Careers and Motherhood; How can the twain meet?
Holding a high-pressure job and being a mother are not mutually exclusive. It takes hard work and some tweaking in your life, says Naina Arun Sharma, an investment banker and mother to a three and a half-year-old. It is tough but worth it says Naina, who is our guest blogger in this special Mother's day month.
Naina has been working as an investment banking and investment professional for over a decade, starting her career at JM Morgan Stanley and currently working at The World Bank as part of the International Finance Corporation. She has completed her MBA from The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania and MSc in Finance from Lancaster University, UK. Apart from thoroughly enjoying “being mommy”, she enjoys reading, travel, food, and spending time with family…
Enough and more has been researched and written about trying to manage a career and motherhood. From Sheryl Sandberg talking about ‘leaning in’ to Indra Nooyi stating that “women can’t really have it all”; with loud voices supporting the recent Maternity Act to hushed whispers on how it will make women less ‘recruitable’ for corporates – well, all this information, can be overwhelming, to say the least. While I love keeping abreast with all that is happening, I try to stay as objective and detached from all the noise and see what works for us as a family unit to shape our daily lives.
To give you a brief background about myself, I have been an investment professional most of my working life, working with global institutions post my Master’s degrees. When I delivered my daughter three and a half years ago, I saw my priorities change overnight. Don’t get me wrong – while I loved having a career that gave me the financial independence, intellectual stimulation and confidence, having this tiny being whom I loved in words inexplicable and who was so dependent on me for just about everything made me re-evaluate my priorities and forced me to try and strike a balance between my responsibilities as a mother and as a career-woman. Here are some of the things that helped me along the way…
- Being extremely clear about my priorities and being unapologetic about them: However cliché, I do believe in quality time over quantity. That meant, I re-organised my days to keep my evenings with my daughter and knew that would mean saying no to evening conference calls, meetings and even post-work casual outings with colleagues. Did it slow down my career trajectory? Maybe. Was it easy to implement? No. Was it worth it, in hindsight? Absolutely. One needs to wear blinders and keep reminding oneself of one’s priorities as one finds a path that seems to work.
- Equal parenting…yes that is a thing...!: If I were spending my weekdays at work, would it be unreasonable to expect my husband to contribute equally in raising our child? Fortunately, I got extremely lucky. My husband contributes as much if not more time and effort in bringing up our daughter. He has attended more parent-teacher meetings than I have, has taken her for as many playdates as I have and is 100% involved in the feeding, bathing and playing duties. There is absolutely no way I could have managed a career and being a mother if I did not have that support. Having a supportive partner who contributes equally at home not only helps one accomplish more but also sets a wonderful example for children as they see gender equality as a part of life.
- Go beyond the partner…create an eco-system of support…and ask for help when need be: God knows that I have worn the tag of “maidless in Mumbai” several times which has made me miss meetings, reschedule work travel, leaving me in quite a lurch. Over time, I have created a trusted eco-system including family and friends who have helped look after my daughter when I really needed them. My mother has put her life on hold to make mine better and, for that, I am eternally grateful. My friends have had my daughter over, fed her, kept her entertained at short notice. Creating that trusted system is extremely important; it reduces the physical and emotional burden that bogs one down and, I believe, also makes the child more adaptable to change.
- Efficiency is key: Trying to maintain harmony (or sanity...) between career and motherhood has forced me to be efficient. Plan, plan, and plan became my mantra. From ordering groceries on my phone to doing conference calls from the car (or the salon..shhh), from leaving home early in the morning to save 20 minutes of commute time to taking shorter lunch breaks to get work done in time – these changes have come at the cost of making my days monotonous but rather predictable which helps me squeeze a lot more in a workday. You can surprise yourself with how much can fit in a 12 hour day!
- Make time for yourself: There are days when I am completely overwhelmed because of my to-do list that gets longer despite all my attempts. Instead of diving deep into the to-dos, I sometimes just take a break from it all, hand over my li’l girl to my husband, and dash off to do something I enjoy. Whether it is grabbing coffee with my girlfriends (to vent!), getting a relaxing massage or simply shutting the door and getting some sleep, it helps me rejuvenate and re-focus. Retail therapy goes a long way too (wink..!). A few hours to myself work like magic…and are very well-earned, I think.
I have sat in parent-teacher meetings feeling like an inadequate mother, also sat in work meetings feeling like an inadequate professional but when my daughter, amidst our good night snuggles, tells me “Mommy, you are my best friend – you take such good care of me”, I know I must be doing something right.
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