The Questions Behind Motherhood and Career

Choices, like every other thing in life, are often irreversible and consequential. They do not always allow avoiding mistakes but it almost always results in personal growth. Human error is inevitable. But it comes with the chance to learn.

I came to think about a woman’s choice to domestic life. A good friend of mine, early thirties, Eastern European, career woman by day, miserable divorce by night, asked me one day, “What do you think of women wanting to become house wives? After all their education, work and self-actualization in society – they consciously choose the role of being a stay-at-home mom?”

Feminism has forced us, the women of the 21st century, to look down on domestic life. Our great grandmothers had clawed and bled to give us the freedom and opportunity to study and compete alongside men, to speak our mind and be respected for our thoughts – it seems only fair for us to revel in self-actualization and avoid domesticating ourselves after marriage (if we marry at all!).

Or is it?

Before marriage (or any other lifetime commitment), we all learned how to stand on our own two feet. My priority is me. I must learn effectively and efficiently the ‘how to-s’ of surviving the competition. To be independent and even dependable financially, professionally, intellectually – all aspects regarded as direct contribution to the social system.

But after marriage, naturally things took a turn.

On those days of scrubbing and paying the bills, I have gained respect to both lives. My life as someone’s companion and my life as someone’s co-worker. It is just as hard to maintain a healthy relationship with food on the table, deep conversations over coffee, who cleans what, when, and which space is whose. That of dreams, wonders, fears, plans, sincerity and sharing is, to me, as hard as, if not harder than, working overtime due to a hardcore deadline and presenting a proposal the next morning in a language not your native.

It is, then, a matter of priority. Priorities shift with time and is relative with each person. Each person possesses different sets of framework and each cannot be imposed on the other. That’s the art of it. A woman letting go of her chances to become productive in society to raise a child 24-7 is not less than those who choose career. She dedicates her life to the betterment of another’s without easily acknowledged personal advantage. Such sincerity and courage is not to be looked down on. A woman letting go of her chances to give birth or raise a child to be useful for hundreds or even thousands of other people is not be looked down by those who choose to raise a family. She dedicates her life to the betterment of others whom she might not gain advantage from. Such sincerity and courage is not to be looked down on.

Then there’s someone like my mother. Who does both and juggles her life as a leader and her life as a mother to a teenager going through what might be the roughest time in his life. A woman who lives with the thought of not being able to give 100% to either roles, regardless of how good the results are, is also not less than either choices. Such sincerity and courage is not to be looked down on.

Neither is less than on the other is just as true as the expressing ‘none the wiser’. They are all equals with trials and errors and learning and failing – strength is too relative to judge with limited indicators. At the end of the day, I think as mothers and mothers-to-be, we need to decide the consequences we can live with. Which choices we can fully embrace, along with is pros and cons, worst case scenarios, and what-have-yous. After all, becoming a mother is about choice. And choices are with but one characteristic.

You can never have it all.


Inaya Rakhmani

PhD candidate, Murdoch University, Perth, Australia
Lecturer, Universitas Indonesia

Mother of Malik, 20 months

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24 Comments - Write a Comment

  1. sanetya

    Saya pun seorang ibu bekerja yang pernah menjadi FTM dari melahirkan hingga anak berusia 9 bulan. Jika ditanya, saya sebenarnya ingin meneruskan status FTM tp apa daya..kebutuhan (bukan karena keinginan berkarir atau sbg wujud pengaktualisasian diri) “mengharuskan” saya untuk kembali ke dunia kerja. Sebuah realita yg memang hrs dijalani. Dan saya melakukan keduanya dengan usaha terbaik.

    Inspiring article!

  2. great, inspiring article, Ms. Rakhmani.
    “you can never have it all” — certainly is very, very true. feminism has somewhat shaped this popular notion that we women can have it all – we are “supposed” to have it all.

    IMO, whether we choose to be in the workforce, or to stay at home, we will always be judged. (the misadvantage of being a woman, i think?) if you stay home, there’s bound to be someone who’s going to say (usually a feminist) “nggak bosen apa di rumah terus? ngapain dulu kuliah cape cape kalo akhirnya ya cuci baju sama nyuapin anak di rumah.” and if we choose to go to work, there’s bound to be someone who’s going to say (usually a traditionalist), “apa nggak pengen jadi FTM? apa nggak kasian anaknya ditinggal di day care atau sama pembantu?”

    isn’t feminism supposed to embrace the very fact that it was formed in the first place to enable women to have “choice”? whether it be to stay home or to be in the workforce. isn’t it supposed to embrace that one choice is not lesser to another? that both choices are equally noble, and that we as women are supposed to respect each other despite the differences in choices we made.

    only thing we can do is to do our damnest in whatever it is we choose.

    thanks for the refreshing essay.

  3. Nice article! Repotnya jadi perempuan… Jadi working mom ada yg comment, jadi stay at home mom pun ada yang comment. Dan justru yang banyak comment itu perempuan juga. Bukannya perempuan harus saling support ya apapun pilihan mereka?

  4. very interesting article!

    I agree that life is about choosing. And doesn’t matter whatever path we have chosen, the most important thing is that at the end of the day we have no regret of choosing it. Be it a working mother or a full time mom.

  5. affi

    It’s a never ending question, choosing between being a full time mom or working one. I was faced with that problem too and ended up choosing both, by working for myself in the hope that I’ll have more freedom to be with my daughter anytime I want. Now that the biz is growing, I don’t have as much time for her as before, when I just started, but I can still live with it because when I have to be away from her, it’s my choice. Not because my boss told me too :D

    I can’t agree more about being able to live with the consequences of your choice, no matter what it is. Because there isn’t right or wrong in this situation.

    Thanks for the article Inaya :)

  6. I love this article.

    Just write my own pro’s and co’s of being full-timed mother for my son before I read this article. I’m about to leave my job, but feel that someday I will regret that decision. So, here I am, still working at the office and leave my son with the babysitter… ahahahahahaha

    well yeah, I agree.. we can never have it all. :|

  7. Dearest mothers,

    Thank you so much for your kind comments (and votes!). I can’t begin to explain how empowering it is to know that the thoughts I had are shared. Jadi ibu susah tapi menyenangkan ya. More to come!

    With love,

  8. Saya telah mengundurkan diri dari kantor saya sejak 2006 bertepatan dgn berakhirnya cuti melahirkan anak ke 2. Adalah keputusan yg sangat berat dan melewati masa-masa transisi yg menyita perasaan bosan & menyesal. Tetapi, masa itu telah berlalu, seiring hasil yg saya semai. Ibarat menanam, kini ‘taman’ saya indah bersemi. Anak2 yg sehat & cerdas, kritis krn saya siap berada disamping mereka utk menjawab pertanyaan. Saya bebas bersama mereka, tanpa dibatasi jam & hari kerja. Menjadi Ibu adalah kesempatan emas bagi kita kaum perempuan.

  9. wiseman says kalo hidup ini adalah pilihan…dan pilihan dibuat berdasarkan prioritas…
    kalo seorang ibu ditanya mana prioritas paling penting: anak ato kerjaan…pasti dia tanpa pikir panjang akan milih anak…cuma yang bikin dilema dan pusing tujuh keliling adalah ketika karena anaklah seorang ibu harus bekerja…jadi prioritasnya ada di kerjaan, karena dari kerjaan bisa dapat penghasilan yang bisa membantu untuk memenuhi kebutuhan anaknya…jadi kalo ditanya lagi: anak ato kerjaan…seringkali jadi yang dipilih kerjaan, karena adanya anak dibalik pilihan tersebut…
    alangkah enaknya kalo kita bisa memilih keduanya..jadi bisa melakukan pekerjaan yang menghasilkan, tanpa harus menomorduakan anak, apalagi di saat2 dia sangat membutuhkan keberadaan ibunya…dan dengan kemajuan teknologi dan maraknya dunia usaha sekarang ini, banyak sekali lo ternyata pilihan yang bisa dilakukan para ibu untuk bisa tetap berada di samping anaknya and yet tetap bisa berpenghasilan…
    untuk para wanita yang belum jadi ibu dan bermimpi suatu saat jadi ibu..bisa melakukan persiapan lebih dini ni..biar ntar pas da jadi ibu ga perlu terpaksa meninggalkan anaknya karena memikirkan masa depannya secara finansial..
    bener kata Eha…menjadi ibu adalah kesempatan emas bagi kita kaum perempuan…ayo wanita indonesia…semangat ya…!!! =D

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