Every morning her marathon begins. Slipping out of bed, she opens her closet and contemplates for a couple of minutes choosing the outfit of the day. She picks a suit with a fitting pair of heels and puts them aside. She then starts the morning race making sure everything is ready for school. With the apron on, she prepares the lunch boxes, wakes her children and helps them put their clothes on. The clock is ticking; they should leave home in 10 minutes otherwise they will not make it to school on time. Those precious 10 minutes pass so quickly, but she is a marathon runner determined on breaking her own daily record. She manages to put on her ensemble for her second role scheduled to start at 8:00 a.m. She crosses the hallway screening the kids, the school bags, the lunch boxes and the house. Anxious to make it on time, yet contempt that everything is perfectly as planned, she drops her children to school and with them her role as a mom.
At the office, she is a not the same person; the features are exactly the same, perhaps with a touch of makeup, but the outfit is different as is the character. With high heels and a suit she takes on her next task and starts the second stage of her marathon. The responsibilities are big, the deliverables are many, and the challenges are numerous. Performing was never a concern to her, but the need to constantly prove her abilities consumes much of her energy. No matter how fit and no matter how fast, she wears heels and heels make things difficult! Difficult for them because that makes them realize that she is capable of running as fast with high heels on, and difficult for her because it is not comfortable running with heels, but she keeps on competing because she is adamant on getting to the finish line and on getting there among the first.
But the challenge is not only the job, her challenge is doubled because as a mother it is almost impossible for her to “drop” her “motherhood” at the school’s entrance and go through her day totally and solely focused on work. Who is going to make that call to make sure that they are home safe? Who will rush to unexpected emergencies and miss that important meeting that she has been preparing for and was critical for her to be in?
Her business day comes to a closure. She walks to her car exhausted from the long hours, satisfied with the achievements, yet extremely guilty that once again she did not leave her office on time to be with her children. It is a unique mixture of feelings that only a working mother knows what it really tastes like.
Ticking her second box for the day, she gets home to take on her next roles as the tutor, the chef and the wife. Quickly she sits with her kids to monitor their studies while preparing dinner simultaneously. Still in marathon mode, she makes sure that by 9:00 p.m. they are asleep. She does whatever is needed to make sure that their lives are running smoothly and that the fact that she has a career does not impact her family. It is a price she is willing to pay, because as an outlier she doesn’t simply want a job, she is looking for a successful career.
What I shared above is a real story; it is a window into one day of my life and the lives of many other working moms. As a working mother and throughout my years of experience I have found little to no support from the firms I worked for. The message was always “as a mother you should not be looking for a career, you should be looking for a 9 – 5 job”. Support was remarkably absent to an extent that I found myself in a situation where I had to resign from a leading position because HR at the time did not have measures or practices set in place to support working mothers with babies. I was at the peak of my career which required endless working hours and travel away from my family and my home. I tried to juggle both, but with two kids I was slipping as a mom. I was faced with two options from which I had to choose one and only one option; my family or my career? Although painful at the time, the decision was and will always be my family, but my question is does it have to be at the expense of my career? Why not have both?
Working mothers are like acrobats juggling work and life and trying to balance the two. With our eagerness to succeed we have managed to become experts in the different roles that we take on day in day out to be part of the game. In fact we have mastered those roles so well that leaves one question “are we efficient multitaskers, or are we schizophrenics?”
By: Soughit Abdelnour, senior manager, Human Resources, Deloitte Middle East