Last month I heard my neighbor’s one year old baby crying and frantically scratching at the door of their house. It was around 4:00pm in the evening (I work from home; the small joys of being a writer). I waited to hear if the house-help would rush to her and attempt to calm the child down, but nothing happened. After about ten minutes, the baby was still crying. I walked to their door and that’s when it hit me. The baby was home alone and the house was locked! I was mortified. Unable to open the door, all I could do was pray that someone would come home soon. About half an hour later the house-help came back. When my neighbor came from work I had a chat with her about it. Needless to say that now the house-help sneers at me whenever we meet.
In the last couple of months, the Kenyan media has been filled of horror stories about house-helps. I have heard women complain about how their domestic managers left their babies all alone. I have read with despair as a mother told the story of how her young son contracted an STI from the house-help. These stories tell us of how kids are being sexually molested and kidnapped by the people hired to be their caregivers. These stories will give anyone sleepless nights.
Although only the extreme cases attract media attention, there are other untold stories. Ask a working mom near you and they will share their woes about leaving the homes to helpers. They will tell you that their 2 year old is not talking yet. Why you ask? Because the helper does not engage the child. Others will complain that their beloved child has picked up foul language and odd dance moves. How? Because the helper sits the kid in front of the TV as she does her chores. And who can blame her? Her job is not only to watch after the child but to also tend to house chores.
When I was in the office, I held fort for my colleagues when they had to take their child to school because the house help bailed on them that morning. Sometimes, they had no choice but to bring their children along to work.
All these stories are making me take a hard look at women empowerment. I look at women in Africa with joy. The results of women empowerment are tangible. Women are getting good education and good health care. Cultural practices like FGM and wife inheritance are slowly becoming a thing of the past. There are more women in boardrooms than ever before. And this is a very good thing.
But of late I have been wondering if the price of women empowerment is too high? What is the price women are paying? Are we sacrificing our families at the altar of education and better jobs?
Before you start stoning me, hear me out. I have spoken to a couple of women and most of them tell me that both of their husbands and themselves have to work. Raising a family takes money. I get it. It needs to be done. I am married and I know the dynamics that come with motherhood. But we have to ask, what is the sacrificial price?
If we are sacrificing the upbringing of our children, then I dare say the cost is too high. Family is extremely important. Your child would rather come home to a nice cooked meal and a mom who helps with homework rather than a new expensive toy. We need to be the ones that discipline our children, congratulate them when they do well and encourage them when they fall.
We need to seat down and think hard. Do a cost benefit analysis, if you may. And let’s be brutally honest while we are at it. Realize that your employer only sees you for what you do for the company. If you left today, they’d rehire in a heartbeat. Also remember that you cannot tell your children to pause growing up as you climb the corporate ladder. Once they are born, there is no stopping them.
Let’s re-evaluate. If not careful, the next generation of men and women will need more empowerment than we did. They will need outside people to reassure them that they are beautiful and bright because their parents were never home to tell them how amazing they were and to build their self-esteem. They will have issues of identity and the challenges of peer pressure will be more than they are today.
And when you are done thinking, do something about it. A story is told of a woman who once heard her son call the house help “mom”. She quit her job the next day. It does not mean you come home and do nothing. No. The proverbs 31 woman in the Bible speaks of the hardworking woman. Work from home. Live near the office. Get a job that has flexible hours. Whatever you do make sure you have time for your children.
Sure it will mean making sacrifices. You might have to give up the part of your job that involves lots of travelling. During a job interview, you might have to state upfront that you do not work on week ends. You might need to live on less. But the thing is, it shall be worth it.
Let us continue to celebrate women empowerment for what it has provided women in terms of opportunities, but let’s be careful that it has not and will not affect the well-being our families.