The Burden of the Skirts

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When I grow up, I want to be just like her

Kechi said these exact words to her mum when her mum’s friend who was dressed in pencil skirt suit and high heels had come to visit. The impeccably dressed woman spoke in fluent English and looked like she fell out of the cover of a magazine. Unlike her mother who constantly wiped her face with the ends of her wrapper and spoke using both Igbo and English.

The picture of her mum’s friend faded over the years but Kechi’s determination stayed on. She worked tirelessly to be what she later found out was a career woman and she achieved her dream. A feat her grandfather told her was impossible because a woman’s place is behind her husband – not by his side, but behind, ironing his clothes, preparing his favorite meal and supporting his dreams.

As a woman who has achieved the seemingly impossible – a happily married career woman, Kechi was on top of the world. Then came the good news that she was pregnant, it seemed like the world kept dropping scented roses and gold at her feet. Till her mother said to her ‘Kechi nne now that you are with child, you have to quit your job so you can raise your children”

This point is one many women reach and ponder on for weeks, especially if it’s a woman who planned to be a hands on mom, to be there for her child like her mother was there for her, to see her child’s first steps and hear her first words. The rational part kicks in and says “it’s possible to do both: you can be a working mom, lots of women are doing it, just hire a part time nanny or call your cousin Amarachi from the village”.

Then comes the next hard decision. Just how comfortable are you with another person taking care of your child – with another woman raising your child because that’s really what it would be. The 1 hour you spend with your child before you fall to bed completely exhausted isn’t enough to mold the child’s character. And what about the study that shows that 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys are sexually abused by relatives and family friends? You tell yourself that your child would be the 19 and not the 1. But a little voice in your head says “what if he is”. And that little voice just won’t shut up.

Maybe Kechi finally finds a way to shut the voice up and becomes a career mom – children are happy, she’s happy and she is at the top of the food chain. Till the day she realizes that her 14-year-old daughter had been seeing her period for over a year and she had no idea. “Kachi why didn’t you tell me you saw your period” and her daughter replies “mummy it’s not a big deal, Aunty Amarachi already gave me ‘the talk’”.

That’s one way to look at it. But what if Kechi chooses to be a hands-on mum or to quit her role as Junior Executive in a prestigious firm and get a job that can allow her work from home or at least be at home when her children arrive? Then again, psychologists say that most women who give up their dreams to raise their children grow to resent their children.

Analyzing this situation, a few lines from an old poem comes to mind

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

      –  The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost




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