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of something until confronted with the situation oneself. And this is the case with parenting and childcare. I had always stoically maintained all through my single years that when I had children I would give up my job and stay home to look after them because who better to nurture them than me? I was proudly supported by my parents and of course various aunties and uncles (whose wives were stay at home mom’s!). Then I got married and the joyous bundle arrived. Oh, how hard then was it to stick to my resolution. I was not the only one in this boat. I saw my cousins and friends all do the same. I also noticed that my parents kept nagging me to stop working and stay home. When talking to friends though, a close acquaintance, So I said after one year I would forsake all worldly pursuits and stay home with the bambino. Aaliya* said that she thinks of her career, job and work first, it is really what defines her and she cannot imagine not working. She has three children. She did attempt to stay at home with the third one she says but that lasted all of three months and when someone offered her a position she did not think twice. Two years passed and I was still gainfully employed, full time. Two years passed and it was only after falling pregnant a second time and an overseas job offer for the dear husband that we decided that I would now stay home. The second one is now almost a year and a half and I am chafing at the bit. I go through bouts of cleaning the house everyday to cleaning once a week. The cooking schedule is as erratic. The said dear husband is constantly castigated for not doing enough and I lament about feeling like a single parent. I have been thinking for months now that this cannot be right. What happened to communal parenting and child rearing? When did we start thinking that we needed to raise our children all by ourselves? What do I know about feeding a baby, a toddler, a child so that it grows up strong, healthy and intelligent? Giving birth certainly does not qualify one to raise a child. And that stupid advertisement (I’m sure you’ve seen it), ‘When a baby is born, so is a mother’? Certainly not! It will take you many more years to nurture and raise children well. In fact, I increasingly think that this only happens after your fourth child. You know the theory, first one is, W ow! We did that? All by ourselves. Second, see, that is actually ours, we had one now we can have two. The third happens becaus e you think that having two is easy. The fourth of course, I am sure happens when you’re not thinking and do not ask about the fifth and sixth, in this day and age it can only be ascribed to economies of scale and plans to open a sweatshop when all the kids are old enough to operate a machine. There are, of course, women who want the soccer team. Shameema*, a chartered accountant has four kids, two girls and two boys. Her oldest is fourteen and her youngest is 4. She is 36 and according to some she is considered lucky as she has had her kids while still young and she has a career and a great job. But is she happy? Yes and no. She wants more. She says she is happy to have six or seven. I think it is because her mom helps her to raise the children. They go to school in the mornings and then they spend all afternoon with grandma while mommy is busy at work. Basically she and her husband eat at her parents’ home during the week and
then go home with the kids and put them to bed. There is nothing wrong with that and she has four lovely well-behaved children. I have no idea what they would have been like if their mother had been their full time carer! In fact, I think, that my daughter would benefit greatly from spending more time with her grandparents. I have no idea what to with a three year old after she refuses to eat breakfast, lunch and supper then kicks and scream because she does not want to bathe and go to bed. My parents on the other hand have had five 3-year olds (who are all still alive to tell the tale!)and know exactly what to do. The whole idea of the nuclear family with a stay at home mom seems to be a unique cultural phenomenon seen in Western influenced societies and communities. In Asian, Latin, African and Mediterranean influenced societies there is always a grandparent or an aunt who is available and present to take care of young children and even older children. Not for them an au pair, nanny or babysitter. By leaving children to their own devices while parents enjoy themselves as a couple, we are enriching their lives, says David Code, American family therapist, in a theory he posits in his book To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First. He says that for children to be happy and well balanced, the parents have to be happy and demonstrate that they love each other. Quite hard when all you are doing is clean, cook supper, take the kids to extra murals and get them to bed by 7pm and the dear husband is trying to work by 8am and gym by 6pm, all on the same day. If spreading yourself too thinly leads to constant frayed tempers with intermittent bouts of frustrated screaming then all the swimming lessons and kumon classes will not lead to healthy, intelligent and well balanced children. According to Code if we spend too much time focussed on the children and little time doing things for our own worth and self development then we not only suffocate our relationship with our partner but we also stifle their social development. "Families centred on children create anxious, exhausted parents and demanding, entitled children," he says. "We parents are too quick to sacrifice our lives and our marriages for our kids. A good marriage sets a great example for your children's future relationships and that's a win-win for the whole family." So now what? This does not mean that we must rush out to hire a nanny. What I think it means is that parents need to take well-deserved breaks from their offspring to recharge their ‘parenting batteries’. My sister and her husband take at least one holiday without their two toddl ers and they have maintained their ‘date night’. And I think that’s it really, parenting is not an easy job and children big and small are mischievous and this will not change. What parents need is a release valve, every so now and again so that they can soldier on through the jungles of diapers, sugar highs, school runs, broken hearts and violated curfews. And for expatriates? Being so far away from home means that your support structures are less. So now what, learn to trust strangers? That does take a leap of faith and depending on who you talk to its not that scary. Many expatriate women in Qatar work. In fact a number of Qatari women are also employed, either by the state or self employed so the culture of having nannies assist in the raising of children is wellentrenched. In Islam it is part of the obligation of the husband to ensure that he, not
the mother, to take the responsibility for arranging childcare. Of course, parents naturally take joint responsibility but the practical interpretation of this obligation means that most Muslim Arab women have nannies to assist them with child rearing. But for most this is not economically viable and in some cases it is only now becoming acceptable for someone other than a family member to look after your child. Of course the result is that every family has only one breadwinner. With the changing socioeconomic environment it has become imperative for both spouses to work and women also want to work, even if the primary objective is not to add to the household budget. The emerging independence and assertion of autonomy by Muslim women has meant that she is no longer the sole or primary carer of the children. But of, course, most expatriate women in Qatar are not faced with that dilemma. A number of women who have moved with their husbands and families to Qatar decided to take a break from their careers and stay at home with the bambinos. Sound good? Right? Wrong! It is hard to be at home with any number of small children a million miles away from grandparents, uncles and aunties. So what’s an ‘expat wife’ to do? I have decided it is a mother’s moral responsibility to take some of those hard earned tax free dollars and fly the grandparents in for two weeks while I and the dear husband jet off to Bali!
*Names have been changed in the interests of safety. Mine!