It is the oft-repeated mantra of mothers that theirs is the hardest job in the world. Throw in a career and between the challenges of balancing both work and family, it is usually the woman’s sanity that ends up being sacrificed. Yet there is that rare breed of women who not only manage successful careers but also raise well-behaved children and who prove that achieving the impossible isn’t always impossible. Instep talks to four such women to discover how they do it.
Maheen Kardar Ali
As the force behind successful design house Karma and the mother of two children under the age of 10, Maheen is quite the supermom. “The key to balancing work and family is planning, planning and more planning! I have it all mapped out, down to the minutest detail, everything from babysitting schedules to lunch and dinner menus. You’ll always find me carrying a planner around to deal with last-minute contingencies.”
With a day that begins at dawn and ends at 6pm and entails managing a household as well as a design studio, Maheen has become adept at multi-tasking. Yet there is only so much one person can do and she stresses the importance of a good support system. “I am lucky that I have two very supportive sets of grandparents who pitch in with babysitting duties. That way, the kids are never home alone and I, being an extremely overprotective and hyper parent, can work in peace knowing that they are in good hands.”
While there’s no shortcut to reaching the perfect balance between work and children, Maheen says that the one trick that has helped her become a better mother is learning to switch off. “Once I am home from work, I leave all else behind and give my children my undivided attention. I can’t have them feeling left out and resenting my work.”
As a strong career woman who has carved out an identity for herself, Maheen is proud of her achievements, which she says have made her a better parent. “A happy and content mother raises happy kids. Not only that, my children are growing up with a strong sense of self worth and independence.”
The CEO of Luscious Cosmetics, Mehrbano Sethi is the creator of Pakistan’s first beauty brand. While launching a line of cosmetic products designed specifically for the local woman is no small feat, Mehrbano feels her greatest accomplishment came years after the launch of the company – her daughter Mahnaz. “I’m lucky that I get to play two such important roles in my life, being a mother as well as a businesswoman and despite the challenges it poses to balance both, I wouldn’t wish my life to be any different,” says the entrepreneur.
Having her own business allows Mehrbano a degree of control and flexibility over her working hours, something she is grateful for as Mahnaz is not yet three. Looking after a toddler can be a full-time, nerve-wracking task as all mothers can vouch for, and Mehrbano realizes how important parental involvement is during these formative years. “I make sure I drop my daughter to school in the morning and pick her up in the afternoon and have lunch with her. Also, when I’m with her, I make sure I switch off completely from work so that she has my undivided attention.”
Yet, guilt still creeps in on the odd day that work keeps her too occupied to take out time for her daughter. “Despite my best efforts, there are days when I’m stuck in a meeting and I have to send the nanny to pick her up from school. The guilt does eat me up but I think as a mother, you become used to that emotion being a part of your system for there is always something you could have done better!”
Juju Haider, Creative Director at Toni & Guy, is a single mom to a 15-year-old daughter and an 11-year-old son. As a working mother having to fulfill the role of both parents, Juju admits that it’s a tough ride, one that is often wrought with guilt and disappointments. “When it’s just one parent doing a job meant for two, it can get emotionally and physically taxing. The good and the bad – it’s all on you. By the time I come home from work, I’m often exhausted so there are instances when I can’t be there for the children as much as I want to be.”
Contrary to popular belief, Juju says that the job of a mother does not get easier when the kids get older. The sleepless nights that once resulted from hunger and dirty diapers turn into sleepless nights caused by issues of control and curfews. “The older they get, the bigger the problems. Let me break it to all moms out there: it never gets any easier.”
The key to juggling parenting with a busy work life while looking as fabulous as she does is prioritizing and organizing. “I’ve never been the kind of obsessive mother who’s outside the school gates every day. But I do make sure I’m there for all important school events. For the sake of your sanity, you need to figure out what’s worth it and what can be safely given a miss. I organize my schedule in advance so that my manager knows when I won’t be available to take appointments.”
The biggest mistake that she sees parents around her make is overcompensating. “A lot of parents go overboard when it comes to dealing with kids, especially those who are the product of divorce. Kids are really smart and they will milk it for what’s it worth. As a mother, I’ve taught my kids to realize that life isn’t always fair, but they need to be thankful for what they have instead of wallowing in self pity.”
Romana Abdullah launched Hopscotch, a kidswear brand, last year when she realized the dearth of good children’s clothes in Pakistan. As a start-up business that has the husband and wife team managing everything from the designing to the selling to the PR, Hopscotch has lent a lot of chaos and vibrancy to Romana’s life. But she’s not worried, for this is a combination that she is quite used to dealing with. As the mother of two, a daughter aged 1 and a son aged 6, Romana is adept at juggling stress with fun, temper tantrums with play-dates. “Managing a start-up along with a personal life can be quite stressful,” she says, “but I’ve always been a working mother and frankly, I don’t know any other way of being.”
They say that children of working mothers suffer, but Romana doesn’t buy into this myth. “Children don’t need constant supervision; they just need to be loved unconditionally. A mother can work all day but as long as her kids know that they are the center of her universe, they’ll do fine.” She believes the contrary notion to be truer. “The sooner children realize that everyone has roles in their lives, that people need to go out and earn a living, that pursuing one’s passion makes you happy – the stronger and more responsible they will be.”
The one common notion that she does ascribe to, however, is the one that goes: it takes a tribe to raise a child. “I feel blessed to have wonderful parents and in-laws as well as a tight circle of friends who are always there for my kids.”