A few weeks back, a friend asked me if I wanted to work for the government, to which I responded “no.” He asked, “Oh, so you want to go corporate?” I said, “not really.” “What do you want to be then?” he said. And I replied, “I want to be a housewife – a mother.”
And I was baffled (still am) about his response to my proud answer. His first response was “Seriously?” with that awful tone of disgust. And then he followed this up with possibly the worst question I have ever been asked, “Don’t you want to contribute to society?” And ever since that moment, I realized how mistaken and shallow people could be in the way they define and measure the intangibles of the world.
With the growing popularity of individual freedom and female empowerment, the stigma of being a stay-at-home mother has gotten worse. These days, a woman is perceived to be a coward and less of an empowered woman if she “fails” to dream big for herself – to dream as much as a man could. Today’s definition of an ideal woman is one who is independent of a man, has a successful career, and a good family life. At the other end of the spectrum is the lowly housewife who lives off of her husband’s money as she raises her children all the days of her life. To be a housewife is to be a damsel in distress – a “disorder” that modernity has supposedly overcame.
In my Philosophy class, we discussed how the rise of modernity has brought about the extensive emphasis on individualism and the primacy of instrumental reason. We have established that people have become more self-seeking, constantly incorporating the “What’s In It For Me?” mentality in every decision. With this mentality, we have lost the value for meaning – the ability to think and go beyond ourselves. It got me thinking then: for something considered pitiful (as a career), isn’t motherhood the greatest, if not the only, form of selfless contribution there is in society? Do people not realize that in this vocation, there is neither financial gain nor social recognition to be expected? That the only thing that fuels a mother to continue being a mother is an absolute love for someone other than herself – for her child?
If we talk about it in the practical sense, the cons of motherhood more than outweighs its pros (if there is even any). When you actually look into it, real motherhood is no fairytale. From the point of pregnancy, a woman loses control of the transformations that will occur to her physically and within her emotionally. A mother has to endure the weight gain, the sore muscles, the midnight cravings, the morning sickness, and all other struggles that come with pregnancy. More than those nine crazy months, the worst of it comes during the painful reality of childbirth. From the day the child is actually born, the mother becomes responsible for another life for the remainder of her lifetime. She is practically on-call 24 hours a day, ready to assist her child for any needs that they might have.
A mother, despite her desire to sleep in, must wake up in the middle of the night when her child cries out of hunger. A mother who, out of weariness from looking after her child the whole day, zones out for a split second is deemed as an “irresponsible parent” when her child suddenly bumps their head on the wall. A mother, who has a fear of swimming, must face that fear when she saves her child from drowning in the pool. A mother, who has an overwhelming love for seafood, must stop herself from buying them because her child is allergic to it. A mother, to be considered a “good” mother, must do anything and everything that serves her child’s best interests. In this vocation, there is no such thing as a “break”. Even when distances apart, a mother’s thoughts will inevitably still consist of concerns relating to her child.
Even the said “social recognition” to be gained from motherhood is something to be contested. When a good mother is able to raise a child who eventually contributes something of value to the world, she is rarely given credit; yet, even the slightest mistake of a person is met with, “Anong klaseng magulang ba meron ‘yan?” (“What kind of parents does he/she have?”) or “Anong pagpapalaki ba ginawa sa kanya?” (How did his/her parents raise him/her?”) – as if one’s parents are solely to blame for his decisions. From the day a mother decides to become a mother, an insane amount of pressure is placed on her to shape and develop the right kind of people that society will be composed of.
A mother could easily choose another way of life – one that is free of all these struggles and responsibilities, and one that follows the standards and expectations of an “ideal” woman set forth by society. She could establish an independent career as the top executive of some giant company and get paid millions or she could travel the world and find the cure for the world’s worst illnesses and be recognized for her humanitarian purposes.
Yet a housewife, “just” a housewife, wholeheartedly chooses to live with the reality of parenthood 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year for all the following years of her life without any form of compensation other than sheer joy and pure love. I cannot imagine how one could still find it in them to call her weak and shallow.
If one chooses to stay at home to tend to her children for the rest of her life, she is regarded as brave for “sacrificing” her personal dreams. Yet if one has always dreamed of becoming a stay-at-home mother, she is thought of as having a shallow dream. But when you think about it, when your own dream consists of dreaming of a better life for and with someone else, isn’t that the epitome of “going beyond ourselves”?
We have a lot of (practically) good professionals who contribute to society in different fields – be it in medicine, law, military, education, etc. With the rapid developments in our society, it has become increasingly easy to develop more of these intellectuals who will eventually contribute to society in ways we have not probably imagined yet.
Don’t get me wrong; I am in no way invalidating the value of these people to society. What I’m saying is that it seems that what people have failed to realize is that to be able to truly contribute something of significance to society, one must first become a genuinely good person capable of thinking beyond himself. And that’s what we don’t have enough of – genuinely good people.
And if being “just” a housewife and a mother allows me to help raise and develop at least one good person that the world is in dire need of, then I’m looking forward to the day society frowns upon me for being “just” a housewife.