“I’ve yet to be on a campus where most women weren’t worrying about some aspect of combining marriage, children and a career. I’ve yet to find one where many men were worrying about the same thing.” Gloria Steinem
My husband and I make quite a good team, however like any other couple we have our share of conflicting propositions. In a recent episode of the same, I asked my husband what he has on his plate that kept him so mentally occupied? And he very honestly answered; ‘Well, I have to deal with work pressures to provide for the family, tell me what you have on your plate?!’. I’m positive he instantly regretted having asked me that question.
I began my career one week after finishing my undergrad exams. I was lucky enough to be hired by one of the top tier firms of the Legal 500, also a Lex Mundi member law firm. When I started working there, despite my enthusiasm, I often thought why I opted to get stuck in such a difficult spot – with full time working hours/6 days a week, a one hour commute every day in Karachi’s ridiculous traffic coupled with all the expectations, pressures and deadlines that now add to my valued assets. I was hired along with 8 other fresh graduates and because of my result-oriented approach, my probation period had been waived off, I was given a raise only 3 months after joining and I was made to lead a team of 4 of my colleagues who joined the firm with me.
Soon after, I made my first career move and joined the legal department of one of biggest group of companies in Pakistan. For an in-house legal job, the exposure was great because of the huge variety of clientele the company had.
In 2013, I decided to pursue my Masters in Law and went to the UK for a year. Despite my minimal savings and my family’s support, I knew I was going to be tight on budget. I went to a good school and lived in a great accommodation but that was about it when it came to my foreign luxuries. I interned at a law firm on my off days from school and was paid the minimum wage on a weekly basis. I also tutored for math and English at a local church and made a few pounds there. And for every opportunity I got, I baby sat for families to make some extra money. All in all, I managed to generate my running cost during my stay. Unlike other students who live abroad and party hard, I was almost always on duty with or without my books. But like they say, hard work and determination always pays off, I managed to graduate with a distinction in my LLM.
As soon as I was back, I got married and shifted to Islamabad. Change of place, culture, family, environment and interests. I was trying to develop an understanding of a lot of things including my new relationship. My husband, who works in the telecom industry as well, has always been very supportive of my ambitions and dreams. Soon, I got an opportunity to work for one of the oldest law firms of Pakistan which currently operates in 13 countries across the world.
It was not easy to manage career and a joint family system. I had to wake up 3 hours before it was time to leave for work, make breakfast and do my fair share of the house chores. The commute once again was a killer and I was straight in the kitchen as soon as I reached back home. I remember spending a lot of days at work when I would be thinking about how to manage a situation back home. There were times when I would have to forcefully shut down the home front to be able to perform at work. It was extremely hectic but it all worked out.
I took a career gap when I was blessed with a baby boy two years ago. With all the madness I had willingly been enduring ever since I finished my undergrad, my life suddenly was nothing short of pure bliss. Yes, house chores and looking after a baby with no help is a quite a job in itself but at least you’re your own boss. I thoroughly enjoyed being a full time mom for a year and a half and then I made one of the toughest decisions of my life – to resume my career.
You see, a lot of things change once a fresh undergrad encompasses the role of a wife/daughter-in-law – but then it’s an entirely different universe when a woman becomes a mother. Despite of culture or religion or any other factor that there may be, a mother remains a mother and she is seldom satisfied with her performance as a mother based on the bars that she has set for herself. It’s always ‘I wish I could somehow also do that for my baby!’.
Women have been part of the workforce for the last several decades, in fact, about half of all mothers around the globe work for pay. However, despite their growing prominence, having to juggle their family and work hasn’t gotten easier for the average working lady belonging to a middle class family.
When I decided to resume work, I gave endless interviews in local and multinational companies. Regardless of my achievements and capabilities, I was more than often judged or ruled out by the mere fact that I was a mother to 1.5-year-old. “Achaaa… so how will you manage working hours with your baby?”, “We usually have realllllyyyyy late sittings at office you know”, “Why do you even want to work?!” – are only some of the very “supportive” statements that I have faced while giving interviews. Almost every workplace these days sells the fact that they believe in “gender diversity” and “facilitating working mothers”, but to add on to the irony I faced, I was mostly discouraged and doubted by the female employers as opposed to the men who interviewed me. I remember, after one such interview, I came back home to my extremely excited toddler and husband and my husband asked me how the interview went and I just broke down. I cried so much because I was made to feel like it was my fault that I was married and that it was my fault that I was a mother. The feeling was horrible and I pity those people who make you feel this way. I had almost lost all hope but my family needed a financial supporter which is why I kept trying my luck.
My interview with my present employer was not a smooth ride either. I faced the same drill regarding my long career gap? How I will manage home and why was I even bothered about resuming work? When I walked out of the interview, a part of me was sure that I will not make it. But fortunately, I was called in during the same week to finalize an acceptable package and begin work. Perhaps, for once someone was ready to place the risk on a woman who was also a mother.
As stated by the president of a New York-based organization, women in the ascent phase of their careers often cite “the challenges of managing work in the workplace and work at home” as an obstacle. It’s unfortunate how we only “talk more and do less” when it comes to truly facilitating and encouraging females to become part of the working society. Despite of having its set of challenges, I feel grateful to my current employer for giving me the opportunity to show case my skills and test my true mettle as a working mother.
Undoubtedly, I have frequent bouts of working mom’s guilt and I often wonder why I am paying someone else to raise my son. But lately I have realized that it’s worth it to trade some toddler tantrums for office hours in order to maintain my sanity. I am enjoying my job for all the things that I get to learn but also because it forces me to brush my hair every morning and have proper adult, intellectual conversations.
Despite the time off that I get from being a mom and a wife, my favorite time of the day is when I go to pick my baby from his daycare. The way his face lights up to see me followed by the melodies squeal of ‘mama aaagaaiiii’ just takes away all my tiredness from work. It is the one moment, every single day of my week, that I look forward to.
The younger, more carefree version of me, had a clear idyllic vision of where I wanted to be in my career. Wearing a funky blazer with hip glasses, being surrounded by collaborative millennials brainstorming on a high profile case while I sipped on my black coffee in my favorite mug. Just the thought of it gives me the thrills and makes me feel all smart and productive. But if I were to run after that dream today, it would mean to ruthlessly wake up my 2-year-old at 6 in the morning, jam some quick breakfast down his throat, brush his teeth in the car and drop him off at day care before he could make sense of anything from the day. It would mean, hiring someone to cook for my family, clean my house and attend to the daily needs of my husband and child as I fancy my dream of making a career.
Being a working mother, it is very important for us to constantly evaluate our priorities. It’s a constant juggle, an everlasting balancing act. While, we do our part of being a professional and a mother at the same time, it is imperative that our workforces and our society truly appreciate the daily struggle and actually facilitate women who are always pushing boundaries to explore their capabilities and strengths. The human mind is said to thrive only in the presence of challenging situations – raising your child and financially supporting your family, definitely suffices as one. I still have a long way to go in my career but for now, I cherish a happy family picture of my husband, my son and I that’s plugged onto my fridge, while I brew some evening tea after work – after all, family and home is what we all work for.