Friday, January 15, 2021

Are stay at home moms heroines or villains – it depends who you ask?

For most Batswana women embroiled in the battle of the sexes, the most important weapon in their arsenal is a nine-letter word: “multi-tasking”. Whenever the gender war veers to the conflict between male and female roles, Batswana women invariably launch the “we are the do-a-bunch-of-things-at-the-same-time sex” missile. It is almost an article of faith that while Batswana men are pub hopping and knocking back a few pints of lager after work, women on the other hand will routinely be juggling a job and running a household – in itself a frantic mix of kids’ lunch boxes and homework, family dinner and huge files from the office. Does it then mean dropping from the nine-to five rat race to be a stay at home mother is not a badge of honour?

It depends on who you ask. While most traditional Batswana men and women would smile approvingly at the stay at home mother for choosing her children over a career, most feminists would baulk at the social status depreciation that comes with climbing down the corporate ladder to change diapers. Outside the Setswana traditional setting where she is exalted for, her mothering conviction, the stay at home mom is the wretched of the earth and worse. Albert Gaopelo of Olorato Marriage Couselling in Gaborone says, “When people say “it takes a village to raise a child,” the phrase resonates with most stay-at-home wives. Historically, women used to lean on each other a lot to co-raise children. These days, mothers have become more and more isolated from one another and female relatives. Most stay-at-home married mothers find themselves taking the initiative to reach out to other caregivers and friends to create networks of support as they run our households and raise their babies and children. The biggest downside of being a stay-at-home mom is that it tends to make you a dependent, someone who has a diminished capacity for taking care of themselves for the rest of their lives.” 

The social status depreciation that comes with giving up a career for a life at home with the kids is supported by a number of local researches. In her research paper, “Botswana: A Discussion of Gendered Uncertainties in a Rapidly Changing Environment” Godisang Mookodi contextualises male violence against women by examining the role played by economic and social change in the shaping of gender identities and relations. Mookodi points out that contemporary forms of male dominance have resulted from their privileged access over time to resources such as wages and property. Another research paper, Intimate Partner Violence Against Women in North-western Botswana: The Maun Women’s Study by Francis Barchi, Samantha Winter and Danielle Dougherty found that factors that drove gender-based abuse included “access to and control over certain tangible assets”.

A Risk Analysis of Gender Based Violence in Botswana Case Study by Oitshupile Khumo Maswabi found that “Gender-based violence….. seems to be more prevalent among married couples especially where the wife is not working, and the husband is the only breadwinner in the household.” Explaining the social depreciation that comes with giving up a career to be a stay at home mother Albert Gaopelo says, “the stay-at-home parent’s schedule does not start at 9 am to stop at 5pm, it is an all-day all-night job with no respite. The amount of unpaid work hours is unimaginable. She is expected to give it all and it may sometimes seem that all the efforts in the world are not enough. She does not have a choice to call in sick or slack for a day or two. There are no options of climbing the corporate ladder. You can’t really make yourself “pretty” because you are on dirty labour.

Your schedule is the baby’s schedule. You are the person with hundreds of expertise, from nursing to seamstress, from baker to designer, while working without praise or recognition.” Dr Poloko Ntshwarang, senior Social Work lecturer at the University of Botswana says, “It’s not about arguing that at-home parenthood is harder than working outside the home when you have kids. It isn’t a competition, and even if it were, there are so many factors and privileges, you need to weigh in order to compare the two situations. But there isn’t much awareness of all the stuff that comes with at-home parenthood. At-home parents, are often single-handedly responsible for their children’s’ schedules, meals, development, education, and behaviour, while also struggling to find a moment to themselves. It’s also not always easy on their mental health.

Being at home with their children is a privilege and a blessing and many are grateful for their setups. But it is not easy. It certainly isn’t perfect there’s no such thing as easy or perfect where parenting is concerned, whether you stay home or work or do some combination of the two. Moreover, mothers, who stay at home, may often feel depressed because they are not bringing any income home; the result is that most of the time they have to depend for little things on their husbands as they are economically dependent on them. At times, they are taken for granted by their family as they are always there for everyone, taking care of their needs.”

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