Let’s bring mums back home


Joy Mutero

Oh yeah, I’m going there… not quite the “barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen” scenario, but definitely something in that direction.

I hope the recent hullabaloo about raising the minimum wage for domestic workers will force us to examine how we became so dependent on them in the first place. Quite honestly, it seems urban working parents are firmly on the wrong track concerning their approach to parenting.

Let me just come out and say what I believe: Every child under the age of seven should enjoy the right to his or her mother’s undivided presence and attention. Period. Is this always possible? No. But can we at least do better? Certainly. With careful thought, prioritisation and planning. Prayer too, if one is so inclined.

Before you start throwing rocks, consider the issue: We are a people enslaved by the servant culture that has become so entrenched we never imagine that family life can be structured differently. This culture was inherited from the British ruling class during the colonial era. Privilege and leisure were the hallmark of their existence in the colonies. Remember, they were propped up in this lifestyle by the hordes of indigenous people disinherited of their ancestral land and desperate for work that could feed their families.

And so a servant class was conceived and has persisted, to the detriment of Kenyan families.

I say we professionalise domestic work and pay accordingly. Or simply do without full-time domestic servants and put mothers back in the centre of our homes.

Don’t dismiss me as unrealistic just yet. Allow me to first confess I was the worst of culprits. When our children were young, we employed not one, but two nannies. Because we could, with two incomes. My highly demanding job required all of me: blood, sweat and even tears sometimes. So my knee-jerk response was to ensure all bases were covered on the home front so I could devote all my time to work.

I never saw anything wrong with what was unfolding on the canvas of my life; I simply didn’t know it could be done differently. There followed a rapid slide leading to a disconnect with the children’s lives. I first lost track of homework, then bath times and lastly conversations about how the day had been for them. A week would go by, then two, and I gradually lost touch with their friendships and developing personalities.

A YouTube video I watched recently took me back to those bad old days. In it, Singaporean mothers are filmed commenting about their children’s likes and dislikes, friendships and so on. In a parallel clip, women employed by those mothers as child-minders are interviewed on the same questions. Guess who has the most accurate answers about the children in question?

If you recognise yourself in this scenario, fellow mother, I beg you to give careful thought to your choices regarding the raising of your child or children. Childhood is short and precious; it is a brief window that allows a parent the privilege of imprinting their values on their child’s impressionable mind.

Mercifully, I got the opportunity to be based at home for a portion of our daughters’ childhood years and have seen what a difference it makes to the quality of family life. Mum, do consider re-adjusting your income-generating activities to make them home based so you can be physically, mentally and emotionally available to that child during the few short years when he or she needs you most.

Raising the minimum wage? Bring it on! If I were in charge, I’d raise the mandatory minimum monthly salary of domestic workers to Ksh25,000/-. Those who can afford to pay will contribute towards poverty eradication. Those who can’t will be forced to become creative in making paid work and parenting compatible.

It’s a win-win situation.

The author is a journalist and former editor of several national lifestyle magazines in Kenya. www.joyonmyfaithjourney.wordpress.com

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