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Monday, 28 October 2013

Multicultural Mommy Wars: Weighting In on the Discussion

I swore to myself that I will never, ever write about the SAHM-vs. Working mom - dilemma. But I will. I will write about it because I have an opinion and it wants out. So many posts have been written where one side shames the other side and calls them names and fervently defends their own decisions. I will not write such a post. Instead, I will tell you my story.

My mom loves her job and is good at it. No, not good. Brilliant. She became one of the youngest female professors at the University she works at. She spends lots of time and effort on educating the public on all kinds of science-related topics and is the go-to person for the media whenever something happens in her field. She is the wisest, funniest, most intelligent woman I know. I honestly hope that my children will think as highly of me as I think of her.

At first glance, we couldn’t have been more different: I am a Stay-at home mom, while my mother has been working since she was 18. I have worked here and there during my studies but preferred to concentrate on one thing at a time. She, while being an introvert, is not afraid to talk on radio, television and in front of a huge audience, while I am shy and prefer to communicate in writing.

But there are more similarities. We’re both willing to work hard towards our goals. We both love what we’re doing. We’re both multilingual and we both have the experience in living in different countries.

Which brings me to my next point. We all know that women face many problems when it comes to work, from judgment to glass ceilings and hidden chauvinism. We all know that women judge each other for whatever choices they make.

The same discussion is made far more complex when different cultural norms and expectations are involved. Expat women, especially those who like me followed their husbands, are referred to as “trailing spouses”. Some can’t find jobs because they don’t know the language. Others can’t find jobs because they speak English but not at a native-speaker level, as expats job often require them to. Yet other women find themselves empowered by their newly-found opportunities, change careers, set up their own businesses, find their dream job, work from home.

I told you I am a SAHM. That is only partially true. My children go to daycare because I want them to learn Dutch and because I need lots of me-time. I have the best of both worlds, and I only get it because we just so happen to live in the Netherlands such choices are usually supported and respected.

I know the advantages and disadvantages of both sides. I know however, when I look at my baby boy, or play with my other children than I made the right decision. I also know when I work on a blog post or board the train to Amsterdam to give training that I made the right decision.

My working mom is my biggest supporter. She is this blog’s first reader and biggest fan. She is happy that I decided to stay at home with my children, but would be just as happy if I got a full-time job. I, on the other hand, had the experience of having a happy, self-fulfilled mom.

One of the lessons I’ve learned from living abroad is that women everywhere are all different. And also that women everywhere go through similar struggles.

And I have also learned that women can support each other in their decisions, work together, cheer on each other. Yes, we are all different. But we have more in common than we think. Let’s remember that next time we criticize another woman’s choices.  

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  1. I think this is one of the best SAHM/Working mom posts I've ever read. I agree with you, lets not pit women against each other - every situation is different and that's what leads women to make the choices they do. I was working full time and became a SAHM when I became a "trailing spouse" - I've been on "both" sides, and there are benefits and disadvantages to each - but I did/do what has to be done for the situation. Thanks for sharing this.

    1. Thank you, ACE for your kind words. Yes I think especially people who have been on both sides of the debate tend to see the advantages and disadvantages of both alternatives. And I believe that living in different countries teaches us that just because somebody does something in a certian way, doesn't mean that all people need to do things that way- which is one of the things I love so much about living abroad!

    2. Ditto @ACE! Great post Olga.

    3. Thank you, Heidi! I also think that ACE's ocmment is spot-on!

  2. Hey Olga! Thanks for sharing this! It isn't easy opening yourself up and joining in the greater discussion of a mother's role. I am still trying to wrap my head around sharing my own story and decisions. Parenting, and parenting decisions, I've come to learn, is such a personal aspect that many people are very sensitive about. Not to forget to mention that living abroad definitely also presents its own unique challenges.

    1. Yes, Rina Mae, this post is less about a mother's role but more about understanding and support for each other and not judging. But yes, it is difficult sometimes to share this and I wondered whether it was such a good idea to share it. But since this is such a positive post, I did- it would have been different if the post was negative.

  3. Great post! I think it's fantastic to hear about people who make different decisions about parenting and career issues who can respect each other's different choices. It's so frustrating in debates about parenting issues when you hear people take a 'one size fits all' approach that ignores that range of issues that affect different parents in different ways.


    1. HI Jonathan, exactly! It is all about respect! And there is no one-method-fits-all solution, and if somebody is saying there is, they're mostly talking about the decision that worked for them.


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