Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Are you a key? Part 2

This is a follow-up post on my earlier one, Are you a key? In that post, I spoke about how we shouldn't try to be keys, ie make ourselves so indispensable in our children's lives that they are unable to lead independent, meaningful lives.

I'm writing a part 2 because there's another common issue with parents who are keys. I've seen many keys in my extended family. They were keys to their kids and some of them are now keys to their grandchildren. I found that what many of them shared in common was the fact that they have defined themselves only in relation to the people around them. There is nothing wrong with being a mother, wife, daughter, sister - these are all great roles. But the danger of defining yourself only by others is that once these others are not around, you are nothing. This phenomenon is more prevalent in women than men. I think it has to do with the traditional roles that women have grown up with, that we somehow have a duty to serve others more than men do.

Society doesn't help at all, by putting mothers on a pedestal. Motherhood is widely regarded as the most important job for a woman. Once you're a mother, your status instantly goes up the hierarchy. The down side is that expectations are sky high. The pressure is on mothers to put her children as her number one priority, ahead of everything else, including herself (notice this is seldom the case for fathers). As a result, many women eventually come to define their role in a rather lopsided way, only as mother.

Here's what happens then: These women become keys - they do everything for their kids and their lives revolve around their kids. Then when their kids grow up, go away to school, get married or move out, they suddenly find that their lives are empty because the reason for their existence is gone. These are the women who are most likely to suffer from the Empty Nest Syndrome. And I know from looking at some of my relatives that the consequences are not always pleasant. Perhaps the more secure ones will look for something else to occupy their time, but others will desperately try to regain their dominance in their kids lives, using emotional blackmail, threats and tantrums - leading to what is often a stifling relationship.

But in a way, can you really blame them? If you have dedicated your life to just one thing, all your emotions and ambitions will be invested in only that thing. And if that "thing" doesn't need you anymore, there's bound to be resentment.

This tends to occur more with women who are SAHMs (Stay At Home Mums), not because they are "weaker" or in any way less intelligent but because the homefront tends to be defined only by family and that's where their domain lies. Women who go out to work live part of their lives in the work domain and so usually have another identity to call their own.

I write this NOT as a criticism of SAHMs, I have every respect for what I feel is one of the most underappreciated jobs in the world. I'm mentioning this only so that if you are a SAHM, you might pause to consider if you might be in danger of becoming a key, even without realising it. If you find that your daily activities and thoughts evolve only around your children's needs and wants, then WAKE UP NOW and do something for yourself. And I don't mean necessarily going out to get a job. Or buying yourself a nice handbag as a CNY present once a year or stopping to have a cup of coffee every now and then. I mean, find something you enjoy doing and find time to do it regularly. It can be anything, really. Eg. if someone asks me who I am, besides mum and wife, I can say "obsessive blogger", "writer", "logic puzzle solver", "reluctant exerciser", "entrepreneur" (if I'm feeling grand about myself). You get the drift.

I recently had a chat with a mum who home-schools her kids. She was enthusing about how great home-schooling was, how she could devote all the time to her kids, how she could make sure they get the best education possible. At the end of the conversation, I felt like I was a selfish mum to not want to home-school my kids and to subject them to a second-rate education. I will qualify that I know this mum and she's a fabulous person - it's not her intention to make me feel that way. Perhaps it's the fact that home-schoolers do come under a lot of fire (much of it unfair) so she felt the need to be extra fervent in justifying her choices.

But it goes to show that mums are so susceptible to feeling guilty, even if it's just the slightest implication that we are not doing the absolute utmost for our kids. And mothers already feel enough guilt (we internalise everything bad that happens to our kids), so we probably need to be careful not to add to it.

Being a good mum doesn't mean you have to have home-baked muffins waiting for them when they come home from school. It doesn't mean you have to be there to wipe every sniffle, kiss every bruised knee, sharpen every pencil. Shame on you if you think you're somehow a better mum than the next person because you do all that.

Having your own life and interests outside of your kids doesn't mean you love them less. It means you are a well-balanced individual who understands that a mum who takes care of herself is one who is more emotionally and physically prepared to take care of her kids. I'm pretty sure that in the long run, your kids will thank you for it.


Lilian said...

You inspired me to contribute my own thoughts :) here.

Alcovelet said...

Ooh, gurgle, um, was it me? Sorry lah! BTW, we're only on-job-training!

These are valid points you bring up. I do ask myself if I'm setting myself up to be a key. All my life, I'm so used to being pre-occupied that when I quit my job, I went to the next thing ... the kid! Luckily though, I can't seem to get over my internet addiction, chatting, clothes, books, and my natural inclination to wake up late!

I will do well to remember Obelix's mantra - eat a well balanced diet!

monlim said...

Ad: not talking about you lah! I'm going to use Lilian's phrase - why so sensitive? Hahaha! I'm with you, the waking up late part is a real perk to being home...

Alcovelet said...

Aiya, guilt mah! Man, I do lurve being a "kept" woman, haha!!

eunice said...

The first few months of being a SAHM was really hard as I felt I was losing myself and was a cow (breast feeding), diaper changer, entertainment centre etc. It didn't help that some people thought I was a bimbo because I didn't hold a 'regular' job.

I agree with Monica (again) that we shouldn't lose ourselves when we become mums. I do things for myself that has nothing to do with Sean and am happier because of it.

I guess, there are some mums who can do the 24/7 bit and be keys to their kids and some who don't. Nothing wrong with either, it's doing what suits you best.

bACk in GERMANY said...

Haha... so funny... there I was writing a post to remind me on how little time I spend with my kids on my work day out of guilt. And pang! Thanks for the reminder on being the other extreme!

But I don't think I will lose my existence with my kids leave the nest...
Goodness who actually misses wiping up pukes in the middle of the night or waking up for the umpteenth time to check on the kids when they are sick, or having to think about what to cook for the next meal, or read to the kids even through the eye-lids! I know I won't. I will tell myself it's time to retire!!! Na... I don't think I'd even be like my parents, caring for their grandchildren.

monlim said...

Cindy: When all our kids leave the nest, the IAA mums can meet and grumble about how unfilial they are, how they are so busy working they never bother to call their mums! :D

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