Parenting in the USA is hard…. Simply hard…. That’s the only way I can put it. Especially for single parents. My daughter Nessy is three and it has been three really hard years of running back and forth from day care to baby sitters to friends who can help out and to my wits end many times. It has been a fantastic three years and motherhood is an experience I thank God for day and night and cannot even begin to describe the blessing. I must however admit that the challenges have been quite something!
You see, her dad and I had it all planned out. We were both in the USA at the time and we were to work our schedules around to accommodate our bundle of joy when she came. However, after a visit back to Kenya on holiday three months before she was born, there was some hitch in his paperwork and he unfortunately remained behind. So here I was alone and all our grand plans to support each other in having and raising our daughter aborted.
When I compare the maternity situation here and back home, I must say that home is best and that mamas in Kenya should consider themselves thoroughly blessed. Let’s start by noting with utmost concern that the 3 months paid maternity leave is nonexistent over here. That you march off, have your baby, stay at home for three months, breast feeding happily and bonding with your bundle of joy all on your employer’s payroll? Nada nada nada………….. no such thing over here. Here as is commonly said – you just ‘ji-sort’. I opted to take unpaid time off because the baby was sooooo little and I couldn’t bear to leave her. I was also in the hectic search of an affordable Nanny who could come and look after her. Being in the nursing profession, I had visted various day care centers and didn’t like the clinical way in which babies were mass handled. Being raised back home, I’m rooted in the notion that babies must be cared for, carried and loved. Not ‘processed’ –fed-changed- turned etc The cost of official nanny care over here however was downright impossible. It is the preserve of the super-rich and famous. Just like you see in the movies This is a do-it-yourself country and being myself literally was a challenge beyond measure. All mamas back home, please thank God day and night that nannies are available for selection and engagement all over and the only challenge is looking for a good one. Out here in the US, that luxury is none existent. I stayed at home for six months, struggling to exclusively breast feed and to see how best to re-organise my life to function around my little one.
I finally found an old mama who had come to attend her granddaughter’s graduation and didn’t want to go back to Kenya. She came to work for me to look after the baby. I was really glad about her presence, but let’s just say that grandmothers are not quite cut out to do the one hundred and one things needed in the home to manage the baby and the general requirements, so there was still so much to do. But as long as she was carrying baby Nessy, talking to her and generally keeping her company, that was what mattered the most. So I would come back from work, release her and then start up the mad hassle of looking after the baby, and trying to get things in order, as well as try and get in some sleep before work the next day. Not easy… not easy at all…
Let me not even get into the cost of all these baby affairs. The cost of looking for baby sitters on the weekend to help out, the cost of the nanny herself, the cost of routine medical for the baby – vaccinations, checkups for the usual fever, coughs and colds that afflict babies as well as the severe eczema she suffered. I actually needed to take up another job to cope with the costs. So imagine three jobs and the shuttling up and about alone and having these arrangements for the nanny and the baby sitter who would take over after that before I came home. And then you know how babies do not sleep very well at night, so sleeping was a pipe dream. My hair grayed out … So all you mamas back home, that you arrive home to a house that has been cleaned and tidied, a well fed and happy baby and a home cooked meal? That is heaven on earth. Please appreciate every moment. ….just like Mama Mzungu who blogs about how parenting in Kenya is awesome!
As Nessy turned two and was now mobile and not entirely dependent on carrying care, it got a little easier. I say just a little because as you know, the terrible twos as they are called, come with the child running all over and needing to be watched. It was really hectic, getting home, trying to watch her, trying to do a million and one things needed in the house, to cook, to clean, to do laundry, to catch up with some of my work etc, it was quite quite something. You can imagine trying to do all these things with your two year old hanging onto your legs, following you everywhere, getting in your way, doing all sorts of naughty things as they are prone to do… it was an exercise in patience and perseverance. I can tell you that although every piece of advice you get warns you against using the television and gadgets to ‘babysit’ your child, I would just marvel about the wisdom of that in theory and the practicability of it when you are alone. For sure I would give Nessy the tablet with cartoons to keep her busy for about an hour and that would afford me the time to run around cooking for the day, doing the dishes, doing the laundry and getting everything ready. Cartoons became my friend. It isn’t the best way to do it, but what to do I ask you Mummies? What to do? What would you do without the nannies you have and you single handedly need to do stuff? There are no mama-fua’s and other day bug type of helps that can come in and help with housework over here. Please consider yourselves very very lucky!
Something else that completely touched me was the social structure back home. I came visiting last month with Nessy who is now three years old. It was her first time to come home. At the block of apartments where my sister lives, were open spaces in between the houses where children would congregate and ride their bikes and play all day. My daughter loved that experience. We were around for three weeks and in that period she made new friends there and enjoyed all the fun and games. That my dear mamas, is unheard of back in the US. To find company for your child, one needs to make a deliberate effort to either take them to the park, or to visit other families that have kids the same age or to generally look for these social experiences. That for sure cannot be an everyday affair. Yet in Kenya, kids play outside every day with their friends during the holidays and weekends and after school during the weekdays. I could see the immediate positive change in my toto who is used to being by herself at home and entertaining herself indoors here in the US. One would never imagine a mama sitting in the house and your three year old child is out there somewhere playing outside and will come home alright and safe after the day is done. Neighbors out here are not friendly and everybody minds their own business. Taking your child to friend’s house in order to get a moment or two to have self-time soon becomes a bother for them.
I craved the Kenyan life for my daughter. So much so that I left her behind in the care of my sister as I returned to the USA. Yes – I left her behind. It will take one year to have the paperwork cleared up to enable her dad come over and so I weighed the matter. I thought about the quality of life my daughter would have with me in that one year, and the quality of life she would have living with my sister and her fun and fabulous sons, enjoying the great food, environment and friendships with others, and made the decision to have her stay. It has been quite difficult I must say and I miss her terribly, but when I call home and talk to her, as well as seeing all the photos and videos of her having the time of her life with her cousins, I know all is well. She enjoying school soooooo much -she is in baby class- and tells me stories of her Teacher Mary. (Over here, finding quality schooling for 2-5yr olds is terribly costly. That’s something else that is fantastic about home) When I hear about the independence she now has to eat on her own and clear up after herself and help around, I know that this one year of her life will be very memorable. We talk all the time and she’s happy.
To Mums back home – please do not take for granted the blessings you have to be raising your children in an environment where discipline reigns, friendships abound and there is a social structure that supports raising holistic children with values that will be ingrained for the rest of their lives. Not that it cannot be done here in the US, it can….. it’s just that it is that much tougher, rougher and bumpier. I have been in both worlds and urge you all to be really thankful for what you have. Whoever said there’s no place like home, most certainly was talking about Kenya.