Noemi Obrero Abainza is a working mother and sole parent to her two children while her husband works overseas.
One morning in 2013, Noemi took a call that all mothers dread: her young son had been in an accident in school that severely injured his finger. She was at work, so she frantically rushed to the school. Noemi was wracked with guilt and self-recriminations.
“So many questions were going through my head. If I were at home, maybe I could’ve rushed him to the hospital, and they could’ve saved his finger,” she said. “My husband was working overseas, so I couldn’t tell him right away, and I didn’t know how to, so I alone had to bear the pain of watching our child going through that. It came to a point where I wished I didn’t have to work. So, I took a leave instead to think things through.”
Noemi decided to keep her job as an accounting officer at a research and training institution in Quezon City in the Philippines. Her husband still works on a cruise ship and is home only at 6 to 7-month intervals. So, for the most part, Noemi single-handedly manages the household and cares for their sons, who are now 16 and 10 years old.
“I had a breakdown during the accident. I couldn’t eat and stayed in my room crying all the time. My mother talked some sense into me, and my son also reassured me that he was ok. I realised that I also needed my co-workers’ support and companionship.”
The family also relies on the second income to pay for much-needed household help and tutors for her children. Noemi adds, “the extra costs take half of my monthly salary, but I still need them. I need other people’s help to take care of my children.”
“It is very hard to be a full-time working mom while my husband is away because I need to focus on my two jobs—work and taking care of our children. If you don’t have household help, you need good time management and a lot of patience to fulfil both jobs. I wake up at 4 am in the morning to do household chores, prepare what the children need for school, and what I need for work.” Noemi’s parents and siblings live in another city, so she has no other family or support network to rely on.
Before the pandemic, Noemi says she spent at least 40 hours a week at work, not counting the long commute to the office. “I used to take three rides on public transportation to get to the office. It would take one to two hours, depending on the traffic congestion. But thanks to my husband, we decided to invest in a car after seeing how much I struggled every day with public transportation.”
So, during the pandemic, the 45-yearold mom welcomed her company’s work-from-home arrangement. “Since March 2020 up to the present, our company has been very generous in setting up a hybrid arrangement. Our flexible schedule allows employees to work from home as long as it doesn’t affect the company’s operations. Even though I am in the administration and finance section, I can work effectively, thanks to modern technology.”
“I think I am more productive and flexible now; rather than reporting to the office, I can work as early as 5 am and as late as 10 pm. I have a better work-life balance—no more stress from the traffic going to and from work. I even discovered more development opportunities. My mental health and energy levels improved. With this set-up, you can work and at the same time attend the kids’ school events, attend to their medical needs, and other important occasions in their lives. Working moms like me enjoy this kind of set-up because it allows us for more quality time with family.”
Noemi says her sons love having her at home and being available whenever they need attention. While they now enjoy quality family time, Noemi understands that the work-from-home arrangement may not be sustainable. However, she hopes companies continue to allow flexible schedules and focus on employees’ work output rather than hours spent in the office.
What the pandemic has taught her, Noemi says, is that working mothers can achieve a work-life balance if they have the support of their employers. “What I realised with this arrangement is that I don’t have to spend all my time at work because my family needs me too. You can pour all your efforts into your work but you are not indispensable. If you give time to your family, they will never forget that because you’ve created memories that will last a lifetime.”
The views and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the interviewee and do not reflect the official policy or position of ASEAN.