Musings, Parenting

Mommy Brains are Not Dull Brains

Recently, a relative asked me when I plan on returning to work. I said that Casey and I haven’t really discussed a timeline, especially since we have not had a helper stay long enough for me to consider working full-time again. He then said that I haven’t worked for so long, and I might go stale. A few days later, a friend asked me if I experienced mommy brain. I asked her to clarify what that meant, and she said it’s when new moms become so overwhelmed with taking care of their babies that they lose touch with the world, and their brain deteriorates somewhat. I just looked at her and said, no, I’ve never experienced that, but deep inside I felt offended. Both instances revealed to me a condescension toward stay-at-home parents.

Child care has been undervalued for centuries, and sadly, it remains so to this day. I know a lot of people would still say that taking care of a child is not as mentally stimulating as being part of the work force. This notion is deeply ingrained yet sadly misinformed. It continues to be perpetuated by people who may not have had enough experience on both sides of the fence. Speaking as someone who has experienced both, I have several rebuttals to the idea that child-rearing is a mental walk in the park compared with corporate life.

  1. Many full-time jobs entail long hours of being idle. In the eight hours of work at the office, a good chunk is not actually spent being productive. I know that this is true for many in the corporate world. Now you may be thinking that staying at home with a child involves a lot of idle time as well. It could be so, but that would depend on the stay-at-home parent. At home, you don’t have a boss hovering over your shoulder to check that you’re doing office-related things, and so free time can be truly productive. When my baby is asleep, I often use the time to read, write, or trade stocks. Or sometimes I nap beside my baby, which is very productive as well.
  2. Many full-time jobs are unavoidably routinary. Daily tasks remain essentially the same, to the point that people merely go through the motions at work, and most actions become almost automatic. When you’re so used to doing certain tasks, your brain does not get that effective a workout. The same can be said for housework, but like I mentioned earlier, the amount of mental stimulation one can get varies depending on how much one actively seeks it. This actually holds true whether you have full-time office work or stay at home. The difference is that arguably, you have more leeway to plan your day at home, and so if you wish, staying at home can open up more opportunities to sharpen your mind.
  3. Raising a child involves a lot of brain activity. Meal planning, creative storytelling, singing and dancing, exploring—these sound fun and easy, but they require resourcefulness, innovation, patience, and discipline, which are high-level mental and emotional exercises. “Mommy brains” are not dull brains. They are brains that are challenged every day by their boss babies. Can’t take my word for it? Science is on my side.

Mommy and baby at Kidzooona

To be clear, I’m not saying that being a stay-at-home parent is more mentally challenging than having a full-time office job. I’m just saying that both roles can be mentally challenging, and that assuming that staying at home with the kids equals rotting brain cells is wrong. For those who think being a mommy doesn’t exercise the brain, well, just imagine taking care of a human other than yourself, and on top of that, realize that the human cannot even make his needs known directly.

Feeding a toddler

Take meal time, for example. You’re not a mom. You’re hungry, and so you eat a Subway sandwich, which is what you felt like eating. The end. Meal time is simple and requires minimal mental effort. Compare this to if you are a mom. You’re hungry. Your baby is hungry. You make him a sandwich. He eats a bit then starts spitting it out. You ask him if he wants a banana. He says “nana” and so you peel a banana. He takes a bite, spits it out, spreads mush on the table and smiles at his work of art. He then bounces up and down, grunting, and you realize he needs to poop. So you wait for him to poop, clean him up, then offer chicken and rice, which is what he wanted after all, but how would you know? Chicken is hard to say! Finally, an hour later, you get to eat his leftovers, which are not what you wanted but are all you have time and energy left to eat. On the bright side, at least you got to eat. Haha.

Also, take note that my experience is just the tip of the iceberg. I can only imagine how my brain will be tested once Wolf learns how to answer back!

I hope this post can help others better appreciate the value and challenge of parenthood. I don’t know if I will ever return to a regular office job, but even if I don’t, please realize that my mommy brain will remain in tip-top shape, thank you very much!

Mommy and baby at Kidzooona

Advertisements
Parenting, pregnancy

The Quiet Joy of Having a Baby

There are many women who choose not to become mothers. For them, motherhood is just not among their life goals. I used to be one of those women. Back in high school, while my friends would fantasize about their ideal weddings and come up with names for their future children, I shuddered at the thought of getting pregnant, giving birth, and becoming dumpy for the rest of my life. Haha.

Then I got married to an amazing man who was a great cook and handy with tools — in other words, a very domesticated guy. Needless to say, he wanted kids. I entered into our marriage fully aware of this and willing to set aside my anxiety to grant his desires. As we grew more in love, I also grew more at ease with the idea of raising his babies. I realized that the reasons I had before for not wanting children — the fear of getting fat, the dreaded sleepless nights, the endless crying — were surmountable with a loving partner by my side.

More than two years into our marriage, we decided to do away with birth control. A month later, I got a positive pregnancy test. We didn’t expect it would happen so soon, but I was happy that we didn’t have to deal with the stress of trying several times to conceive.

While I was pregnant, many people asked me if I were scared of giving birth. I always replied that I was more scared of what would happen after the baby came out. Caring for a baby seemed like such a huge responsibility to me, with the disadvantages outweighing the benefits. I was imagining non-stop crying of the baby (and mommy), poop everywhere, utter chaos on bad days and mundane routines on good days. Suffice to say, I had a very bleak picture of what it meant to be a new parent.

Boy, was I wrong.

Perhaps I was too jaded. I often err on the side of pessimism, and it keeps my expectations in check. I dreaded too much and hoped for too little. Now, as I reflect on the past eight months caring for my baby, I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot. I didn’t expect being a mom to be this.. enjoyable! Yes, there are sleepless nights and round-the-clock diaper changes, but all those chores are rewarded with the most adorable coos and smiles that make the fatigue worth it. And the number one reason I had before for not wanting to conceive, which is that I didn’t want to gain weight that I wouldn’t be able to shed post-partum, is now no longer an issue, because in these eight months, I’ve successfully returned to my pre-pregnancy weight.

I am just in my twenties, and I have so much of life still ahead of me, but I can say that having a baby is the most incredible, humbling, rewarding experience thus far. My advice for women on the fence with having kids is to take that terrifying plunge. The experience is much more wonderful than it seems. The “bad” side often gets the limelight, and we tend to think of infants as how they are portrayed in movies — synonymous to wailing poop machines. But the good, no, the great side, is too often overlooked, perhaps because it is quiet and tender — the warmth of your baby falling asleep on your chest, the delight on his face as he learns to sit up, the wonder with which he becomes aware of his fingers and toes.

Babies find joy in the smallest things. They teach you, not only to love another human unconditionally, but also to rediscover and love the world. I do not regret and don’t think I will ever regret having a baby. Some days are exhausting. Some days are chaotic. But all days are amazing.

Parenting

Sweet Dreams

I once dreamt of becoming the president
Ruling the land with grace
Benevolent toward my people

I once dreamt of becoming a saint
Leading thousands in worship
Singing hymns and making miracles

I once dreamt of becoming an astronaut
Voyaging beyond the unknown
Saving the future

All those dreams
remained figments of my naivety
Worlds away from the reality
of growing up

All I dream about now
are tiny shoes and cribs
and my fair baby
falling down

I am jolted awake
and he is safe in my arms
breathing softly, thank God

He stirs and nestles against me
Smiling in his sleep
as I kiss his forehead
It's so quiet
yet overwhelming

Is there anything more profound?

Parenting

From Full-Time Banker to Full-Time Mother

If you came up to me a year ago and told me that I would some day consider being a stay-at-home mom (SAHM), I would laugh in your face. In fact, if you told me ten years ago that I would get married at 24 and have a baby at 26, I would never have believed you. I used to imagine myself growing old tied to nothing but a brilliant career. And yet here I am, wife and mother to my first born, and ready to embrace the life of a SAHM.

When I was still pregnant with my son, Wolfgang James, the possibility of resigning from my job never occurred to me. I was a foreign exchange trader in one of the top banks, recently promoted and with solid opportunities for advancement within reach. My husband and I planned to get a helper even before I gave birth so that we could train her adequately in preparation for my return to work. Little did I know, when raising a child, most plans tend to go out the window.

That was one of the first hard lessons I learned as a parent. My baby changed my life from the moment he gave his first loud cry. It was so different from when he was inside me. Suddenly, his total dependence on me for survival was very real. None of the numerous books and articles I had read on parenting could have prepared me for the overwhelming feeling of responsibility for another human being.

Fortunately, my husband, Casey, took an active role in sharing that responsibility. Together, we endured the long nights of the baby crying, and of me crying. Haha. The first few weeks were very frustrating for me, because I was recovering from an emergency CS operation that I never thought I would have to go through. I hated the feeling of helplessness, of loss of control. I was not used to it. But I am beginning to realize that I will encounter such situations more often, now that I am a mother. I planned for a normal unmedicated delivery but ended up delivering through C section. I planned on hiring a helper for my baby, but I ended up tendering my resignation. 

foreign exchange traders in bank dealing room
I will miss working with my teammates!

The story of my labor and delivery, I shall save for another post. This entry is about how we came to decide that I will be a SAHM. In the first two months after I gave birth, we had a helper, who we trained up to the point that we were confident in leaving her alone with Wolf. However, just when I was nearing the end of my maternity leave, the helper decided to go home to her province to attend to her children’s needs. It was a heavy blow to me, because the reason we hired her early on is so that we would have ample time to get to know and train her. We were suddenly left with no helper and very little time to find another one, let alone train that next one properly.

We extended my leave more than a month to buy us time to find a replacement, but to no avail. We had one helper that stayed a week before jumping ship and numerous leads that didn’t pan out. None of our relatives were available to look after Wolf regularly. We even considered daycares, but we found out that most do not accept infants as young as Wolf. 

I came to the bitter realization that the issues I encountered in finding care arrangements for Wolf are actually rooted in the inadequacy of our country’s maternity leave, a problematic policy that forces mothers to make compromises that they should not have to make. One may wonder why in many developed countries, most working mothers get by without nannies for their babies, yet in the Philippines, most dual-income households hire nannies. The difference in those other countries is the parental leave is long enough so that when the parents need to return to work, the child is old enough to enter daycare. Businesses here in the Philippines may see a longer maternity leave as unprofitable for them, but what they don’t realize is that an inadequate maternity leave results in many female employees needing to resign, causing the companies even greater losses.

At first, I felt so anxious about our failed quest for a caregiver for Wolf. I cursed my bad luck, envying my mommy friends who had trustworthy yayas at their disposal and were back at work. But it was my husband who made me see the light, who saw our situation as a blessing in disguise. Casey told me, “Our experience with these maids being unreliable made me realize that I actually do not want Wolf to be raised by a yaya. No one can replicate a mother’s love.” And as Hallmark-level cheesy as it sounded, I knew it was true. No one else will be as patient, caring, and selfless as I am with Wolf. Staying at home to be his primary caregiver ensures the best care for him. 

baby wearing mothercare jungle pattern onesie
My New Boss! 😅

Also, staying at home doesn’t mean I can’t work at least part-time. Gone are the days when money can be earned only in an office. There are many online jobs I can pursue. I also can continue to earn from freelance gigs (I play violin as a member of the awesome Manila String Machine). As for my career fulfillment in finance, who knows what opportunities may open up? I can go back to banking later on, or I can use my acquired skills in other ventures. When one door closes, several others open.

manila string machine string quartet philippines weddings
This is my other job that allows me to be with Wolf often. ☺️
breastfeeding in rustans makati philippines
My First Day of Momemployment ❤️
 

For now, my main focus will be raising Wolf. I will spend the little free time I have on this blog, which I have long wanted to start but didn’t have time for when I was still employed. I am standing at one of the great crossroads of my life. My ambitious younger self always imagined me standing alone. But beside me now, and till the end, are Casey and Wolf. I wouldn’t have it any other way.