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Friday, April 15, 2016

(2035) The grass always seems greener on the other side

Here I am, watching my child through a glass panel while waiting for her to finish her swimming lessons in the middle of a Thursday. I am surrounded by mostly mothers, two grandmothers, a father. I have always wondered, how do women working full-time in Japan handle parenting responsibilities, such as after school activities, if they are not lucky enough to have a grandparent live near them?

The past two years at my child's preschool required so much weekday parental involvement (which is usually fulfilled by mothers) in their school activities such as Sports Day, Halloween party, Christmas party, etc. where parents are expected to help the school put up decorations, plan decorations and costumes and so on, that I'm amazed the working mums of my child's classmates still kept their jobs.  True enough, at the end of the first year, 2-3 mums in the class had thrown in the towel and resigned to be full time stay-at-home mothers. I was so fed-up with all the volunteering expected of parents that I decided not to register for kindergarten. I would rather piece together some form of education with classes like dance/swim + some home schooling than feeling the pressure that I'm not contributing enough to the school. 

I am lucky (and of course very thankful) to have established a work-from-home full time arrangement with my previous/current employer, and I have been able to do this for the past 7 years, including the past 3 years after my child was born. It was a struggle juggling both motherhood and work at first, but it was partly my own hardheadedness that forced me to carry on - I wanted the best of both worlds and did not want to miss out on any part of my child's first few years and I did not feel that paying for childcare was justifiable with me working from home full time. Also, horror stories about the waiting list to get into childcare in Japan (see
http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2016/03/07/national/angry-blog-post-sparks-movement-for-improved-day-care/#.Vw-iHKSLTiA) was enough to deter me from even trying to apply for a vacancy in childcare.

I have always received either disbelieving looks or amazed reactions from people who hear I'm a work from home full time mother but having been in this situation for the past 3+ years, I can only say, I did what I had to. (Our mothers ran full households with more children without help in the past.)  Perhaps the motivation to look strong overcame whatever hurdles I actually encountered. However, I was getting burnt out, with both work and being a mum, and this style of work meant that I was forever a contract worker, doomed to a life with no career progression. There were too many late night calls, and too much OT when we had to meet project deadlines and work life balance was at an all-time low. I was dreading to wake up in the morning and when I got the news that our team was not getting a contract extension from our client, it was almost a relief, because it meant that I did not have to resign, but to just wait for the end to come.

Finally, I felt that my guilt about not paying full attention to my child was somewhat alleviated, I could let her run in the park without looking at my watch the whole time thinking "let's go, I have a call in an hour!" I had time to recharge, and enjoy my hobbies but of course, without a salary, my spending power was much reduced. I now have all the time in the world to worry about the lack of money to spend. I used to envy full time mothers for their 100% time availability, but now I can’t help but wonder how they coped on single incomes with their daily strolls which almost always inevitably ended up at cafes. Perhaps they had always been envious of me having work and income while seemingly enjoying full-time motherhood. I missed interaction with my ex-colleagues, and although there’s no missing the late night calls, I had become a habitual late sleeper and it was very difficult to wake up on school days.

All the online fights about who has it harder – stay at home mums or working mums – seems irrelevant after having tried being both. The working mums have lots of time to themselves, but they miss most of their children’s antics being at work, while at night they are too tired to enjoy time with their kids. The stay at home mums get to witness their children’s growth but have a ton of other household worries and are always wishing to have more time to themselves. No one has it better, every mother has it as hard; and the grass will always look greener on the other side as we struggle to get to the next day in one piece and alive.

I am glad that Im back in the workforce, and my worries are back in the realm of “will the weekend please come soon!” I am trying harder to worry less about time, even with work, because I am the adult, and I should be the one who makes my schedule work and not be rushing the child through every activity. The new job has given me most evenings free, no more late-night calls, and I get some quality time both to myself and with my child who has learnt to be largely independent in entertaining herself. With some planning, I squeeze most of the calls in the same days so that I can have at least one call-free day each week to focus on the homeschool or have an outing together. The grass might still look greener on the other side on some days, but for now, our own grass is green enough for me. 

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