In this day and age, we see more and more Muslim women entering the world of work. Sometimes this is out of necessity; sometimes it is due to the woman’s need to contribute to society in some way or to use the knowledge and skills that she has acquired.
In other instances, it is due to the wishes of a spouse, parent, or other family members. Whatever the situation is, the fact is that a significant proportion of Muslim women are working. At the same time, many of these women are also shouldering the responsibilities of motherhood and management of the home. How do these women cope? How do they manage to balance work and home? What are the best options for a woman and her family?
First, the trend
Muslim women in many parts of the world are being indoctrinated to believe that in order to have value they must be “career women” who work outside the home. This is part of the “women’s liberation” movement that is being promoted by the U.N. and various international groups. And it is not occurring without serious side effects, most of which are only beginning to appear. Women are choosing to delay or forego marriage all together in order to pursue their education and careers. Many have also decided that if they do get married, they will only have a few children.
They would not dream of having 10 or 12 children that their mothers had! Others are suffering emotional and physical problems as they attempt to compete in a male-dominated world.
What women need to understand is that while there is nothing wrong with becoming educated and developing a career, they should not neglect the most important career in life — motherhood. While it may be necessary for some women to work outside the home, in a normal society, the majority of women with children (particularly young children) should be in the home. So rule number one related to the balancing act is that if it is possible to stay at home, this would be the best option for both the mother and the family. Children have many needs that a mother is best suited to meet. Motherhood is a career and it carries with it immense rewards!
For women who do not have the option, the following tips may be useful:
1. Try to focus on careers that match the qualities of a woman and that will be less competitive and less stressful. Attempting to compete in male-dominated careers can have serious effects upon women, such as encouraging aggressive, dominating, and controlling traits that are more characteristic of men. This, in turn, may impact the family. The stress of the job itself may be carried home as well. Women who work in predominately masculine jobs interact more with men, increasing the temptations that may arise between genders.
Teaching, social work, nursing, and child care are good examples of careers that fit more with the nurturing and caring nature of women. These types of careers enhance those natural traits and ease the transition between work and home. They also provide valuable contributions to society.
2. Find careers or jobs that offer more flexibility in terms of scheduling and hours. Teaching is a good example since the mother’s schedule is often the same as the children. Part-time work is also preferable to full-time work, if this is possible. Some companies have programs for employees with families, such as flex-time and time-sharing. Working from home or establishing a home business may be other suitable options for women.
3. Find someone that can be completely trusted to take care of the children, preferably a Muslim sister or a close family member. Children are able to bond with an unlimited number of people as long as they are cared for and loved. A Muslim sister or family member may become like a “second mother” for the children, which can alleviate separation anxiety and other negative effects caused by separation. Home-based childcare is the best option for young children. Older children may be fine in a daycare center or preschool.
4. Spend quality time with your children at home. Children need time and attention more than anything and the time of a working mother is limited. When a mother is with her children, she needs to focus on them and enjoy activities, games, and reading with them. Good quality time is more important than quantity.
5. Arrange for housecleaning and cooking, if possible. A major stressor for working mothers is going through a day of work and then coming home in the evening to find cooking and cleaning to be done. This problem itself leaves little time for family bonding and sharing. The best solution is to hire someone to assist with the household chores so time will be freed for care of the children. In fact, a working woman has a right to this assistance according to Sharee‘ah (Islamic law). If the family is not able to afford to hire someone, maybe extended family members could pinch in to help.
The most important issue for women to remember is that her family should be her first priority. If a woman is able to balance a family and a career, this is acceptable. If the family begins to suffer, she needs to reconsider her priorities and choose the option that would be most pleasing to Allah. An insightful person once said, “After so much time and energy put into a career, I discovered that the most precious gift I have is my family.” Don’t let the time go by before you come to this realization.