When I started working (again) at age 39, there was a ten-year gap in my resume. I’m here to tell you how I overcame that, and also, how I got that gaping hole in the first place.
Jokingly, when people ask, I say, “I was abducted by aliens” when they inquire about what the hell happened to me. This is not so far from the truth—the aliens were my two little kids.
You see, I graduated with honors in college. Then I graduated with honors in graduate school. Then I was a professor (well, lecturer, technically) for a Catholic university before I quit—before I chose to go jobless.
I was jobless because I decided to be a full-time, stay-at-home mom. I dropped off the face of the (career) world in 2009. But my “choice” was partly due to several factors.
First, you have to understand that during those years, work-from-home and freelance jobs were very limited. Not like now, during the pandemic and almost post-pandemic.
During that time, it meant that if a mom wanted to work and take care of her kids and stay home, she had very few attractive options.
At that time, if you want to work while staying home, you better be good in business. Or you are somewhat business-minded. Or your family is. Being Chinoy, I felt compelled to try business. I did try, But I failed. Admittedly, my heart’s not in it. I have yet to discover my entrepreneurial streak.
(I’m still going to try in the future, but for now, what I can say is I lost a significant amount of money trying to do business. I’ve reached the conclusion that it’s not for me…at least not yet at this point in time.)
For the second compelling reason why I chose to be jobless, I can pinpoint it to my infertility struggle. Before I got pregnant for the first time with my son “R”, I had to go through fertility treatment just to get pregnant. That ordeal took a toll on me because I was scared, terribly scared that I might not have been a mother if it weren’t for the drugs. And when I finally got pregnant, it was something I had to cherish. I felt compelled to devote my whole being towards being a mom. Nothing makes you cherish something more than threats: the threat of not being able to have a child with my husband; the threat of not giving my parents grandchildren; the threat of not being a “real” woman. Yeah, being a Chinoy factored in too. It is our tradition to get married, and then have kids. You get a big bonus if your first-born is male.
But I can say that the main driver of my joblessness was a desire to make up for a childhood I did not have. I did not grow up with both parents present—emotionally present, available and understanding, caring and loving. My parents do love me, I know they really do. I just didn’t feel supported growing up, living with them. I did not feel like I was heard. Or significant. Something was “not always quite right with Jinjin” (that was what they called me”. In their eyes, I failed their expectations because I was the person that I was, not who they wanted me to be. That. And also, as a first-born Chinoy, I was born of the wrong sex: I’m female. I think it would have been a different story if I were a man.
(In hindsight, now that I’m twice-a-mom, I understand that my parents were doing their best at that moment. I mean no disrespect here.)
So I vowed that one day, when I have kids of my own, I will give to my kids what I was deprived of growing up. It became my goal to be a present parent— available and understanding, caring and loving. Compassionate. I want to be a mom who is supportive of my kids, boy or girl. I want them to thrive as who they are, with just the right amount of Asian Tiger mom strict.
Just when my son R turned three, and I was about to go job hunting, I got pregnant for the second time. This second child was a pleasant surprise. My daughter “A” is a gem. But because she happened, my career got sidetracked again. For the second time, I also felt compelled to choose joblessness.
I guess it all boils down to having a strict work ethic. As Chinoys, that’s drilled into us from the moment we’re old enough to do ko tiam duties. I applied the same work ethic I have in a “real” job to my stay-at-home mom commitment. As they say, “If you’re going to do something, do it right!” I believed that staying home and being fully committed to parenting was the right thing to do. For me.
Dear reader, understand that my choice was up-close and personal. The factors that influenced me to be a full-time, jobless mom were unique to my circumstances. I had to grapple with infertility, I am a Chinoy woman, and there was a lack of work opportunities for a person with my particular skillset and low business acumen. Also, in the backburner was my mental health issue, anorexia. (That will resurface later, and it’s the topic of another essay!)
My joblessness ended 2019, exactly 10 years after I disappeared from the world of work. The details of how I got back to working are long. I’m sparing you the elaborate details, but what I can say is, it was an uphill battle. Applying for jobs and being rejected hundreds of times was ego-blowing at almost-40. Relearning skills because my skills have deteriorated was humbling at almost-40.
It has taken me three years to get to where I am now. (I work full-time for a Chinese electronics company as their resident writer. Plus, I contribute to ChinoyTV).
I can say that I would not have appreciated the jobs I have if not for the ten-year gap. Victory over adversity is a recurring theme in my life. And I guess it is hard-wired into the Chinoy psyche. So, at age 40, this is my career come-back. I feel like, right now, I’ve picked up where I left off as a writer, as a working professional, but better.
Ten years of working on family life has made me a better person.