A Juggling Exercise: The Work and Life balance

3 Feb

After Mia was born, my 17 months old daughter, I had one year maternity leave but decided that I wanted to take some extra time off work and resigned from the job I had at the time – it just seemed like the natural thing to do, because other than wanting to spend some more time with Mia, later I also wanted to find a new professional challenge.

So now I am getting back to the tedious process of looking for a new fulfilling job and all that this process entails. I am being picky because I feel that whatever I go to do next better be worth my time away from my daughter. Things were looking good, some interviews here and there, though nothing concrete. Then came an unpleasant interview, where I was asked four questions relating to my ability to manage being a mom and a professional. I never thought I would be intimidated by such questions which actually to me felt unnecessary, self-explanatory, not to mention bordering on illegal. The questions where along the lines of, ‘this  role requires  that on occasion you work late, would you be able to do that with small child?”, ‘your child is quite young, how will you cope with leaving her?’ and a couple of other similar questions.

During the interview I did not hesitate answering, I expected that some employers may want to know a little about that aspect, though found it odd that there were more than one or two questions. In hindsight, I should have said something that would not give him (yes, it was a male interviewer) the chance to further prove my private life.  But I must admit after the interview I was filled with insecurities and doubts, not about whether I could work and manage my work and home life balance, but by the thought that being a mom would put me at a disadvantage in the eyes of employers.

Having worked in the human rights field I am well aware of all types of discrimination against women and specifically we often hear about discrimination against women in the labour market, especially around all matters to do with reproduction – i.e. men being hired in favour of women because the women are of child bearing age, women cast aside from promotions because she just got married and therefore might fall pregnant, and the list of assumptions goes on and on- but it was weird to feel that maybe I was the subject of discrimination, at least that is what I perceived.

As I friend of mine rightly pointed out, being a mom gives us an added edge, we become great ‘multi-taskers’ and  become extra efficient at work simply because we need to finish on time to be able to tend to our other responsibilities at home.  I don’t deny that I won’t go through my own separation anxiety when I eventually go back to work or that it might take a little bit of time for me to adjust to the change, but in taking the decision to go back to work I am already preparing myself for this process and do resent that my professional ability is questioned because I am a mother, the role I am most proud of.

Next time I am asked anything about being a mother all I would say is this – ‘I have the support system I need  to cope with the demands on this role’, and say nothing more and nothing less. Also, I think I had the best teacher I could possibly have on being a working mother and that is my mom. As a single working mother she took her five daughters travelling around the world whilst she carried out humanitarian work. When we left my country my little sister was just 3 and my eldest sister was 13, so I bet if she could do it I am sure I can too!!

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Paty is a Dominican/Peruvian mom who lives in London with her Norwegian husband and 17 month old daughter, Mia.

4 Responses to “A Juggling Exercise: The Work and Life balance”

  1. natasha devalia February 3, 2012 at 10:49 am #

    Very interesting and touching post Paty! It’s funny because I was just telling a friend about your mum a few days ago- how she was a super-mum, even though I never “knew” her, it’s now, as a mum myself, that I realise how much work she must have had. And of course you can do it too (handle being a mum and working well I mean)!
    Thanks for bringing this issue up. I’d love to hear more stories as they come up for you as you job-hunt, and look for something worthwhile.

    • Paty Meléndez February 4, 2012 at 9:07 am #

      Thank you Nat for your comment and the encouragement. There is some much to write about women in the labour market and I am sure there will be more stories to tell along the way as I re-enter it. I will be sure to pen those down as they come.
      Sometimes I wonder myself how my mother managed to raise five daughters along with meeting the demands of her work. I think we have all come out pretty ok, so would say she has done a fantastic job.

  2. pascalinap February 6, 2012 at 9:01 am #

    I have to admit.. I used to interview women for different types of jobs (from a simple assistant to a manager) and although I am a woman and family is very important to me, I was always skeptic when I had to interview a young mother or married woman in her 30’s (was she planning to have a baby soon ?). So now that I am thinking of going back to work too after I had my baby girl, I am terrified of these questions just like you because I know there are not a lot of good answers to give..
    I would go for:
    ” Are you asking if my personal life can affect my work? well, like everybody, in case of an accident or an urgent matter, I’ll have to ask the permission to leave and take care of the person I love, but I will not leave my work without notice and without making sure everything can run without me while I’ll be away.”

    But the truth is, that during an interview, what matters is the feeling you get from the person in front of you. A young professional without children will judge you no matter what you say. You’ll have to convince him/her more than anyone else..
    Good luck!

    • Paty Meléndez February 9, 2012 at 9:31 pm #

      Thank you for your frankness Pascaline. I am sure these questions cross the mind of many employers at some point or another during recruitments. In my last job I also did some recruitment, but to be honest, thoughts about women candidates having babies/ or not, never crossed my mind. I think this is perhaps because working in the NGO/charity sector, were most employees are women, being a mother or getting married is so usual or at least it was with the colleagues around me at the time. In the long run I hope to be lucky to get some interviewers that are more concerned with me as a prospective candidate with the ability to do a job rather than make assumptions about my ability to manage my life. Good luck on your journey back to work too.

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