in work before I had children. And I am even more blessed to find this happiness after I had children. And one by one, the blessings came, until there were three of them.
When I found myself pregnant again, I took a long, hard look at my life and asked myself: Is that what I really wanted? Would I really want to “have it all?” On the outside, I am the girl who has everything: successful career, supportive husband, lovely children. On the inside, I know it is not sustainable. It is a fine line that can be easily crossed when my job take up so much of my energy and waking hours. After a long work day, I really only have one hour with the children before I tuck them in. Some might say it is the quality time that matters. But surely there is something amiss when quality time is spread so thin, like less than thirty minutes per child per day. What happens when number four comes along?
After calculating the cost of childcare and education for four children, I realized it amounted to the lion’s share of my take home pay! Why should I work then, if I have to rechannel all the money I earn to kindergartens and day care and enrichment programmes, and yet only get to see each of them for less than thirty minutes a day? Left with no more energy to even tell a simple bed time story or drive straight? I must be a lunatic or delusional if I continue this life, if I hadn’t already been a lunatic and delusional that I could pull it off in the first place.
So after taking many deep breaths, I decided to put my career on hold for the time being and to truly focus on being a mother to my children. It is not an easy decision to make and our family had to make lifestyle adjustments as a result of one less paycheck. But ultimately, I can think of no other greater work that the one I have at hand, which is to be part of my children’s life as they grow.