In many societies, there is an expectation placed on a woman that once she is married and has children - she must reconsider her career path options. It is considered the natural order of things for her to stop working altogether, or at a minimum work in a profession that is more ‘mother-appropriate’. At least, this is certainly the case in Africa.
Some women have the luxury - and desire - to exit the workplace to raise their children. Most of the time, however, it is not her choice, rather her ‘duty’ as a woman. I know of many mothers who would love nothing more than continuing the challenge of developing her career; there many women in this position who have postponed starting a family for fear of leaving a job that they love.
Often when I introduce myself as a developer who is also a married mother of four children, most people are amazed. The next question I’m asked is usually how I manage to balance my family life and my work - particularly in a field as challenging as software development.
Their amazement at such a feat is perhaps stemmed in the fact that you need to put in time to have a fruitful, successful career. On the other hand, it takes the same amount - if not more - of time to nurture and care for a family. Life isn’t always easy - however given the right attitude and perseverance, you can follow the road less traveled (and be happy doing so!).
“I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won't work” - Thomas A. Edison
These are words that keep me going especially when things don't work out the way I expect them to. Many times in life, many trusted advisers will give valid examples of people who have failed while starting out a journey similar to the one you intend to start - or even examples of those who started and did not manage to get far. If one does not have the willpower to go on, it’s easy to become discouraged.
Of course, there are challenges that I have faced - and will continue to face - here a few I’d like to share:
- Making hard decisions: it is easier to make decisions when you’re single like moving towns, unlike when having a family where it will affect the lives of my family.
- Not enough hours in the day: after the working day there are still responsibilities at home which need to be done, since a mother can’t abandon the responsibility taking care of the family when she is working. At times, there are a lot of things to do, and there seems to be very little time to do it. I find myself constantly wishing that some days would be longer so I can finish everything on my list.
- Society mindset: societal expectations say that a woman should take care of their family, and when a woman decides to continue working outside home, it is sometimes seen as abandoning their responsibilities.
- Feelings of inadequacy: oftentimes it feels like I can’t work extra hours, because of my many responsibilities after the working day; making some women feel like they are not as good as their male counterparts.
Life is a journey, full of lessons to be learned. Here are my top five tips:
Know what you really want in life: Life can be challenging. If you really know what you want then it becomes easier to be able to chase your dreams and stick to it.
Be ready to stick to your decision despite the hardships along the way: Every decision that one makes always comes along with hardships along the way. Normally other people cannot fight your battles and so you have to be ready to stick to your decisions and fight the battles so as to enjoy the success that comes after that.
Know and put your priorities right: In life there are usually a lot of things which need your attention at the same time, it is even made worse when you have children and a family at large to take care of. One has to always know what takes higher priority so that they can give them more attention. Failure to do this leads to disappointment and disorganization, there life is tougher since the most important items are not taken care of.
Always get some time off your work for introspection: This is usually a tricky thing to pull off since there is always something that needs to be done. This has proven to be really important because, after some introspection, then one can successfully see what aspects of their lives are going well, so that one can continue to do things that way, and which areas need improvement. This time has really added to my productivity.
Have fun: Despite all that happens in life we always need to have some fun. Definition of what fun means to each person is different, so whatever makes you happy should always have a slot of your time. Sometimes the journey is more fun than the destination.
I am yet to meet someone, regardless of whether they are single or married, and of any gender, whose life does not have some challenges.
“Life was never meant to be easy, my child, but take courage: it can be delightful!” George Bernard Shaw
At the end of the day it’s not about having a life without challenges, but its having a purposeful life that makes you smile in the midst of all the challenges. For me, getting home at the end of the day and my kids running to greet me with warm hugs, makes me forget all the struggles that I have to go through throughout the day, and that’s my joy as a programming mother.
Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.