Motherhood presents all sorts of opportunities and challenges, as well as visions and assumptions of what being a ‘mother’ means. From being addressed as the CEO, CFO, chef and driver of the household, to being considered (by some) the front line of children’s upbringing, mothers face all sorts of filters and pre-defined notions that ‘shape’ how we see ourselves, and how others see us.
According to the Research Office of the Legislative Council Secretariat (2019), whilst the size of local female workforce in Hong Kong has expanded by a total of 515000 or 45% to 1.66 million in the last 20 years, work participation of younger mothers aged 25-39 has receded. Inadequate childcare services and rigid workplace arrangements seem to be the key reasons holding back mothers from work. Additionally, more than half of employers in the city say they prefer not to hire women with children (EOC, 2018).
Working women are also seen to bear the main burden of household responsibilities: a study shows that females perform 2.2 unpaid hours of household work every day, four times more than men, who do merely 36 minutes a day. Thus, one-third of women who drop out of the workforce cite family care duties as the reason.
Mothers – particularly new mums – are more vulnerable to mental health issues: 1 in 10 new mums in Hong Kong struggle with postnatal depression (Centre for Health Protection, 2018), and yet this condition remains unveiled and taboo amongst our families, friends and in the workplace. Finally, according to an article published on Psychology Today (2018) “being a mom is perhaps the most all-inclusive and demanding job in the history of “man“kind and yet most mums feel unappreciated, (…) taken for granted” and in no right to expect any kind of appreciation for the work they do every day.
If there’s anything I have learnt from being a mum so far, it is that we make ourselves up as we go. Whether it is as full time child carers and family managers, juggling kids and work, being the bread winners, the single mums, or having a rock solid companion to rely on, the deeper I get into motherhood, the more I notice how it is like peeling an onion – cutting through layers and layers of social dogmas, pre-filled stories and narratives, and my own bias.
Motherhood is a journey of discovery; of unlearning, re-learning and self-meaning making with others. Motherhood is also a role that can be experienced and needs to be understood and honoured, not just by mothers, but by society as a whole. This is why, coming to our second anniversary, HKM is looking to celebrate #EmbracingMotherhood as our 2020 flagship theme: to redefine the meaning of motherhood, without boundaries.