The stereotype, expectation, and reality of being a (Working) Mom

By Nabila As’ad from the Centre for Industrial Engineering and Management (CEGI)

There was a viral video of an Indonesian anchor/journalist, Najwa Shihab,  being interviewed by a comedian in a TV show. Najwa is one of the most influential women in Indonesia. She is known for her straightforward and thorough approach when she interviews politicians – most often, she targetted the corrupted ones. In the viral interview, the comedian asked her, “if you could choose one: being a journalist or being a stay at home mother, which one will you choose?” Najwa then responded, “Why do women have to choose one? Aren’t we able to get both? That kind of question has been positioning women as if they are helpless (i.e., no capabilities)”. To give you an idea about the viral phenomenon of that video, I will give a generalized view of Indonesian society. Although we have a woman-emancipation figure – namely Kartini – and nationally celebrate her birthday to commemorate this equality, the society is still struggling to remove the narrow stereotype of women as those who give birth, then take care of the kids, husband, and never-ending house chores. The good news is, this stereotype is slightly disappearing in big cities and the current generation of young parents.

However, the debate on “working mom VS stay at home mom” is still ongoing, not only in Indonesia – as you can see in the Najwa Shihab interview, but also globally. I chose both options of career, and as such, I could resonate with Najwa’s answer. While, of course, my decision has its consequences. For instance, if someone asked me what was the most magical thing I have ever seen, I would answer without any hesitation: seeing my baby grows. Nevertheless, I did not spend my 24/7 time watching her amazing growth; and yes, I did feel guilty when I missed any important milestones of hers. Moreover, the reality of being a mom who works*) is not as glamorous as depicted on social media.

Another stereotype labeled on women is the multitasking ability. Society expects women to be able to balance all the workloads and house chores duties. In fact, a study published on the American Sociological Review explains that the multitasking activities are in conjunction with mothers’ increasing negative emotions, burdens, and stresses; compared to those of fathers with similar workloads (Offer and Schneider, 2011). Moreover, the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) notes that women “devote on average roughly three times more hours a day to unpaid care and domestic work than men, limiting the time available for paid work, education and leisure and further reinforcing gender-based socioeconomic disadvantages.

Instead of regretting my decision to be a mom who works, I see this decision as a privilege and an opportunity for myself to do what I love. I love my baby, and I also love what I have been doing. I am grateful that in INESC TEC, my colleagues value me for my research capabilities, and for who I am. I find it important that any organization/company provide a nurturing social environment for women. Moreover, one of the world’s new ambitions, as stressed on SDG, is to empower women and girls. I am not taking you to see the societal problems, but rather encouraging every human being to think and reflect: what can we, as an individual human being and as part of the society in general, do to empower women and girls? Because, again, we want “to ensure that all human beings can fulfil their potential in dignity and equality and in a healthy environment (SDG Working Paper, 2015, p. 2).

On the other side, as a mom who works and as a woman in the world’s society, I want to encourage all women to have faith in yourself. In this way, we can prioritize ourselves and, most importantly, love ourselves. Moreover, if you think you need any assistance, please do not hesitate to ask for one.  Women have the voices and rights to make decisions and it is nothing wrong by letting others hear your thoughts, ideas, and others. Since we love doing all the multitasks, I learned a lot from my senior colleagues (who are also moms who work) that it is important to map your goals and plan your milestones. This plan will help you to manage your activities and energy. I learned the latter a bit late since I had to spare my energy to chase a running toddler.

In the meantime, Christmas is around the corner. I bet most of you will have the opportunity to meet your mother. I would then encourage you to hug her (and your father) tightly, because then again, families are the most important values in life.

Boas festas!


*) I chose the term “a mom who works” to encompass the dual roles of mothers. I often found some friends of mine, who chose to be (what others labeled as) a stay at home mother, ran their own business from home.

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