Times have certainly changed

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 May, 2008, 12:00am

I was having a beer with a buddy the other day. My friend, who learned recently there will be a new addition to his family, tells me his wife wants to quit her full-time job to look after the kids. Common sense says this is a good idea. After all, what could possibly be more important than nurturing the young minds of our progeny?

But let's backtrack a bit. My friend's wife - let's call her Joyce - works in a middle management capacity at the Hong Kong office of a multinational company. They have one daughter, aged a little more than two. As a family friend, I have been privy to how much Joyce loves to spend time with her daughter, and it is something that she often speaks of. Her hours are demanding but not unreasonable, so she gets home early enough in the evening. So, when my friend mentioned that Joyce wanted to do the housewife routine full-time, it seemed to me that she wasn't looking at the full picture.

It would be nice to spend more time with your children, especially if you have been at work all day slaving away to earn your wages. What Joyce doesn't realise is why she enjoys spending time with her daughter so much is because such moments are so precious when you have to maintain a nine-to-five job. Take the wage slavery away, and that time with the daughter becomes just another routine. Looking after the kids will go from being a joy to a chore.

Having hobbies and setting up home businesses help to an extent to keep things fresh, but these will not make up for the social element found at work. I know it sounds sad, but for many people their closest friends may be the ones they see day-in and day-out at the office.

I have one more point to make, but I am going to have to use an example to explain this. Decades ago, my mother abandoned her career to raise my elder brother and I. Now of course a lot of people who work with me may debate how good a job she did. But I think, on the whole, it is safe to say she did a great job, judging by the fact that neither of us are in jail, deal drugs, or make pornography for a living - I think. She has never said she regretted the sacrifice, but I get the feeling she wonders if she would have done, seen, or learned more, if she had chosen a different path.

These are the questions that my friend Joyce now needs to ask herself.

Being but a young man myself, I am going to risk being completely wrong. My personal opinion is that it was much more common for women to abandon their professional careers 30 years or even 20 years ago. Back then, the best place for a woman was considered to be at her husband's side looking after the family, because sexual equality had not progressed to the level it is at today, and with corporate glass ceilings being much lower in organisational hierarchies.

Even if mothers had stayed in their jobs, they would have felt dissatisfied at work if they were being passed over for promotion to much less competent men just because they don't have the Y chromosome. They would not be able to earn as much as they can today. But things have improved, and many women nowadays are in senior management roles in Hong Kong.

Ladies, we should learn from the lessons of the past. Our mothers were right to stay at home and make sure that we grew up right. That does not mean that is what is best for people today. Times change, and people must change with them. So, have fun out there in the corporate world, okay? Just not too much fun, your husbands will probably get fidgety if you are not home by 9pm.

Ji-Ye Hwang will return in June