Of course! You can be a Single Mom and Career Woman!

Photo on 3-23-14 at 10.33 #3I have heard the kind of talk that “you cannot be a single mom and a career woman”. To which I say, such are short of big dreams….! After all, a typical woman, married or not, typically raises child(ren) as a single mom while balancing more than one career. For clarity, I define a “single mom” herein as a mother predominantly in-charge of the major task of child rearing – carrying a fetus to full-term to delivery, caring for the newborn by nursing, clothing, feeding, bathing, aiding in growth milestones, and responding to all her child[ren]’s emotions and attachment, until the child[ren] is of age to be called an adult. I am still insist that unless one is devoid of own parents, siblings, daycare, nannies and babysitters, friends and school community, the notion of “single mom” is an oxymoron. But that is a battle for another time.

 
First off, motherhood is a career on its own; moreover the hardest job in the world! So, hats off to any woman who agrees to lose a part of self to spare time and effort toward this very worthy cause. As mothers, we should give credit to that career, by embracing and applauding out loud, rather than ‘conveniently forgetting’ to remind the world that we are working full-time, even when we are not in an ‘brick and mortar’ office outside our households. The challenge is that the main public face of a “career mother” is the feminist-mentality that most often equates “career” with holding  9-5hrs job, in a ‘brick and mortal’ outside the family house, and earning a monetary reward.
 
I recently read a statement from a female academic scholar who claimed that, “good mothering”, … when mothers stay at home to hug their children, cook for them, wash their clothes, works well only in households where there is another adult who works for an income outside the household. Otherwise, single female-run households daring to be “good mothers” are doomed into poverty and death. I immediately thought of how absurd and dangerous such a statement is! Especially coming from an academic, often given much credibility  as “über intelligent” by the public, that regards them as possessing higher levels of reasoning and capacity to supersede ordinary and extraordinary achievement. Moreover, women in academia typically overcome too many obstacles regarding family and societal expectations and labeling, the classroom environment, and support systems [or lack thereof] to achieve the highest honors and credentials of a PhD. By implication, impossible is nothing! Yet such pessimistic statements go against that thinking. 
 
Let me just say that, while I do not hold a PhD yet, I can fully attest that it is possible to be a single mothers or single-headed household and not wallow in poverty and death, as Ms. Academic lady says. Moreover, you can still be a career woman, and hug your kids at home, cook for them, give them a bath and tuck him into bed. As I have said, being a mother is already a career, and plenty of women around the world are already multitasking as “single-mothers-career-woman” married or not. 
 
Most women who get pregnant do not sit down and cease all active lifestyles. Instead, they carry the growing fetus while managing homes, working in the shambaas, growing food for the family, washing clothes, cooking food and carrying their load, and working in “brick and mortar” offices. We have encountered pregnant women carrying firewood and food on their heads, and those with little ones carrying children on their backs. Or mothers harvesting cotton, while carrying children on their backs. Mothers of multiple children cook, prepare meals and weed the gardens with children in their back. Even in academia, women walk back and forth classrooms as students, writing papers and conducting research, or teachers preparing lectures, grading exams, supervising dissertations, while attending to their children at home or carrying another pregnancy. The same applies to women working in the corporate sector, pregnant or with small children also catered for in the 24 hours each day.
 
I am not saying that any of these women are having it easy, nor can I claim with certainty that they are not. I do not know their circumstances. If I step into their shoes, I would imagine they deal with life on a day-to-day basis, while striving to fulfill their goals -short or long term. Perhaps they put off some dreams, and sacrifices personal wishes. That is what I do as a single mother with a child, trying to pursue a professional monetary rewarding career. Of course, I have had moments of shared motherhood for my son, with my mother, my siblings, my nieces and nephews, friends, my son’s teachers and a once upon a time baby sitter. When I made the choice  to have some “me time” -taking care of my professional, social or fitness and wellness life. 
 
Reading a piece by Kathy Caprino about Why It Is So Damaging To Tell Women They Can’t Have It All (And Why I am So Tired of Hearing It) in Forbes Online, July 4, 2014I love this piece! Particularly because, like Caprino, I hear so often from women of status, of privilege, of class, in a position of mentoring younger women or budding female leaders with the mantra that “trying to have it all comes at great pain and sacrifices.  It saddens me that this the “new breed of feminism”, highly likely to influence young female minds with the rhetoric that you have to choose either or, instead of letting people embrace the limitlessness of the sky…Life is not about 9-5, ‘corporate suit’ or ‘academic gown’ or ‘sitting in a brick and mortar’ outside the household establishment! It is about “lemons into lemonade”

 
I agree with Caprino that, “… to frame the entire discussion  –  and the way you view your life and your world – in this negative, limiting and pessimistic way sets us up to believe, “I can’t have everything I want in my life when I want it, and I’m doomed to fail.  So why try?” It also makes us think that there is some objective standard of “all” that we have to live up to.”
 
Life is about the choices you make and how you balance your choices. On my part, I have had to work around my son’s schedule, and traveled with him whenever I went. When he turned one, we went to another country and my day-time schedule allowed me to drop him off to day school and pick him up at the end of the day. The same happened until his fifth birthday. I refused to take on a nanny or baby sitter, preferring instead to put my son in pre-school, where he would interact with other kids of his age while at the same time learning. Yes, I was earning a living, and had a thriving professional and personal life. Those I engaged with professional knew that I had a young child came first in my life because I had sole responsibility for his welfare. They agreed to with my time schedule, and I made sure that I gave them a worthy return on the time they invested in me. I picked my son up from school, made him dinner, gave him a bath, read to him and tucked him into bed, woke him up in the morning for school, bathed him, fed him breakfast and drove him to school. I did not feel any pain or regret for doing any of that nor a loss of wages or career success. I also learned to trust my family to help out with my son when I was unavailable, especially during the long school holidays or when I was off with my running group when I shared motherhood with them. 
 
So, it is not so much that female-headed households cannot balance professional career and family welfare, it is about the kind of choices we take on. There are plenty of women whose careers involve working from home as virtual teachers, online and tele-communication women or run own businesses.  There are plenty of ways women can recreate themselves, even as single mothers/female-headed households, to afford a paying career and the luxury (yes it is so much now) or tucking their kids into bed, if that is something they would really love to do.  
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Letting children learn the way they read! Lessons in Parenting and Homeschooling a Toddler

Call me a terrible mother! But I am a self-confessed Uganda-Chinese-French-America parent, and in that order! Uganda, because that is my country of birth, where I was raised. Chinese, because the parenting style  of, “Spare the rod and spoil the child”, is a lot similar to Uganda.  French has the “hand-off child. Adults and children belong to separate spaces at playtime, meal time and leisurely”, and I am a big fan of that! America, you probably figured that out already. Yes! my child is American and we live in America, my country for over fifteen years. So, we have to follow the rules about American parenting, and adopt the socio-cultural upbringing of children growing up in America or as Americans.

In many ways, the last – American – is the most difficult for me to abide by. The lassez-faire attitude has just about been converted into childrearing! “Let children rule” and “Give children whatever they want”, at least looking around my most immediate examples. Obviously not all American parents treat their children as “spoilt brats”, but there is a lot of pampering, “parents play with their children”, “children rampaging the dinning table at a restaurant or throwing tantrums”. Children just about treated as ‘brainless’: all they do is wake up, eat, go out to play, come back and eat, play and go to bed. I watch some of the kids my son’s age and older, who cannot pick up their trash, cannot put their plate or cup in the dish after a meal but they can reach out into the fridge and get themselves a drink or something to eat. I remember at six years of age, already washing dishes as my house chore before going out to play. Not only did I put away my plate after eating, but all other adults plates; and nobody waited on me. I have tried to impart those skills into my son young-self. He knows to put his plate in the sink after eating, and washes dishes sometimes. He knows the bathroom sink is his to wipe clean and dry every morning after brushing his teeth. He knows to put away his clothes in the laundry basket. He knows to take off his shoes when he enters the house. He knows to say “Thank You”, “Please”, “I am sorry”. For the most part, he knows to create his own play, not expecting mommy to play with him all the time. I grew up playing with fellow kids not adults.
N’way! While I impart plenty of lessons into my son’s head, and drill him to learn and practice what he has learned, I also realize there are limits to everything. That includes reading, reviewing books and retelling stories. I have noticed, just like his K-Class teacher said, he loves to read what catches his fancy. Anything out of that, he is not too keen about. If a book is of a subject not within his interests, too wordy or cumbersome for him, he turns off immediately. I keep telling him that, “sometimes we do things we are not interested in, but because we have to do them. I give him the example of letting him eat ice cream now and then, even though I do not really like ice cream.
So, with reading comes struggles to keep the focus, especially with books not so exciting to him. I want to adopt my “Ugandan-Chinese” drill surgeon style of teaching, “read read and read, until you get it.” My mom, an Early Childhood Education and Development Trainer would disagree with my style. “Let children enjoying learning,” she will say to me. Plus, I realize working with my son that sinks the ship, wears him down and eats his ego and his little heart. He feels so intimidated and underachieved.
I decide to take him to the Library, so we can together pick out books that interest him and reflect his hobbies and desires. One is Champions! of NASCAR by K.C. Kelly (2005).
Once he is done reading, I give him time to relax and do something else. Then it is time for the book review, starting with a couple of questions:
1. Tell me about the book you read (if responses are not forthcoming),
2. What is the title of the book?
3. Who is/are the author(s)?
4. Who is/are the illustrator(s)?
5. What do you remember about the book you read? (Again, not much response)
6. What are some of the words you remember? (Nothing still)
7. What is this book about?
Then, I prompt him sentence by sentence, allowing him to recall what he learned. When it seems that he is still stuck or ‘prefers’ not to remember, I ask him to tell me some of the words that appeared in the book.
Of he goes:
1. First
2. Championship
3. Races
4. Line
5. Car
6. Competing in races
7. NASCAR
Excellent! I compliment him.
That brought a smile to his face and a feeling of accomplishment, “I think I remember something!” he said The grouchy, teary and visibly tired and check-out child is once again alive and ready to roll.
Next up, I use illustrative questions.
For instance,
1. When you race, what happens?
Ans. Champion
2. What is a champion called?
Ans. A winner
Then he begins remembering facts about the book on his own.
“Mummy, I know another word that I remember in this book, “born”.”
Then he flips through the pages, and goes straight to the sentence where the “born” is, “NASCAR was born….” And more words start coming out…..
So, I tell him, “You know why I am typing this? I am going to put it online, so that other parents can read this and read to their kids. They will learn how to teach their own children, when they are having trouble getting them to learn.” That excites him.
“I just can’t believe I am doing this!” he said
That earned me a hug and a kiss and [Ms. Bankabale’s] smizing eyes!
Then he suggests that we create steps that other people will follow.
Off he goes:
Step One: Biko writes down the words
Step Two: Mummy shows them the book
Step Three: Biko shows them the “Title”
Step Four: Mummy shows them the “Author”
“Good job! Team Work,” he said with a Hi-5!
By now, his umph is back! He feels very achieved and accomplished, and empowered to contribute and lead his learning.
Lesson for me: Allow your child to enjoy the reading experience. It is ok, if he interrupts mid-way. Put a pause and let him ‘ride the show’ for a while. If he adds something that does not relate to the reading, like when he said, “Make special things out of paper to give to people.” Ask him cleverly, “how does that relate to the reading?” He will catch his mistake.
If it seems really hard getting him to read, start the process by reading to him a couple of pages. Keep him engaged by asking him back and forth question of what you just read to him. You will notice that he starts recollecting terms and phrases. He might also ask you a couple of questions and clarifications, or interject with his own interpretations.
When it seems like he is getting really engaged, ask him to read one or two pages. Let him lead the reading, but offer to help him pronounce new and cumbersome words. With my son, I taught him a “cover-and-read” trick. He cover all letters of the word with his fingers, except the first two, reads them in syllabels , as he progressively reveals subsequent words. Once he has pronounced the entire word, he reads it all out aloud. He is super excited to hear mummy say, “good job Beeks”.
In the end, we are all Happy People! Super Readers and Co-Teachers!
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Job Interviewing Taboos –

We have all been to a job interview. By the time you get there, you have done a little bit of research about the institution you are interviewing with. At the very basic, you know a lot about the job profile and requirements, whether it requires travel, and have an idea about its clientele. You are told it is taboo to ask about ‘compensation’, until the prospective employer brings up the topic. Even then, it is safer to bounce the question back to the employer, and let them tell to you how much worth they think of you. Another ‘silent taboo’ is talking about family life at a job interview. Perhaps, if you are a man, indicating  you are a family man during a job interview could present you fairly, as a good family man, who wants a career to afford a good life for his family.  More than likely, if you are a man, you are not expected to spend most of your life as CEO of Home Affairs. Even in ‘liberal’, women are the primarily child rearers and homemakers/ home managers. But how about if you are a woman and a mother?

I recently read an article, “US Foreign Policy Gender Gap” by Sarah Kendzior writing in Al Jazeera, that perception and money affect the number of women in senior level foreign affairs positions. According to Kendzior, perception is related to the assumption that women are particularly diplomatic, or empathetic, or kind, while money dictates that one should be able to afford their way around, especially when competing for an internship in the nation’s major international affairs hubs like New York or Washington. As well, one should afford to fly to interview with The Economist in London or take up an unpaid internship with the United Nations involving temporary relocation to expensive global cities.

What we learn is that while money affects male or female alike, very few ambitious and talented young professionals or students from poor backgrounds can afford these opportunities, even worse mothers with small children. Already, Anne-Marie Slaughter, writing for The Atlantic in summer 2012 told us “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All”, not because they are not super-ambitious but due to a lack of structural support to juggle family and work life.

But something these two writers did not mention was the “deafening silence” to the “Don’t Talk about family life when job interviewing Taboo”. Sure, we can liberally give the prospective employer our physical address, indicate that we are an email or phone call away to “further explore our job interests with the recruiter”, and are “available to start work immediately ”. But we are not exactly at liberty to talk about our family situation, although I have encountered men who ‘comfortably sneaked” in their family life during a job interview. My assumption is they do it because, it projects “a responsible family man”, who prioritizes his family obligations as central to his career success. But for a mother seeking paid employment, it is quite taboo talking about “family life” in a job interview.

Picture this, you are a single mother, with a toddler and would like to be in his life, while equally working a 9-5 job, the standard full-time work hours. I have no doubt that plenty of single parents have had to ask themselves these questions, and many have excelled at work. But I doubt any or many ever brought up their marital status and family life in their job interview, maybe until after the job was offered.

I have been living abroad for the last four years in three different countries, working excellently at my job, with a balanced family, work and “me” life, thanks to the flexibility of my scholarly research career. While living abroad, I scooped plenty of interviews, and job offers, even when I brought out my family status at the first interview. At one job interview, I stated upfront that I am was a single parent, and wished to balance “family, work and me life”, and asked for a flexible work schedule that would allow me drop off my son at school, and pick-up him up at the end of the school day, before the typical end of work day, and also take a personal day off each week. I got the job on my terms, with my son at the center, and with me as a single mother.

Now that I am back in the United States with a richer career experience, I am having trouble articulating “my three-tier life” to any prospective employer. In typical consultancy or NGO employment, plenty of work is done offsite of the employing office – we carry office work on our mobile phones, at home, on the plane and in coffee shops. And while we sign up for a 9-5, we usually put in more hours than we are paid. For one of my employers abroad, I had agreed to a 10:00a to 3:00p from Monday to Thursday work schedule. Yet, I arrived two hours earlier every work day, and also worked on some Fridays, my weekly day off. Whenever I went out to conduct field research and training of village communities away from my office and home base, I spent three days away from my son, without compensation for the nights-out for work.

So, why is it a taboo to ask a prospective employer to factor in the life of a single parent, trying to balance work-family-and-me life? I am aware that having an international career and a degree from a US university might have reflected favorably to my employers abroad, most of whom were in the international affairs realm. But I would like to be accorded similar consideration from employers in international affairs back here in the United States. Most probably though, employers in the US have in the back of their mind concern for, “who will take care of her child while she is at work”, especially when she has to travel to sites away from home? Similar concerns exist whether one is applying for international affairs positions, as a waitress at the local Red Lobster Restaurant, or as a Sales Associate at Walmart.

But all is not lost for single “family-centralist” mothers. As Sarah Kendzior says, for women, [and for single mothers [or single fathers] one has to recreate their professional ambitions, by perhaps becoming a writer or blogger. I know plenty of [single] mothers who have quit lavishly paying and professionally rewarding careers to go on their own and have afforded the ability to put their children’s central. Handy and artistic work is another option that single mothers could pursue. If you are into academia, there are possibilities of teaching, student counseling, or organizing summer camps and student internships abroad, with a flexible schedule. However, getting your footstep in the door is the first mighty step to take. Still, that might not come easily, by telling the prospective employer that – “I am a single mother and I have a five-year old”. That is still a Taboo to Job Interviewing! Image