T&T’s latest designer to make an impact on American reality fashion design series Project Runway, Ayana Ife, is now off to Italy to take up her place at the Milano Fashion Institute, where she...
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The Hand that Rocks the Cradle
“I live in Gasparillo and am currently employed as a purchasing consultant. I am richly blessed with one daughter, who recently blew out 19 candles on her birthday cake!
“Being an only girl to my own parents, and having lost my mom many years ago, there was very little help. But I am grateful to Zamina Rojan, lovingly known as Aunty Daughts, who assisted me in raising Nakita from day one.
“The major challenge was trying to be in more than one place at the same time!
“I have been a single mom for several years and it was always difficult to juggle being at work and being with the child at a function or sports day, and transporting her to and from evening lessons—or even just getting home on time so the babysitter could go home. I think employers should be more flexible and understanding for workers with children.
“I had to make tough decisions and put my dreams on hold to ensure that my child always had the best attention, and to make certain that I was a true mom, being there in person, not a ‘phone and presents’ mom! I preferred to shower her with my love, my time and my presence instead of presents.
“I believe in instilling values by example. My child will one day have her own family, so I am investing in several generations.
“As time changes, so, too, do the parenting challenges. Every generation is different. Children are not born with parenting manuals. My experience of raising my child was a good one; however, the teenage years require greater bonding and empathy.
“Parents must understand the sacrifices required to raise children to be successful, well-rounded adults. Children emulate their parents...so we must understand our responsibilities.
“Long ago, for many families, the mother was the primary caregiver while the father was the sole provider. However, roles have evolved—with the only exception (as God designed it) that the woman still bears the child and she is the MOTHER.
“Considering the reports of deaths and sexual interference with babies and toddlers left at some day care centres, I am sorry to say that I would not consider a day care centre unless it is one with an impeccable reputation and registered with the Ministry of Education. Caregivers at day care centres must be professionally trained and qualified in Early Childhood Care and first aid, with emphasis on child psychology.
“My advice to single mothers is to always remember that you are first a mother, and then a professional.
“To single moms: you gotta work, but go home at the end of your eight-hour work day and take the responsibility of being a mother. Those tender years fly by so quickly and once gone, they never return...so embrace the years and be there!”
Camille Clarke, Arima
“I am a news reporter and a single mother. I live in Arima, but grew up in Port-of-Spain and abroad. I have three children. My eldest son is 21, my middle son will be 18 this year, and my daughter is 15. I am now the main if not sole breadwinner, accountant, lawyer, policeman, chef, father, mother, everything for my children.
“It has not been easy taking care of them. Even today, with the rising food prices, it is very difficult. Sometimes you just have to cut down on some items.
“Parenting involves many things—such as spirituality; being aware of your children’s friends; and just being there for them. When you have to work, you often don’t have the time you would like to be with them.
“For all my children, I chose to stay home and take care of them full-time for the first two years of their lives—I thought that was important. I never had that—my own mother left me when I was a baby.
“So when my kids were babies, family helped a lot, notably my grandmother (now deceased) and my aunt. My uncle once came and asked me: ‘Your furniture and thing OK? Tell me what you need.’ I really appreciated that. I appreciated the aunt—who is dead now—who would come across to give me some mangoes. I also appreciate co-workers who knew I had children, who’d come and say: ‘Camille, I’m cooking a Sunday lunch, come over with the family.’
“Family who have a mother, a father, a grandmother, I applaud that, I am happy for them. I did not have a mother or a father who was there. The family members who did help me, it was when my kids were babies, and most of them are gone now.
“After each of the children reached two years old, I put them in day care, so I could work and support them. But I had to be vigilant with caregivers. I discovered one female caregiver had a man coming in the house for intimate relations when the children were there, and she would put the children outside the house when the man was there! So I left her fast... Another one claimed my little boy had a demon in him, and could she jharay my son?
I told her no!...I was just looking for someone trustworthy and responsible to care for the children...I did eventually find a caregiver who was good. And it worked out...But you know, she was overworked, she was caring for over 30 children! And today, she’s still doing it!...After work, I would run home and cook for the children. I’m still doing that.
“But these days, I hear too many bad things about day care centres, including youngsters getting molested, and I’m so glad I’m not in that situation any more.
“In primary and secondary school, other kids can be bullies. Once, another child stabbed my child with a pencil in his face! In primary school! Another time they ripped his shirt to steal $5. The school system must look after children better.
“When children travel to and from school, they can be at risk. One of my sons, who attended school in the west, was getting robbed many times by bad men from La Puerta and other areas hanging out in the Westmoorings area.”
“This went on within the past five years. So there’s a problem with safe transport. It was so bad, my son couldn’t even stay after school to play any games, or do swimming, or football, or join any activities, because he was getting robbed on the way back. And you know, even other children were robbing him on the bus home.
“Another son had problems with the free bus service for schoolchildren. Often the buses did not come on time—and at his school at the time, the school gates were closed promptly at 8 am, not letting latecomers in.
“So sometimes he’d be at City Gate, and he’d hear: “The bus for 8 am will no longer be available...Next bus is at 9 am.” You want to know what the children from that school used to do? Just turn around and go home. That is bad. I used to see so many students in City Gate in their uniforms, and as time passing, and the bus is late, they just walking out. So I transferred my son out of that school.
“I am a mother, I believe in being around them, protecting them...I want to make them happy, no matter what. I don’t think many single moms are getting the opportunity to spend enough time with their children to know them and love them. One minute they’re babies before our eyes, and the next, you wake up as an old woman or man, and your child is a big man or woman before you. When you go home—it takes over an hour to get home—often all you often have energy to do is go and sleep.
“You’re not spending enough time with them to get to know them, to ask them: ‘Who are your friends? What did you do today?’ Before you know it, the child who was hugging you up all the time has grown away from you...
“They say it used to take a village to raise a child. That is a true thing.”
Sharon Mottley, Diego Martin
“I was born and grew up in Diamond Vale, Diego Martin. I went abroad for 14 years; I lived in New Jersey. I had my son there. When he was eight, we moved back to Trinidad. Now I live in Arima. I have one son who will be 21 on March 26.
“I’ve worked in the private sector, but my passion is human rights, and I’ve spent an equal amount of time working with NGOs on issues such as HIV, and currently, on gender-based violence. My undergrad was in sociology; my Masters was in Industrial and Labour Relations, but I’ve always ended up working in all sorts of fields. I’ve worked for an investment bank in New York, and I also sold oil in Trinidad. Now I’d say my occupation is about advocacy and implementing programmes to alleviate pain and suffering around social issues.
“I could not have raised my son without my ‘village.’ When he was born in New Jersey I was still doing my Masters, and working. My paternal aunt, who lived two towns over, would come in the evenings to babysit him, which allowed me to go to school. When he was six months old, I took him to class with me. I had a supportive partner for the first six years, when his father and I were together.
“The notion that we do this thing alone is not the case. When I moved back to Trinidad, his granny would babysit; my brother would drop him to lessons.
“For me, the challenge was I always ended up in jobs that required me to travel. My mother in Diego Martin would care for him then...But I only had one child, so that made it a bit easier. I also had a very understanding child.
“I never viewed my son as my possession. I would talk about issues with him. My son, for instance, knew when we were going through hard times. He’d be like: ‘O Mummy, I don’t really need another pair of sneakers yet.’ We had what I call our guava season. When things were good, we lived well; when things were rough, we cut back.
“I took my career very seriously. When I sold (bunker) oil, it also required travelling—we were a start-up energy company and we sold bunkers to ships coming in...When I was a marketing officer, that required me to go abroad to meet with clients because we only sold to international companies. There is always this level of guilt (at leaving your child).
“Mothers have to be really organised, whether they have a partner or not! I didn’t have one, and I was determined to be very much in my son’s life. I don’t believe that institutions should just raise our kids without our input. So you don’t just drop them to school and leave them.
“You as a parent have a responsibility to be actively involved in your child’s life. So I was on the PTA of every school he went to. I would volunteer for school activities, I would drop him to water polo practice at 5 am every morning, go to my office, bathe and dress there, then go back and pick him up with all the other kids who could fit into the car...I took my role as parent very strongly.
“One advantage I had was I always worked in understanding institutions. I could take my child to work, if I had to work late. I work traditionally with men, but they understood that my son was part of the package. They understood that if you want the best out of me, you have to realise that I cannot be worried about my son.
“I think organisations in T&T have been a little resistant (to flexi-time for working parents). Sometimes it’s easier to do it in smaller organisations. Employers should be more understanding. But you, as a parent, shouldn’t be shy of having that conversation about family needs going in to the job.
“I don’t work 9 to 5; I work flexibly, it could be 9 pm at night, or 2 am in the morning. I check work emails while on vacation. I’m allowed some flexibility because I have a strong sense of responsibility towards my family, and I make up for it...I don’t work according to time but according to deliverables.
“But we live in a controlling society. We want to control everything, right? What time you go to church, what time you go to bed, how are kids dressed, what is the work week...This need to control employees means we don’t treat adults as adults—so a boss might think, I cannot trust you to do your work (at home or elsewhere), I have to have you here (in the office)...
“My advice to women is: first you have to see about yourself. Women have traditionally been trained to look after others. But you have to know what you want for your family, and articulate that clearly, even to an employer. They may say no, but you can still make it clear you’re a parent, and have a plan—you must show them how you can achieve results.
“When you look at the stress working women face, trying to juggle all the responsibilities—financial, timewise, schoolwise, workwise—for me it’s important to prioritise. And to organise. The role of parent never ends!
“If I had a wish for International Women’s Day, I would wish that we recognise and value the goodness in each of us as individuals, and that we are more empathetic and understanding to others—even to others that don’t do good.
As a society we seem to have lost the ability to be empathetic.”