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Motherhood is a beautiful yet stressful experience. Part and parcel of this rollercoaster is the transition back to work — whether to go back or not is one of the many questions. Add being an immigrant and that too, in North America, the decision is no longer yours to make and is instead dictated by factors such as exorbitant day-care costs, lack of family support, the family’s financial need for a double income or maintaining one’s competitiveness.

Whatever the decision is, it is one that takes a lot of courage.

Back to work

As of 2021, immigrant women comprised of 16.3% of all employed women in the United States, according to data on americanprogress.org. Despite the considerable presence in the North American job market, an immigrant woman mostly begins her network from scratch which means zero access to the family support you could receive back home when raising children. This ultimately directs families to daycare (babysitters are too expensive to even consider).

Daycare is primarily a western service so there is a certain amount of cultural discomfort regarding it albeit, temporary.

However, the biggest obstacle to it are the associated expenses where more than 50% of families spend 20% or more of their income on childcare compared to the recommended 7%.

But Pakistan professionals like Reem Khan, a programme manager in the health care sector, reassures mothers that day care has its benefits.

“When I see how much my daughter has learnt, the progress, the skill-set she’s building — it’s been incredible. Just to see her happy come out of day care comforts me.”

In addition, she says it can help bridge the gap of having no extended family around. “My husband and I are raising her in Canada without any family support, so what’s made it easier is to bounce ideas off the day care staff who have worked with so many children. It has been really helpful — people who are professional and not judgmental.”

Hybrid work as a result of the Covid pandemic can help maintain a balance between professional and family life as well in certain cases.

“I think back to how moms managed in the pre-pandemic world working full-time in the office and managing kids — it’s a lot,” says Khan.

”I think the hybrid approach [few days at home and few days at the office] falls better in line with my priorities to have healthy meals ready for the family, to be able to do laundry, to be able to do errands so I really appreciate that flexible approach.”

But as far as other types of flexible work for mothers — the situation is not too great in North America compared to other parts of the world. For example, only about a quarter of American women work part-time, compared to the majority of Dutch women. But Dutch women are less likely than American women to be managers, according to The Atlantic.

“I definitely think I would not be equally competitive,” says Khan “It would have been a hit on my career trajectory.”

Flexible work or not, working after parenthood is generally a balancing act. But the weight of it mostly falls on mothers. Traditionally, women have been the primary custodians of child rearing and home management in Pakistani communities.

Many people continue to import this mindset which according to the Moms Hierarchy of Needs’ Pandemic Study limits mothers in the workplace: “Mothers still own household management and childcare in most families. And spend almost twice as many hours on it than dads.”

Stay at home

Even though the primary argument against stay-at-home mothers is loss of a double income, research has shown an interesting perspective.

According to a 2019 report, the value of a stay-at-home mother’s work as $178,201, as reported by salary.com.

“There is nothing like raising one’s own children which is a profession in itself but it is not accepted or acknowledged,” says Naz Mohamed, an education professional. “A stay-at-home mother or house wife —it's about time the whole world recognises it.”

But what about catching up with the lost years of work experience?

“I certainly needed to catch up professionally because the 5-6 years that I stopped working the educational expectation in the system had changed drastically,” says Mohamed.

“It is definitely much easier to catch up in the North America because there is fluidity of changing professions and there is no age -barrier to re-training yourself.”

But the same cannot be said with regard to salaries. According to research, stay-at-home parents often face lost wages along with a “wage penalty” when they return to work. This can look like a 40% reduction in earned income over time.

There seems to be another penalty pertaining to the lost years of using your education that was obtained for a career. However, it can be contested that these “lost years” were actually used in a way to transfer education to children.

According to a study by the University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University and Lund University in Sweden, there is a link between educated households and children with higher cognitive ability.

Another common notion about stay-at-home mothers is that it usually leads to feelings of sadness and social isolation.

But are they really miserable?

“Feeling guilt for putting your career on hold is definitely a western concept, a western treasure from society,” says Mohamed. “Over here, the profession is preferred and I don’t see that in the eastern world.”

Lyman Stone analyses this issue for the Institute for Family Studies and argues that “they have virtually the same self-rated happiness as other parents. The idea that entrance into the workforce has some extraordinary happiness-boosting effect on women is, therefore, a myth.”

Society preys on both

A working mother is usually met with an avalanche of comments like being a lazy or selfish mother for having a career ambition but what is to be remembered is that all women have the right to be ambitious.

In fact, the guilt that mothers face when integrating back into the job market is one that is characterised as an “intense physical and psychological adjustment,” by Denise Rousseau, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University. She says that “all of this is normal,” but unfortunately it “doesn’t make it any less overwhelming,” reported the Harvard Business Review.

And for stay-at-home mothers, society usually mourns them as not being ambitious enough, not adding substantial value and unsolicited advice like “why not have another since you’re free” are rife. In fact, there is research that shows that being a stay-at-home mother is like working 2.5 full-time jobs.

Mohamed says “It was the most natural thing to do after giving birth to enjoy the wonderful bonding and the wonderful experience of raising a little miracle of God.”

And Khan describes her experience as, “having a career allows you to have a really good balance for yourself. I think it's important to have that avenue of self-expression and achievement that’s all yours.”

Stay-at-home or working mothers don't magically raise happy children. Happy, satisfied mothers do and both paths require courage.

The article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Recorder or its owners

Khadija Husain

The writer is a HR professional based in the US

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