Making the decision to stay home with your kids or join the workforce can be a difficult one – or as a single mom, you might not have a choice. Most psychologists, however, encourage women to make the choice that brings them closest to fulfilling their personal hopes and dreams. “It is of the absolute importance for the mother to keep her dreams alive,” says Bloemfontein psychologist dr Elize Groenewald, who often sees patients left with no self-worth when their children leave the nest. “Your first role is that of a woman. Thereafter you must find a way to be creatively fulfilled and only thereafter, you can be a mother.” Many women, Groenewald says, seek happiness in motherhood, but they should find it in themselves first. “You should take care not to use your feelings of guilt as the only reason to stay at home for the kids.” Fulltime mother Sonja Meyer had to make the compromise since her husband works away from home often.
“It is a great privilege to be there for my children every day,” she says. “The other day my youngest daughter got hit at hockey practice and I was right there next to the field to dry her tears and to encourage her to go back on.” For Sonja it would be unthinkable not to be part of her children’s everyday lives. As an older mother, she does not plan to go back to work once the children leave home. “If you do the math you will see that after my youngest leaves school, I would have been outside the job market for nearly 20 years. It would not only be difficult, but almost impossible to return.” Elsie du Preez, on the other hand, cannot imagine herself staying at home full time. “I once was between jobs for only three months and I nearly went crazy,” says the mother of two who works full time and also does part-time research on a project. “I think you should know what you are personally capable of. Some children have special needs, but I am very blessed that my children are talented and independent for their ages.”
She also says that she has a wonderful support system, which includes both grandmothers and a fantastic nanny. “Of course there are days when I feel really bad as I pick up my dusty kids from after school, but then I take them home and smother them with love and attention – until they go to bed and I get on with my research!” In her book, When Mothers Work, Joan Peters points to another issue. “One of the aspects of mothering that’s terribly important is making sure that you can provide for your children financially,” she writes. She notes that many women work to be prepared for unforeseen circumstances like a husband’s unemployment, a divorce, or illness. According to her, one of the best midway solutions would be if work environments were more child-friendly. The closest she could get to an in-house crèche, says Anita Booysen, mother of three-year-old Andoné, is The Little Professor, a preschool on the University of the Free State campus. “It really saves a lot of time during morning and afternoon drives, and I am definitely less worried during the day – just knowing that I can drive there in two minutes should something go wrong!
Children should never be the centre of your universe. Groenewald explains: “I see children develop strong feelings of guilt if they are constantly reminded that they are the reason for their mothers’ existence. They constantly feel that they have to give back and this is unhealthy.” Research showed that children only need 30 minutes alone time with a parent once a week to feel special and loved. “But this should be alone time with the parent only, without a cellular phone or other distractions,” says Groenewald. “It is very little, I know! But you will be surprised how many parents never do this.” “Whether you work or don’t work is not the issue, but rather to reaffirm your love for him or her as often as possible,” Groenewald concludes.