By Ronke Idowu
“Madam move! Move your car!”
Those were the voices of other motorists yelling at Tola Obatunde to move her car parked in the middle of the road. She was held up in traffic with her newborn baby and four-year-old daughter.
Tola was actually breastfeeding right inside Lagos traffic. Her baby was hungry and cranky. All efforts to pacify the baby were not working.
Earlier in the morning, she had pumped some breast milk for the baby using a breast pump, but he had finished it at the crèche. But, obviously, that wasn’t enough to get the baby through the evening traffic.
Many people believe children are pure blessings that bring joy and change lives forever, but raising them can be a struggle.
Tola, for example, is a 28-year-old who works as a scriptwriter with an advertising agency in Lagos. She wakes up as early as 4 am daily, to prepare her kids for school and get to her office in the heart of Lagos, as early as possible. When her daily routine – which includes picking the kids from school extremely late – started to take a toll, she recruited a help, an elderly woman who comes early in the morning and in the evening to assist her. This wasn’t helpful still.
“Most times, I am done with the whole work before the woman comes pleading and explaining why she came late. So, to me, it really wasn’t that helpful. So, I had to stop it,” she said.
Theresa Iginla is two years older than Tola. She is a graduate of Zoology and a banker married to another banker. They have two boys aged two and three.
Theresa describes the experience as extremely tough. She has to wake up very early, get the kids ready and ensure she puts the kids in a crèche close to her office. She also has to prepare for morning meetings and presentations in the office, most of which she gets to looking tired and exhausted.
“‘Madam, calm down,’ one of my bosses told me one day that I got to our 9 am meetings looking shabby and tried,” Theresa said.
“The pressure at work and caring for your little one can’t be balanced. I do lose myself during those times. Both physical, emotional, psychological, and sexual life was affected. The morning was always the rush hour for us since we couldn’t find a maid although I was not cool with the idea of getting one. Creche couldn’t help me because the ones close to my office closed early.
“Bonding with the kids and my spouse wasn’t easy due to stress from the day. In a nutshell, the struggle was there but we thank God for sending helpers at the most crucial times we needed them.”
With her husband’s support, Tola had to make the decision of quitting her 9-5 job for freelancing from home.
“I got back to the office that day and told them, you know what, I am leaving,” she said, smiling.
“My husband had initially told me to quit but you know we women like to have our career no matter what, even with raising children. So he gave me the support when I quit my job.’’
Theresa is also proud of her decision to quit banking to focus on her family. According to her, she has no regrets.
“I just want to be an intentional mother. To give the best I can give to my child. Banking didn’t give me that luxury of time and when I sat down to weigh the options. It didn’t make sense.”
Bolutife Ademokoya, who is a manager at an international student recruitment company, did not quit her 9-5 job. She believes things can make sense if there is a system that provides a supportive structure.
“If you had a good system of getting caregivers or a good system of a good crèche and you are rest assured that everything will be ok with your child, it would make sense. But the reality is you have a job and you have a child that needs to be taken care of,” Bolu said.
“You have to compete with colleagues that don’t have children. You have male colleagues that don’t have the problem of cooking and taking care of children. Their wives cook for them and do almost everything for them. And that is your competition in the office.”
Emmanuela Oshiogwe is a fashion entrepreneur married to a medical doctor. She didn’t have it easy either. She believes the whole parenting experience can be brutal sometimes and no amount of lecture can prepare you ahead well enough.
“No matter how many books you read, lectures, or advice you get about motherhood, I don’t think anything really prepares you for how strenuous it would be. It’s a beautiful experience. But I don’t think anything prepares you, it is brutal sometimes,” she said.
Employees in Lagos spend hours in traffic which many describe as hellish. Lagos is one of the most congested cities in the world. Commuters according to internetgeoography.net spend at least three hours in traffic each day. Some reports have ranked Lagos State as one of the top 10 least liveable cities in the world in 2021.
Although many in Nigeria find the city fun and alluring child-raising in a busy city like Lagos can take a mental toll.
Bolu lives on the mainland and works on Lagos Island. She explained how parenting in Lagos hits differently.
“Every young couple, after tying the knot, have dreams of living happily ever after, and then Lagos happens.
“When you get to Lagos, you realise that happily ever after means that you are living on the mainland and you have a job on the Island. You have to get to the Island by 8 am and that means you have to leave your house by 5:30 am and you have your children staring at you in the face.”
Faith Olatunbosun is a 30-year-old trained lawyer who works as a men’s wardrobe stylist. She is married to an engineer and raising a child in Lagos has not been a piece of cake for them too.
“Lagos is not like any other city and the stress that comes with living in Lagos takes a toll on child-rearing. Fortunately for me, I had some help when I first gave birth through siblings that stayed with me. However, the help was short-lived and I was left by myself,” she said.
It takes a village to raise a child but when you live in a modern city where everyone minds their business, the story is different. The burden lies only on the mother and father. This is when collective effort comes into parenting. Although the burden lies heavily on mothers, fathers play a huge role too.
“My husband is very supportive and thankfully his job is quite flexible. He does most of the shopping for our child when coming back from work, and honestly, we just find a way to make it work,” Faith said.
For Tola, her supportive husband eases the burden.
“I have a supportive husband. There are times that I get home and just can’t cook anymore. I’ll put a call through to my husband and say I can’t cook. Sometimes he buys food on his way home and sometimes he takes something else,” Tola said.
During the pandemic, Tola and her husband both worked remotely. They had to come up with a timetable on how to take care of the kids.
“It was more or less like a timetable in my house because my husband worked from home, during the lockdown. We had a timetable that he would work from a particular time to a particular time. We definitely can’t work at the same time when the children are awake. I could remember that during the lockdown the children hardly slept. It was as if they were given a non-sleeping drug. Sometimes my kids will be awake till 2 am – 3 am, they want to watch cartoons. They were so hyper during that period.
“So we worked on a schedule. He will work for a particular time and I will pick it up from there so while one person is working, the other is taking care of the kids.”
Felix Akinwunmi, 35, also designed a parenting schedule with his wife during the pandemic.
“Somehow, the gains of COVID have helped us to achieve a work-life balance. I also have a work schedule that I can plan around, and that makes me more available for the family, and have time for myself as well.”
Theresa and her husband coped through the division of labour.
“We did cope because it was our personal decision to be intentional parents, so we had a division of labour,” she said. “Hubby helps with bathing and feeding. We even had a space in his office where our babies retire after creche closes, in the care of a loyal subordinate. The struggle can’t be evaluated; it all depends on the love and values you want for your family. I will say it was a tough ride for us.”
Couples have had to source for help from every available means. From young girls who come to the city to work as house helps to elderly women who take care of other people’s children and get paid for it.
Despite these available options, many shy away from using them. The thought of leaving a child with a total stranger is scary enough.
“I have never used a maid and I’m actually skeptical about using a maid. My husband once suggested we get a maid when I was struggling to juggle the numerous tasks (which included taking care of our baby, running a business, and doing my Masters) but I kept dismissing it because I’m honestly not ready to have a stranger live in or come around to help,” Faith said.
“My reservations for getting a maid are traceable to the fact that I was never raised with having a maid around. I’m also skeptical about maids and the drama they bring (from listening to experiences of friends).”
Tola also has a strong view on this.
“I’m a perfectionist; I’ll rather do it myself,” she said strongly, adding that, “there’s no such thing as having an outsider come into your home and then you go to sleep while the help does the job.
“I can’t! It’s my child. I know what I went through while giving birth to them so I can’t just entrust their care into someone else’s hand that is not my immediate family. It has to be like my mom or sister-in-law. If not them, I don’t really trust people like that.”
Felix has a different opinion on the use of house helps. He thinks having a maid that doesn’t live in your house is a better option.
“At the beginning, we got help from a family member. After the family member left, we had to employ the service of a maid who comes twice a week. It was carefully thought through and we also prayed about it,” he said.
“I’ll say the last three months have been okay; the maid knows her deliverables and does it. I believe the challenges with using a maid is when they stay at your place and they are not mature enough to understand human relations and the sensitivity of having children in the picture. Also, not being professional at the service, causes a lot of friction and then you start to hear negative stories.”
As tough as parenting can be, it also comes with paying sacrifices. Going the extra mile and doing the unthinkable.
Tola quit her 9-5 job to focus on taking care of her family.
So did Theresa.
Bolu declined job offers with good pay, due to the distance from her home. She needed to pick a job on the mainland so she could work close to the home and keep close watch on her children.
For Faith, she had to sacrifice an academic year in her postgraduate studies to focus on raising her baby.
Felix was preparing to travel outside the country when the joy of becoming a father made him rethink his decision.
“I was supposed to relocate to the US just about the time my wife got pregnant, but somehow, the joy of becoming a father made me suspend the trip, and I’ll say it wasn’t a wrong decision. The uniqueness of the fatherhood experience cannot be rivalled.”
Emmanuela had to put her business on hold due to the peculiarity of her daughter’s feeding.
“I move around a lot and my daughter was strictly breastfeeding. She refused to take formula or anything inside a feeding bottle. I couldn’t even pump. So I had to carry her everywhere I go,” Emmanuela said.
“When I gave birth, it was really hard for me to adjust back to work. I feel for those who do 9-5 there is a structure and one can easily go back to the routine. But for me, I was used to running around, going to markets to shop for clothing materials.
“Then my child came and she had to tag along everywhere I went. It was really hard for me to transition. So I had to pause work to restrategise.”
Despite numerous negative stories and the unprofessional conduct of some nannies and house helps, the use of nannies is still prevalent in many homes.
Chika Nwuche is a middle-aged woman who runs a professional nanny agency in Ogba, Lagos. She explained how she embraced the job of tutoring and getting nannies for couples after she worked nine years as a banker.
“In the course of working I saw some of my colleagues struggling between the home front and office and I told myself when I get married and have my child I am not going to do this.”
The South African trained expert is into the business of training, recruiting, and outsourcing nannies to families around the country. She boasts of clients in major cities.
“We have nannies outside Lagos State. As far as Warri, Abuja, Bayelsa. We do training and security checks and proper documentation of our nannies. They give us guarantors and we run checks on them including their guarantors,” she said.
“Monthly, we have like 50 clients request for nannies. Last month, we had 60. So, monthly we send 20-25 nannies to different families. Sometimes it exceeds that because we send like three nannies to one family to interview and choose one.”
She believes her agency is reliable because the nannies are trained and traceable unlike ‘roadside nanny agencies.’
“They don’t do background checks. So, they don’t know where the nanny is coming from. When there are issues they don’t know where to fall back. Some of them can even disappear because they don’t have offices you can trace them to. They are not registered, so there is no proper documentation,” she said.
Nwuche’s agency sounds all perfect but the fees might not be affordable for all. To get a nanny from her agency, you pay 10% to 15% of the nanny’s annual salary.
“The issue is not always the nanny’s salary but our agency fee. We try to explain to them the need to pay agency fees because we have to run checks on the nannies and do all necessary background checks.
“For those that can afford it, there’s no need for you to leave your job. You just need to look for a properly registered agency and you get a nanny that will give you peace of mind,” she said.
After highlighting these challenges, one may wonder if there’s any help or solution to ease the burden of raising a child in major cities.
The challenges have led many couples to make decisions ranging from reducing the number of children they’ll love to have to not having children at all till it’s all ‘figured out.’
Felix said he loves children and fantasized about having four children. He currently has a three-year-old daughter and feels two children is the standard considering Nigeria’s economy.
He thinks the Nigerian system also makes parenting tough.
“It all goes down to the same problem every Nigerian face; no free education, hostile environment for kids to grow up in. No properly structured mortgage housing plan, no effective transport system, the consistency in the Federal Government’s disagreement with university unions and all that should be addressed in the interest of the public,” he said.
Faith thinks the solution lies with both the government and private companies.
“The State Government should ensure that paternity leave becomes mandatory for men, as some of them would not take it despite the provision for it. It would also be great if private companies can implement paternity leave and also make it mandatory,” she said.
“It would be great if the government could set up a directory for registration of housemaids. So, someone would just go to such a directory to hire a maid, knowing fully well that such maid would have been vetted for by the government.”
Tola believes flexibility in working hours for nursing mothers goes a long good way.
“Flexibility in the resumption time and closing time… perhaps if I had that flexibility I wouldn’t have resigned. I was given that flexibility after I resumed back to work following maternity leave. The flexibility was for a while. I still spent hours inside traffic. Sometimes I don’t get home until 10 pm and I still have to wake up at 4 am to prepare the kids again,” she said.
Some parents are of the view that states or the Federal government are too busy to attend to other major societal issues that concern parenting.
Emmanuela said, “I feel there are lots of issues that might be the lowest priority. If the government comes out with a solution it would be great.
“A great way the government can come in is for them to make policies that will make public places more child friendly. Like when you go to restrooms there should be provision for where you can change baby diapers comfortably. Or a place you can use the breast pump without being stared at.”
Dr. Michael Kunnunji is a Sociology lecturer at the University of Lagos. He believes quitting a career for parenting is a loss to society. According to him, the time and resources spent in acquiring training in a particular field go down the drain.
“The first major loss to society is the loss of human capital. Many who may have trained as highly skilled professionals, like doctors, lawyers, accountants, teachers, just to mention a few, may end up never using their skills and learning. It takes several years and millions of naira to acquire training in some of these fields, so you will understand that the loss is huge in economic terms,” he said.
“Also, many inventions and discoveries will simply not happen because these potential inventors have been relegated to the domestic sphere.”
Dr. Kunnunji also stresses that the role of the government is very important. From good road infrastructure to proper urban settlement, he feels the government needs to put in place policies that will make society work.
“Government policies have to be right for our society to be healthy. For this reason, I will not blame those who take the blame to the doorstep of the government. The implication is that we need to begin to hold our government accountable on every issue.
“In the 60s, 70s, and 80s, women could go to work and return to their families at about 3 pm or 4 pm. This made it possible for them to combine their family/marital responsibilities with work. This was possible partly because the traffic situation was not chaotic like we have it today. Then, the majority of the people lived in rural or semi-urban settlements. Now, just about half of the people live in such settlements. Unfortunately, our road infrastructural development in cities lags behind the growth of the urban population.
“Urban planning needs to be several steps ahead of urbanisation for cities to be truly liveable, let alone for them to support work-family life balance for women in an African setting where society places a huge role on them,” he said.
He also added that breaks and special closing hours may help nursing mothers, but not mothers of older children, especially adolescents.
“Parenting adolescents can be demanding and work breaks are not necessarily helpful. Parents need to spend time with their adolescent children to understand their developmental challenges and give them support when necessary.
“It will help if parents and adolescent children return home at about the same time. The challenge is that sometimes, adolescents get home after school, several hours before their working parents. Sometimes, they don’t see these parents for days and this is why some women quit their jobs. Flexible working conditions, including shorter shifts, may be helpful. A major challenge to this, however, is the scarcity of jobs. So many people are running after very few jobs. In such a situation, employers are not likely to be interested in the picky demands of family women.”
Parenting is a trip you embark on without a map, an examination you write with no lecture. No matter the peculiarities and individualities, parenting is a struggle across the board.
Young couples in modern cities, especially the economic capital of Nigeria are struggling with proper parenting while chasing their career dreams and earning a living.
The joint demand is for a society that works, a society that is child friendly, a society that makes parenting less of a burden.
Work-life balance is the responsibility of an individual but the trend where young and ambitious men/women are forced to quit careers for parenting is a major societal menace that needs the attention of those in authority.
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