When I finished school and it was time to begin college, I didn’t know what direction I should be heading in. Science was not my forte – this much had become amply clear during my futile struggle with it in high school. I found numbers daunting. My mother very helpfully suggested Home Economics (no ulterior motives whatsoever I’m sure!). I balked. Home Economics was for virtuous girls of a bovine inclination, the very name sounded completely off-putting. I considered myself to be a rebellious, and most importantly, an intelligent girl. It had to be something more like Art or Literature.
In the end I studied a discipline equally as pacifistic as Home Economics – English Literature, according to a gentleman who shall remain nameless, is all a girl really needs to study, apart from being able to dress well. These two traits are apparently sufficient towards getting a girl gainfully married off.
In hindsight perhaps, it was a good thing I didn’t study something that should necessarily have culminated in a professional career. I didn’t study to be a doctor or an engineer. I didn’t study to be a dentist. I dreamed of becoming an architect but that bus passed me by too, as many buses pass many of us by. But had I studied anything like medicine or biochemistry, it would have been criminal for me to plonk it to one side and become a full-time, stay-at-home mother. It would have been criminal for me to take such a decision and it would have been criminal for my husband or future in-laws to have expected such a decision.
Yet I have come across several qualified female doctors in my own extended circle of family and friends who gave up professional work after they got married and had children. This seems something of a trend in Pakistan. Things are rapidly changing but every so often you hear of a girl who resigned because she got married. The reason isn’t always pressure from her in-laws or her husbands. Many girls have no choice but to resign when they have children because of the absence of a reliable support system to help them run their households. Many others make the active decision to stay home to care for their children because they want to.
I did. I went through a period of great confusion and depression at the beginning of my marriage possibly because I could not reconcile myself to merely cooking and housekeeping day in and out. I frantically looked for a teaching position, pretending I could teach O’ and A’ Level English Literature, with a little baby dependent on me for his every need. I found myself a nice place to work too. And felt faint when I was apprised of my hours and job requirements.
My aunt, a senior school teacher herself, sat me down. I shall be forever grateful to her for this. She explained that children who grow up watching their mothers going to work, feel an overwhelming need to follow in their footsteps. My mother had been a life-long teacher, always busy, with mounds of correction to get through, papers and tests to set, end-of-year productions to arrange. I subconsciously looked up to her as an intelligent woman, with a life outside our home, with colleagues, and legions of adoring students. However I failed to register that my own circumstances were quite different. Whereas my mother made a conscious decision to go to work so that she could put her children through the schools she wanted to and make the life choices she needed to make without any constriction, I had no monetary constrictions at all. My husband was, and still is, a good provider. There was no reason for me to abandon my child at the mercy of a distant relative or even a professional care-giver in my quest to be a professional, working woman. I came to see the intellectual stimulation I craved as a selfish motive detracting from my role as a mother. I doted on my baby boy. He was my world. Everything about him was of the utmost importance. I faced up to the truth that I had not the heart to leave him with a stranger everyday and go forth into the world to bestow my energy and enthusiasm on a wholly other group of children, often ungrateful, for whom I would be merely another teacher. Their possible adoration could not match up to the very real, gurgling smiles my son extended my way every single day as I bathed him, as I changed his clothes, as I fed him, as I spoke to him, as I sang to him. I realised that before me was my most devoted audience, my most loyal student. I realised that I could not bear to be parted from him. And I actively decided to stay home and be the most devoted mother I could be.
I feel sure however that my decision was made easier by the subject I had chosen to pursue at college. How fair is it to ask a girl who has outshone the boys in her medical class to obliterate thoughts of a professional career and stay home to bring up a family? This is what I have been pondering over. It is politically a very wrong thing to say but I have begun feeling perhaps it isn’t such a bad idea for girls to make pacifistic choices after all.