Juggling between motherhood and career abroad

Wednesday, May 12th, 2021 00:00 |
Irene Njoki and her son, Adriel. Photo/PD/HARRIET JAMES

When she lost her job in August 2017 and after having a rough time in her marriage, Irene Njoki Njiru had to look for means to sustain herself.

Njoki applied for close to 67 jobs, but wasn’t successful.

“I had to find something to keep me sane after breaking up with the father of my son.  A job was the only miracle I needed at that time,” she narrates. 

Her prayers were answered in June 2018, after many regret emails. However, it was a job offer in a neighbouring country.

“It was an opening for a nutritionist in South Sudan, where I was to manage malnutrition in one of the counties.

Everything was arranged. Flights booked. I was given two weeks to prepare and plan myself,” she recalls.

Even though this was great news, Njoki was worried of leaving behind her then one-year-old son, Adriel.

She opted to leave her son with her sister and take the offer. “My sister and her husband were supportive and agreed to take care of my son as their own while I was away.

I had to stop breastfeeding for a week too so that my son would not have a difficult time adjusting while I was away,” says Njoki.

Homesick, but productive

However, people thought it was irresponsible of her to leave a toddler behind.

“People thought I was running away from my responsibility as a mother. Others persuaded me to stay.

But none of these people who called to ask me to stay ever sent me a job advert for me to apply or refereed me to a contact that I would get a job from. None of them even supported my son and I.

Irene Njoki. She left her son with her sister. Photo/PD/HARRIET JAMES

Leaving the country for my son and I to have a better life was the only solution,” she narrates. 

Upon arrival at South Sudan, Njoki was home sick. She went through physical and emotional pain.

She had engorged breasts because of not breastfeeding. She had to take medication to stop milk production.

All that occupied Njoki’s mind was her son. She wondered whether she had made the right choice.

She decided to journal her thoughts and this gave her much strength to face the task ahead.  

She buried herself in her work and, after three months, her score was amazing and was ranked among the best counties in performance in 2019. Njoki would catch up with her son via WhatsApp video call.

“My joy was that he was always happy alongside his cousins and that kept me going. The day I was to come home after the first three months in South Sudan felt like I was meeting my son for the first time ever.

Receiving a hug from him was the best feeling. I booked a weekend away with my son just to bond with him, which became a norm every time I got a chance to come home,” Njoki says.

After a while, both mother and son adapted to the situation. Her son began calling Njoki’s sister, mum and her husband, dad.

When Njoki came back, he would call them both mum. “This made me feel at ease because I knew he was comfortable,” she says 

When it came to discipline, Njoki discussed with her sister to raise her son the same way they were raised.

“I grew up with parents who would even allow our neighbours to punish us if we were caught in the wrong.

They didn’t spare the rod. So, when it came to my son, we agreed that if he did something wrong, my sister would discipline him the way she did her children,” she adds.

Back home 

Njoki is glad that she took the job as it assisted her to pick up her pieces. After saving enough, she decided to resign in November 2019 to come home and be with her son.

“At first, my boss refused to acknowledge my resignation and hoped that I would change my mind. He told me to return if I ever wanted to,” she says.  

She doesn’t take for granted every moment spent with her son. Currently, Njoki is working as a nutritionist and an actress.

She also hosts an online show, “The Drive Talk Show” a programme that discusses different leadership styles, business ideas, talents, among others. 

According to child psychologist, Pilie Ndiangui, while development is a lifelong process, both the infancy period and toddlerhood is a critical period that lays a foundation that determines how the child will navigate the milestones in life.

During this period, the child constructs the understanding of the world by coordinating sensory experiences by seeing and hearing.

This is also the stage at which imprinting takes place, a period which aids in attachment and is crucial in order to promote optimal social development. 

“The first year of life enables the infant to learn trust. This is established when the caregiver is predictable in attending to the needs.

Trust in infancy sets the stage for a lifelong expectation that the world is a pleasant place to be.

If the caregiver is unavailable and the infant is left to cry for long or the needs are not promptly attended to, one develops mistrust.

If they are too restrained and the caregivers are too harsh, they develop mistrust and feel rejected,” she says.

Careful planning

If the mother or a caring guardian is not around, this feeling of rejection shows up later in life by the person lacking the ability to bond.

That is why it is crucial for a mother planning to go abroad to be careful to choose the right guardian who will love the child as their own and protect them from being molested, abused or experience any form of rejection. 

“If you have an offer outside the country, don’t waste the opportunity. If your partner is easy with it and has no issues, why not?

If you are not married or are a single parent, you need a plan. Identify a good guardian; a person with children is the best as your child will not be lonely.

Ensure the person is someone who loves your child and has expressed it even when you are around,” says Njoki in conclusion. 

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