“HOME SWEET HOME!” IS THIS STILL VALID?
Once upon a time, home making and home keeping used to be the joyful passion of the average (African) wife and mother. In both the rural and urban settings, the epicentre of women’s place and role was the homestead, or as in traditional parlance, ‘the kitchen’. The man’s role was of course to win bread and father the next generation.
Indications are however, that these traditional clear-cut roles and stereotypes are getting antiquated. With modernization, stark economic realities and the swollen ranks of not only opinionated and liberated women, but also highly successful career women, the roles in the family are increasingly getting distorted, if not reversed. In the urban setting, at least, a lot more women are working outside the homestead and are earning as much as the men, if not more.
Now, while the magic of the home has not exactly crashed among working women, there are indications that it is increasingly become a mere staging post and makeshift camp for a growing number. So is the allure of the home beginning to diminish for the career mom compelled to spend fewer and fewer hours at home because of the demands of the job, and possibly a hostile atmosphere? Read on…..
It is five-thirty-five in the morning.
Jennifer tiptoes into the children’s room like a thief, hardly making any noise. Five year Junior stirs, then goes back to sleep. The twins, aged three, sleep peacefully (like angels, she thinks), their life-sized doll cradle in their chubby arms, between them as if either child was staking a claim of ownership on the artificial baby. At the head of the bed, Jennifer bends down to kiss her bundles of joy, but suddenly stops short and straightens up. “Can’t afford to wake them up”, she thinks! So she blows them kisses instead, edges back to the door and leaves the room. If she must beat the traffic and get to her office on the Island on time, then she must leave immediately. As she looks into her husband’s bedroom, she grimaces at her still snoring husband, almost trips over the house help sleeping on the rug in the living room, snatches her handbag from the centre table and leaves the apartment. Downstairs, her car is already throbbing, with her driver behind the wheel. Knowing that she won’t meet the twins awake by the time she returns around eleven pm, she throws one last wistful look at the apartment, enters her car and leaves for work.
“‘If she must beat the traffic and get to her office on the Island on time, then she must leave immediately. As she looks into her husband’s bedroom, she grimaces at her still snoring husband, almost trips over the house help sleeping on the rug in the living room, snatches her handbag from the centre table and leaves the apartment.”
For women like Jennifer, and there are thousands in Nigeria’s mega cities, the demands of a career means fewer and fewer hours a day spent at home with the husband and kids. To some high flying career women who jet around the globe, even weekends are not sacred.
“My husband says I’m like ‘Daraprim’, the old Sunday-Sunday preventive remedy for malaria.”
So says Bunmi, a thirty-two year old accountant who works for a first generation bank in Victoria Island, Lagos. Because of the demands of her job, Bunmi hardly spends quality time with the family she actually loves so much.
“My husband is an architect. I love him very much” Bunmi says. “I love my three lovely children too. We are a very close-knit family, but these days, since I got promoted, I hardly have time to spend with them. Even Saturdays are not spared because of Saturday banking, so I have only Sundays free.”
According to Bunmi, her husband’s business had been depressed for over two years with briefs coming in very few and far between. So Bunmi’s promotion some nine months ago was actually a God-sent relief, but it came with a caveat.
“My new package came with an improved salary and a new car. But it has meant a lot more work and a lot of stress. I can’t be there for my husband and children when they need me. I have missed so many activities in my kids’ school that I’ve stopped counting.
Bunmi has two house-helps, she says, who take care of the house and look after the children, but Bunmi is not happy. “Maids, house-helps or whatever you call them, are necessary evils” she laments. Mine are actually mini-demons, but what can I do? Neither of them knows anything about house-keeping or hygiene; so although I pay them well, my house remains a disaster. They take turns taking the children to and from school, but my kids have been stranded for hours in the school on several occasions, while my executive maids watched home movies!”
Bunmi is worried that her husband may just be on the verge of snapping, even though he loves her and appreciates the financial support from her job. “I’ll have to take a decision soon” she said. “I may have to opt for a lower-paying job which gives me more time for family life”.
“Can you believe it? My children call me ‘Big Auntie’, and call my maid ‘Mommy’!
Forty-five year old Ezinne (Igbo, for sweet mother) a professional caterer, operates a fairly big restaurant for a pharmaceutical outfit located twenty kilometres from her home. Her husband has been unemployed for seven years, since the textile factory he worked with closed shop and relocated to Ghana. Her five children are aged between 9 and 22 years, with the two eldest, both girls, helping her in the canteen business. The three younger children attend school near their residence in Okokomaiko, along the Lagos-Badagry expressway.
Although Ezinne’s husband ‘hustles’ in the electrical-materials section of the Alaba International market, also off the Lagos-Badagry Expressway, the family almost entirely depends on Ezinne’s job for sustenance. As a caterer in a big canteen, the food for her family is taken for granted, as well as school fees for her three youngest children (one in secondary and two in primary) Her two elder children also make good with the stipend and the tips they receive as canteen workers.
While finances may not be a major challenge for Ezinne’s family, her worries are many. The gravest, she says is her home…
“I have been in my present job for 10 years now and in that period, I’ve been more or less an absentee parent. I hardly saw my last two children grow up, because sometimes I even have to spend the weekend in the canteen to prepare adequately for the coming week. My two big girls have been wonderful, but they cannot replace me as mother to the children. Until quite recently, my two youngest children called me Big Auntie and called my maid Mommy, because she takes care of them. She’s a fine Christian girl, my maid, and she loves the children. She’s been with me for eight years now and I have no complaints. But when you have to leave home very early and return very late, you run the risk of becoming a stranger in your own home.”
In order to spend more time with her young children, Ezinne resorted to taking them to the canteen on Saturdays and public holidays, but that posed its own problems; “It caused a problem with my husband who felt that a public canteen was not the best environment to bring up children. I agree with him, but I insisted that it would be just occasional. I had my way eventually, but not without a fight.
”My two big girls have been wonderful, but they cannot replace me as mother to the children. Until quite recently, my two youngest children called me Big Auntie and called my maid Mommy, because she takes care of them”.
Now, Ezinne confesses that fight has left a strain on her relationship with her husband who probably gave in because of his weak bargaining position. Now Ezinne is worried he may take his grouse ‘too far’.
“You know men,” she told Working Mom. “A little thing can upset them, especially when they’re in financial straits. We’re both graduates and enlightened, and all that, but you never know. I don’t want my home to be destabilized. I love my husband. So Ezinne has taken a decision in the interest of her family….
“We decided that the younger of my two older girls would quit the canteen to be near home. We just set up a call centre for her in front of our compound. Then I personally decided that I shall quit the canteen job in about 18 months. I’ll find a place in my home neighbourhood and start my own canteen, preferably with my husband. We’re already looking for a suitable location. That way, I’ll keep making money, but not at the expense of my home and family”.