Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

Why Being a Working Mother is Better

Why Being A Working Mother is Better/ © shutterstock.

In Nairobi, working mothers are the norm, regardless of social background.  I have met many women the world over who like me are working mothers in their thirties who tell me that they are the first women in their family to hold down two jobs (that of being a mother as well as paid employment).  I find it hard to fathom because I am a fourth generation working mother.


My mother, both my grandmothers and indeed great-grandmother all worked as well as raised their families, and I think it is an important gift for our children, especially our daughters.


Most studies I have read tend to focus on childcare, who is the next-best person to look after the child(ren) in question, how long the mother should be at home with the child before starting work and so on. These are of course all important factors but I think that they forget one critical factor—in Africa at least, women have always worked while having children. The two were intertwined. In fact the oft-quoted African proverb, “It takes a community to raise a child” is rooted in working motherhood.  It was understood that there are times that mothers had things to do, which meant that others contributed to collective child-rearing.


I have friends who worked hard and retired at 40. Their children who were young at the time will never have a memory of their parents working. Whilst my friends enjoy being able to raise their children full-time, they acknowledge that their situation is unique and regularly worry that their children will not build-up a work ethic.  As one of them says, “How will they make sense of the need to have a vocation in life and how will they learn how to earn?”


The vast majority of us do not have this particular worry. Instead, as mothers, we tend to be plagued with guilt at having to work as we hire nannies, use daycares, make use of school breakfast clubs and the list goes on to ensure that our children are adequately cared for whilst we work.  Many mothers wish that they did not have to work at all.  Working can leave us exhausted and feeling like we are not doing anything right: thinking about our children when we are at work and our work when we are with our children.


Yet, on balance, I think that it is best for my daughter that I have carried on my family tradition and am a working mother.  I am fortunate that I work from home in a country where children are seen as a blessing and so I can also regularly take my daughter to meetings outside our home.  I am also lucky that I come from a country that values holidays and maternity leave.


That said, I think that children globally over benefit from having a mother whose self-esteem is bolstered by her paid occupation.  We live in a world where we are considered  by what we contribute outside the home.  Though I personally feel that raising future generations should be given the highest regard, it often is not.  A mother with another occupation can gain confidence from being valued for her other skills.


Children and mothers often do better with ‘breaks’ from each other.  They appreciate the time that they spend together more. Conflict can be diffused by removing the tensions of spending every waking minute together, as both bring something new to the table to share of their respective independent experiences.


Working mothers make the world a better place. Apart from the financial benefits both to their own home and their communities at large, working mothers have created a whole new working culture and economy—flex time, working from home, part-time work, not to mention the numerous businesses and indeed industries that have literally started on a kitchen table.  Motherhood forever changes the way a woman engages with the world and many women gift the world with this change in viewpoint.


Working mothers inspire their children. I am immensely proud of my mother and both of my grandmothers. Their achievements highlighted for me what was possible in the world as a woman. When I listen to my five-year-old daughter remark that she wants to become a policewoman one week or train driver the next, I know it is due to the fact that she comes from a line of women who believed it was possible for a woman to do whatever she desires.


Children of working mothers learn how to look after themselves.  This is sometimes literally but also they discover how to follow their own interests. They learn to create a balance in which all aspects of themselves can be served, without completely sacrificing themselves, as this is exactly what their mothers are doing.


Every family makes the decision that is right for them and all mothers have their place whether they have other paid work or not. Being a working mother, I am biased. But having started out thinking I was going to stay at home when I first gave birth, I am glad I chose instead to carry on with the gift given to me by my mother and earlier generations.

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JC Niala is a mother, writer and creative who enjoys exploring the differences that thankfully still exist between various cultures around the world. She was born in Kenya and grew up in Kenya, Cote d'Ivoire and the UK. She has worked and lived on three continents and has visited at least one new country every year since she was 12 years old. Her favorite travel companions are her mother and daughter whose stories and interest in others bring her to engage with the world in ways she would have never imagined. She is the author of Beyond Motherhood: A guide to being a great working mother while living your dream.

Leave us a comment!

  1. CommentsCorryne   |  Friday, 08 February 2013 at 1:26 pm

    It’s a pity that the title is incomplete- it would have been better as ‘Why Being a Working Mother is Better FOR ME’. Whilst there are several valid points in the article and I appreciate JC’s point of view, there are too many articles that claim certain parenting choices are ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than others. I am always interested in hearing about how things are done in other cultures but parenting is so subjective and every family situation is different. We don’t need to be told what’s better, worse, good or bad.. please ditch these guilt inducing words from parenting articles!

  2. CommentsInCultureParent | Why African Babies Don’t Cry   |  Friday, 15 February 2013 at 1:59 pm

    […] I assumed I was going to have them. I am a modern African woman, with two university degrees, and a fourth generation working woman, but when it comes to children, I am typically African. The assumption remains that you are not […]

  3. CommentsJoy   |  Monday, 13 January 2014 at 1:17 pm

    I wonder how old do you start work?
    Do you have house keeper or grand mom to take care of baby during your work?
    I have my first one who is 6 month but she still nap on me or car seat.
    I still can’t find time to read because it just me and her at home.
    I EBF and co sleep with her as well. Could you give moew detail how can you train your baby to
    work or play when you work. Which age do you start to work?
    I also read another article of you about breast feed your baby and co sleep with them.
    Do you plan to train them to sleep by themself on their bed?
    I try to train my baby but she cry so hurt so I would like to have your suggestion.
    I love your article it inspire me to BF her after her first year.

  4. CommentsJune   |  Saturday, 29 March 2014 at 3:20 pm

    I used to live in Kenya, and I moved back to my home country. Yes, it is easy to be a working mom in Nairobi when you can get employ a lady from the village, or the slum, to come and live with you and work for $200/month (if you are a good employer) and then go make your $1000/month working at a bank, or worse, your $3000+/month at the UN. In many western countries, if you don’t have an unemployed family member to help you out (rare in cities) and especially if have more than one child, regular childcare usually costs too much for you to go back to work. There are many structural problems in Kenya which are keeping the poor poor. But one great problem is that highly educated and well off men and women pay very little to their ‘household’ staff, which only keeps them in poverty. They justify it by saying that $200 is a good wage, or, it is ‘better than nothing’, or that ‘I am giving them shelter’, like its a charity case and they feel good about doing ‘something’. And then there is pressure not to pay a higher wage as it will ‘distort the market’ and the ‘nannies will talk’ and they will ‘get jealous’. And in my experience, many ladies liked working for foreigners, as they usually gave written contracts, paid more, and followed the minimum wage and government NSSF rules, while many Kenyan families didn’t. It is employment and should be equitable and fair. And if fair wages were really paid, and Kenyan minimum wage laws were followed, then there would be a lot less working moms in Kenya.

  5. CommentsInCultureParent | Why African Babies Don’t Cry | Tandem Trouble   |  Wednesday, 01 July 2015 at 5:42 pm

    […] I assumed I was going to have them. I am a modern African woman, with two university degrees, and a fourth generation working woman, but when it comes to children, I am typically African. The assumption remains that you are not […]

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