Teaching School Children is Blissfully Rewarding!

In many ways, Child of Mine aka COM reminds me a lot about myself. He is a very popular kid, just like his mother was back in her young days. Well, she still is, for a fact [smile]. Except, my child is not the “naughty childish-type” I was. Shhh, don’t tell anyone that I used to skip compulsory school meals and church services, just because I did not want to!

My child is loved! And for that, I am so grateful.

It’s a pleasure watching a kids’ stampede, just to touch, speak, or sit next to COM. Even in his absence, kids tell me how he is the best thing ever invented! Not even sliced bread [or should we say, pizza] comes close. He’s everyone’s favorite, super nicest person, ever! “He does nothing wrong, never” as I was told by one of his former classmate.

At his elementary school, I am now known as “Biko’s Mom” —“because I do not have a name of my own,” or “Mrs. Henderson” —“because I derive my relationship from my child!”

Please believe that I had no influence in getting renamed by these child friends of COM. It is just because, most kids I now know are through my child —at his elementary school, on the school bus, martial arts school, library, birthday parties, community activities or play parks.

These are kids who know COM from the same Kindergarten, First or Second Grade class, belong to the same school Recycling Club, met him at birthday parties of their relatives and friends, through Cub Scout, Tae-Kwon-Do or Tang Soo Do. Some even recognize me from dropping him off at the school bus! They all rave to me, how amazing he is, and spoil me with outpouring attention, and free hugs!

These past couple of days, I’ve been with a Second Grade class where literally, everybody knows my child! One of the kids decided to call me, “Mommy.”

“She’s Biko’s mother!” said another.

Then, they had a change of heart, “Can we all call you Mommy?”

And just like that, I was no longer, “Ms. Lawenger,” but “Mommy!”

The change of name came with showers of favors: ushering me to comfortable sitting, “rest while we complete our work.”

They covered me with my coat to keep me warm; I became the class pet.

Two girls offered to bring him to me from his class at the end of the both school days. I completely forgot he had Recycling Club on Day Two, when I gave them a go-ahead to bring him to me. He came in, confused that I had called him, and went back in haste, “Mommy, I have Recycling Club!”

My day ended with smiles, hugs, spontaneous “Thank You cards,” colored pictures, and unwavering attention throughout the day. One brought a gift bag from home containing an assortment of candy, with a “Thank you for helping us learn and play” note.

 

At the end of day, I told COM about all the love I got, thanks to him, and the many “children I am now mommy to”. He was overjoyed to partake of his celebrity moment! No surprises, his dreams  in the night were loud and filled with laughters, which he told me was because he heard “choruses of mommy,” from the kids my class in his dreams.

 

Ready for more surprises? The next day, as Art Teacher, my first morning class was, “my kids” from the last two days! They all engulfed me in a big family hug, as their teacher looked on in astonishment. She, too, thanked me for a wonderful job! Honored, is an understatement; had to fight back teary eyes!

I love kids, and I love teaching. I am so grateful that I allowed myself to step out of my comfort zone of teaching college and graduated school level, demystifying to myself “Teaching in K-12.” Day by day, I become more comfortable in the classroom, more savvy with teaching aides, more technical following lesson plans, incorporating, or developing my own whenever need arises. I am more energized by the students in my classrooms, and more strategic navigating tough classrooms.

I now know how to command a classroom, dealing with badly behaving students, extending incentives for good behavior, and “putting the shine” on those students making great choices. My students, naughty or nice are as memorable to me, as I am to them.

I meet them at the grocery store or community events, at our local library or COM’s after-school events. Some tell me when they see me running along the streets, during morning or afternoon “bus duty,” or walking in the hallway.

As a friend once told me, “Children Bring you blessings.” Thus, my commitment to share of the blessings of education to children everywhere in the world, by mobilizing as many people to join me in giving a part of ourselves, to promote access to education.

Every change you give can make a change. To you it might be a roundtrip bus or train fare to work; to children somewhere in rural Uganda, it is a dozen of school books and writing materials.

Please join me in giving to the Fishing Communities of Ssi Bukunja in rural Uganda, through the African Social Development & Health Initiative, an organization founded and run by native-born of the area. This is my Birthday Wish and commitment 2016

https://www.crowdrise.com/celebrate-d-lwangas-b-day-with-uganda-fishing-communities

Children bring you blessing. Be Blessed!

Parenting on a Shoe-String of Hope!

Parenting is not for the faint-hearted! Bet you have heard that plenty of times …!

If you have not experienced parenting as yet, I am not trying to dissuade you. But, you heard me! Buckle up! It is going down.

Before I became a parent, I thought parents were such selfish friends, “All they cared for, talked about and had eyes on were their children!” 

Then I became a parent! In my early years as a parent, I scoffed at anyone who said, “I do not want to be a parent.” Or “I did not have parental instincts.”  “Nobody is born with parental instincts,” I thought. But we all try to do the “natural thing”.

Now I am silently terrified for them. Everytime someone tells me, they are joining the “Club of Parents,” I quietly mourn for them, “They are digging their own graves,” so I think. What the hell are they getting themselves into?

It is a hard knock life to be a parent! Definitely tougher for single parents, but not suggesting that two parents living together, and sharing responsibility, have it any easier. It is not a game, yet it is a “hit and miss”. COM on Community Service

Parenting is the toughest job in the world, one which you can never take a break or run away from. Not saying, that nobody takes a break or runs away forever. But I trust runway parents are haunted by the indifference toward their children.

Even parents taking a break, not indefinitely, but for a minute to rejuvenate, recoup or pay attention to one’s other life demands, beat themselves up for “taking time away from their children.”

Little wonder, parents have delegate their job to others, since time immemorial. From the royals taking on slaves and servants to care for their infants, families hiring nannies, as live-ins or 24-hour daycare establishments, or utilizing the help of family and friends as babysitters.

Some of the controversial parenting stories I have heard involved white women in America and white and Afrikaans women in South Africa using black nursing mothers to breastfeed their children because “they did not want their breasts to sag.”

There is a more controversial case of Amanda America Dickson, born of a non-consenting a slave woman to a white planter in Georgia. According to the story, the white planter went against the prevailing racial climate to force a black woman to have a child for him, desperate for a family of his own.

But the biological mother was never allowed ownership of her daughter. She was raised primarily by the white father and his mother [the paternal grandmother], nor mother-daughter bonding, to avoid societal alienation and protect the, “Woman of Color, Daughter of Privilege: Amanda America Dickson, 1849-1893,” according to Kent Leslie named.

Amanda never knew that the woman who lived as a house-slave [put more crudely, called “house-nigger] in her father’s house was in fact her biological mother, until her father and grandmother declined the marriage proposal of her white suitor. They were afraid that a “Black” [literally] family secret would run out of the bag, and ruin their social standing in antebellum Georgia.

I offer these examples to illustrate the complicatedness of parenting, amidst life’s uncertainties, insecurities, under-appreciation, limited resources and social pressures. Yet the toughest job must continue; for many people, on a “Shoe-String of Hope”.

When the resources at your disposal – social, monetary or emotional – are limited, you still have to keep hoping that life will smile on you. A friend told me soon after I became a mother, “Children bring blessings.” Thankfully, I experience that phrase everyday of my life as a parent, doing double shift solo – momma and popsy.

Whenever I am in doubt, whether I will afford a smile, a new pair of shoes, after-school activities, or pick child up from the school bus in time, the stars align brightly for me! There is an excess penny in the bank to pay for Tang-Soo-Do, my neighbor is home to help pick up child till I get back home or child wakes up with a wide smile and big dreams, turning my gray into blue.

Whenever, I self-doubt whether the future will bring appreciation, winning, greatness, excellence, I am take comfort in knowing that I give a lot of myself to embrace the challenge of parenting. No, parenting was not my first calling; in fact, never my calling. Still, I have given a lot of me to ensure that COM has a semblance of normality growing up.

That perhaps, by putting him over and above my interests, I can lessen the potential undesirable effects of being raised by a single mother. Perhaps he will ‘escape’ the pigeon hole into which the world has pre-cast him, from childhood. Perhaps, he will be one step ahead, of his pack, and strive to be the best. The physical visibility of mother’s love, and her presence, will warm him to the beauty, kindness and goodness of life, amidst life’s strife, human suffering, and struggles.

Yet, the gambling continues! As parents, we have no guarantee that all the investment we invest in our children will pay off. Whether they will turn out to be disciplined, committed, self-driven, kind and loving.

Are we parenting too much that, they will not be able to go it alone? Or they will give up on the values and skills we pushed onto them to achieve, in the name of preparing them to be the best and conquer the world?

Are we breeding “adultscents”, stuck in perpetual “waithood”, too afraid of failure, that they will resist taking bold steps of responsibility, in case they turn out like their parents? We have been there; running away from the “mishaps of our parents and older siblings,” ending up right in the same shit-hole. Not to say every does….Obama seems to be doing great…though we cannot deny the vicious cycle that grips plenty of others.  For now, we shall keep battle the best we can….Parenting on a Shoe-String of Hope!

Amidst the Economic Hardship, Parents are Still Raising their Children on their Terms

Even amidst the economic hardship that has defined America’s workforce for nearly a decade, parents are still raising their children on their own terms. Many couples and single parents are finding ways of staying on top of their children’s learning, health, nutrition, wellness, sports and social engagement, while at the same time negotiate their economic survival above water.

It is also true, once again, that educated parents are more likely to take the drastic decisions that put their children at the center of their lives. Yet, single or married, parents are also trading in financial comfortable and higher paying jobs and taking on low paying less stressful jobs that allow them more time to lounge around, and avail them with more conveniency  and time with their children. It is not uncommon now for parents with graduate and post-graduate degrees to opt for elementary teaching jobs, work-from-home, start-up own business or volunteer with a local charity, church or coop, in the name of managing their time on their terms. Couples are either working together or ‘trading spaces’, dividing the time as “stay-at-home’ parent or the ‘main-parent-of-contact-at-home’ at a particularly time. Granted it is typically mothers taking on “CEO-of-Home Affair”, but fathers working from home or with more flexible professions, as academic professors, for instance, are  increasingly taking on more time at home with their children. Single parents (often mothers), without the support network of an extra parent are also finding ways of risking it for the sake of their children.

Among these parents, plenty are now homeschooling their children, for various reasons ranging from – concern about the quality of public education available to them, the constraint against their beliefs (often religious) and values absent in the public school system, the love to engage their children in ‘alternative education and learning’, and their sedentary work lives that do not allow them to settle in one geographical space all year-around. Once again, the economic choices such parents have embraced are also a huge determinant of how they are raising their children. I know a couple who quit their permanent habitat and employment, rented out their house, and took on a travel lifestyle with their two 4 year and 5 year old girl and boy respectively. Preferring a minimalist lifestyle without much material possession, and opting for chance to expose their children to the world, both parents took on a career in photography for a living,. They live in their car, on the road, camp out in open spaces, and occasionally spend a night or two at any of their friends for a chance to do laundry and enjoy a warm meal. I have married friends, where the mother opted to teach in Virtual School so she could stay at home with their growing children, while the father went out to work. Another mother-friend works from home, as director of programs at an organization with North American offices. Husband goes out to work in the office, a couple of days a week, then comes home early to spend some time with their daughter. Another professor friend, with a career in international politics, spends a larger part of the year traveling abroad for conferences, research and teaching. Her husband, who runs a home business has been more available to take care of the kids since their childhood and run the household.

I know you may be saying that I am talking about well-to-do parents or those who have made choices of convenience. Not the “real-world” struggling parents, whose life choices may not  put their children center-stage. The “real world” couples and single parents, who may not have the luxury to decide that being around their children transcends all other parental responsibilities. In most cases, these parents trust a “third party” with a larger part of their children’s upbringing, either a grandparent, a daycare/nightcare center, school or friend, while they are out to work. Yes, their children do matter very much to them, but they have to earn a living to afford to ’satisfy them’ and ’shower them with love’.

Yet even couples whose careers are “child-centric” can still attend to clients outside the home or out-of-town, take vacation alone or with their partner, go out to dinner and meet up with friends. They just have to call on the grandparents, some not living too far from them, or living with them. If not, CARE.com is an e-click away. I am also aware of single mothers, not receiving lavish child support from the absentee father, who have decided to run their careers and lifestyles around their children. It is a huge sacrifice, especially without the support, even if occasional, of a second partner or a family network. Like a friend, a single mother of two girls, with a full-time night-duty job but still on top of her children’s education. She enrolled them in the state online/cyber program, and hired a coach to oversee their study when she wants time off to run errands and take care of family business. She does not like to enroll them in public school, which she feel does not provide a respectful place for their religious beliefs nor a good learning environment, yet she cannot afford a private education. A single mother friend living in The City, quit her job at a huge private philanthropy with international travel opportunities to dedicate more time to her six-year old son and budding home business. Another mother chooses opportunities that fit within her single parenting lifestyle and resources availed to her, to allow her drop her son off at the bus everyday, pick him up from the school bus after school, and spend as much time venturing outside over the weekends. He professional career choices include taking up research fellowships abroad, home-based consultancies, work-from-home paid employment and building her social entrepreneurship. She also wants to ensure proper health and wellness, social skills, manner and a well-rounded development for her son.

Yes, there is a cost to pay, but life is a “cost-benefit analysis”! We all live by “opportunity cost”, choosing and picking from the ‘bountiful’ of menu availed but not always accessible to us. After all, teaching and learning continues across geographical spaces. One can attained a US education, while living on a military base in Germany or providing humanitarian assistance in a refugee camp in Nakivale. The opportunity to engage in one’s child[ren]’s learning is a highly courted luxury not affordable to many. Those opportunities are especially so lost on many parents without high education or financial independence. They work two to four jobs a day, just to make the next paycheck (or not), with no time left to sit down and immerse themselves in their children’s learning and development. Without much flexible to make it to their children’s next game or music concert, play, or the doctor’s appointment. They do not have plenty of time to read to their kids before they go to bed, sit down and do homework with them or play outside with them. Yet in the end, their lives might end as miserably as the Portuguese woman, who had four jobs, took a nap in the car, where she lost her life —and there ended her American dream!

Watching TV as Productivity!

I will be the first to admit that I used to beat down on people who “watch TV”. I was always big mouthing how “TV Rots Your Brain”. I succeeded in feeding that to my son, and he in turn repeated it to anyone who tried to lure him into watching TV. In my world, TV was unproductive, because adults sit at home with eyes glued on TV the entire day, vegetating and doing nothing, was my “turn off the TV” alarmist rant. Plus, kids getting exposed to all sundry on Nicky Nite, Disney Channels and so much more channels I am discovering now in other peoples living rooms! Especially in places (like Uganda) where TV is uncensured, kids are not protected from all sorts of nasty adult TV liberally broadcasting kissing adults on soap operas, war games, violent movies with murder, blood and vengeance. Yes! Sometimes even the Oscars, the Grammys and other celebrity award shows are  “R”! Interestingly, I have since come to agree that, TV does not always rot the brain, and maybe adults at home do not sit and watch TV all day! 

 
Believe you me, I did not own a TV set until after grad school, when my then boyfriend handed-me-down his TV, as he was preparing to move overseas for work. I took it but refused to sign up for cable TV, instead maintaining the basic channels. My TV served my basic interest in watching news and weather forecast in the morning before I went off to work, and in the evening when I came back home before bed. “That is all I needed,” I told myself. After all, it gave me a little bit of surreality, delivering me from news over-circulation, with shows like Survivor, the Amazing Race, America’s Next Top Model, Judge Mathis and Jay Leno
 
A while later, between waiting to move into my condo, I needed a short-term rental. So, I moved in with a roommate who already had cable TV included as part of the utilities, and I had to accept by default. Thereon began my life of ‘binging’ on Cable TV, watching plenty of reality shows – notably The Hills, The City, Keeping up with the Kardashians, Chopped, Project Runway, Say Yes To The Dress, and House Hunter International. And now there is OWN TV with plenty of Tyler Perry shows.
 
Recently, while watching Undercover Boss on OWN, it struck me that maybe watching TV can actually boost productivity at work, wherever one’s work is. My work is usually from home, where I feel most comfortable. I tend to prefer working in a noisy environment because my productivity is  lower in quiet places like a library; I often fall asleep or get distracted especially when I am reading. Then I either switch to social media or internet news. So, I prefer to work from a place burbly and busy. I feel guilty sitting in a coffee shop and not buying anything. Since I do not want to spend on teas and bites, I choose to stay at home where I have plenty to distract myself with including tea breaks, my email, social media, a stretch, and the gift of a TV remote! 
 
From Undercover Boss, which I have grown to like, plus a couple of other shows like Iyala Fix My Life, HGTV Home Improvement, Shark Tank, and my longest addiction to Judge Mathis, I learned about the power of TV in boosting personal and professional productivity. Talking about Undercover Boss, this is a show where CEOs or CFOs/COOs of Fortune-500s go on a ‘clandestine’ mission around the different locations of their companies, taking on the jobs of their “everyday employees”. Jobs that would otherwise be classified as bare-minimal wage jobs, like cleaning toilets, collecting trash, flipping burgers and picking lettuce on their farms. The CEOs spend a day with their employees, getting first-hand experience of how the real people who hold their companies down, who make the money that afford the big people private jets, are struggling to afford the next meal, to put their children in daycare, to afford medical treatment or physical therapy for their loved ones or a room over their heads. Stories about people who have slept in make-shift cardboard houses, along railways trucks, or on the streets, but wake up every morning to come to work with a smile. I heard the story of a woman raised by her grandmother, but was not able to afford her an education. Her grandmother tried homeschooling her and her two siblings the best she could, but did not go too far. She wanted to be a water technician, had the hands-on knowledge and experience but could not gain the confidence to raise her hand and speak in class. Imagine somebody born in America, with free elementary education, but could not afford a chance of going to school! Yet she serves all her clients diligently with a smile!, not imposing on them her life’s miseries!
 
Once I had wiped away my tears, I felt a sense of rejuvenation and optimism for my pursuit of the next big grant to support my social philanthropy. That story re-ignited in me the passion to keep trying and utilizing all the skills I have accumulated in my years to re-make my life and put myself back on the road to recovery. It reminded me that giving up, failing and despair is not an option. That even if circumstances seem bleak, I am more privileged than I might acknowledge sometimes. While I worry about student loans to pay off, I have a graduate education, international work experience, a sharp mind and eye, a huge social network and a fully-fuctioning body. I am also privilege to have 24-7 wireless internet connection, a laptop, iPad, iPhone all functioning so good, with electric, water and food. From Judge Mathis, I have become more “court smart”, gaining plenty of tips on court etiquette and how to present a case in a small claims court. Of course I also like Judge Mathis for his ‘unbarred’ and unabashed reproach of those who appear before him, while also dispensing free counseling to anyone who cares to listen.
 
Watching various TV programs has boosted my personal and professional productivity, with plenty of new ideas for survival and excellence. Shark Tank is another productive hour spent learning lessons in investment and business management. The show features kids 11 years of age, who are already running own businesses and seeking investors to grow higher. So, why not conquer my fears and regain the umph to succeed and put your ideas to work? Even the not-so-smart TV shows like the Kardarshians and Housewives teach us interesting skills in strategic planning and wealth creation, that we perhaps never gained in a graduate class. People with no or little education end up making billions out of those with an elite education, and in fact employ us to toil for peanuts! That is the American way! So, the script turns – TV does not entirely rot the brain; it boosts plenty of productivity.  

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.  

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