Thirty two-year-old Claudine leaves her house help to do everything at home, including taking care of Jean-Claude, her 8-months-old son. Because Claudine comes back home very tired, she only spends a few minutes with her son before going to bed. Claudine wakes up at 5am to go to work without seeing her son. This is her daily routine that unfortunately has left her son with a life threatening injury.
While Claudine was busy building her career, things at home weren’t so smooth. Anne had accidentally burnt Jean-Claude but it took Claudine two weeks to realise it. Anne would dress Claude in heavy jackets to hide the wounds and his mother didn’t notice anything until his hand started developing some kind of infection and he got a fever two weeks later.
Like Claudine, in this day and age, it is hard for women to carry on the traditional role of looking after their households. Several women today have to work to make ends meet and supplement household income. However this has come at the expense of leaving the fate of homes and children in the hands of house helps.
“The situation where women are abandoning their family responsibilities in the name of building careers can be addressed through change in behaviour amongst spouses. They need to fully embrace the changing roles but should not forget the core family values and their impact on children and society as a whole,” Marie Immaculée Ingabire, a Rwandan women movement activist, advises.
Ingabire says women should work together with their husbands to build stronger families despite changing roles.
She says it’s important for both parents to get involved in looking after their children, rather than leave all responsibilities to the house help, because they are busy chasing their careers.
“With the current trend where both partners leave early in the morning to go to work and come back home late in the evening or when the wife goes for classes because in the earlier days women didn’t have the chance to go for further studies, the best way to handle these challenges is if men and women work together. There are roles that parents need to share in a family for instance like helping the children with homework,” Ingabire explains.
But the problem is not for only working mothers, even stay home mothers have literally abandoned their responsibilities preferring to let the house helps do the work. “If you’re a stay-home mother, why should you employ an army of house helps? Employ one who will help you with the house chores and handle the children yourself,” Ingabire advises.
Pauline Wanjiku, a Counsellor and a master’s student of Social Sciences and Psychology at the University of Nairobi, says that lately women empowerment has placed women in leadership roles at their work places and businesses -taking up time that would have otherwise been spent with their families.
“This does not necessarily mean that they have abandoned their families, they have lesser time with them and at times have to delegate tasks to house helps. But as they do this some end up as victims as they spend less time at home and the house helps (most of them female) can take advantage of the husbands who use their wives absence as an excuse for infidelity,” Wanjiku reveals.
She says that none of the parties in a marriage should see themselves as victims of the hectic schedules; instead they should strive to create more time for each other and their children.
Shamsi Kazimbaya, Acting Secretary General of Rwanda Men Resource Centre (RWAMREC), says despite the changing dynamics in parenting and work, one can still be able to balance work, studies and family.
“I remember a few years ago, I was working as well as pursuing a master’s degree and my children were pretty young. In fact I was even breastfeeding. But the support of my husband made everything easy. I used to go to school in the evening and he would be home to help with the children,” Kazimbaya reveals.
She adds, “It increased my sense of responsibility. Even if my husband was home taking care of the children, I had to make sure that most of the things at home were in order. I think maybe what most women should realise is that although we have many things to do such as studying and building our careers, we are still supposed to take care of our families.”
Kazimbaya further says that some women are misunderstanding gender responsibilities.
“What I have seen through experience even with the work I have done for the last ten years is that there is also a misunderstanding of what gender is. Some women mistake it for reversing roles and behave like men thus rejecting their responsibilities,” Kazimbaya notes.
She advises women that gender equality is something that will not be achieved overnight.
“Women need to understand that gender balance is a process and they have a big role to play because if they don’t, conflict may arise especially in the households. Because if a woman behaves in a bad way just to prove a point that they need the gender balance in a home, this will definitely push the man away. Therefore in my view, as women, we can balance work and motherhood if we involve our husbands in whatever we do,” Kazimbaya emphasises.
According to an article published online by Parent.com titled “10 Ways Moms Can Balance Work and Family”, one of the tips of being able to balance work and family as a mother is creating and organising a family calendar.
The article states that a mother needs to figure out the family’s priorities. A calendar can include dates when bills are due, a chore chart for the kids, a list of school and family events, extracurricular activities, birthdays, and more.
In the same article, Fran Durekas, Founder and Chief Development Officer for Children’s Creative Learning Center, suggests “setting aside 15 minutes each Sunday to review and prepare for the upcoming week’s schedule helps to eliminate surprises during the week.”