THE BABY-BUSINESS BALANCE
Two Toronto moms talk about juggling their family lives and accelerating careers
It’s 3 p.m. Nasma Ali, a Toronto realtor, patiently waits at the school bus stop. After a hectic day of showing clients potential homes, she watches her three children step off the school bus one by one. In a line, they approach her with hugs and kisses. It’s her favourite time of the day.
It’s only recently that Ali has been able to make the time to pick up her children from the school bus, thanks to her new career. Before she moved into the real estate industry, she worked as an engineer (in an almost all-male department), where it was difficult to attain a work/family balance.
The younger colleagues in her department, who didn’t have kids, were able to work overtime, while she had to leave the office by 5 p.m. in order make it in time to pick up her children from daycare. As a result, she felt that upper management wasn’t seeing her value as an engineer.
“Before I had kids I was so naïve,” Ali said. “I never thought that having kids would change my career growth. That wasn’t even a thought in my mind until I actually got pregnant.”
What does it take to achieve the ‘perfect’ balance between being a mother and having a career? Let’s be honest - balance means something different to each individual.
Parenting expert Brandie Weikle believes whether there are two parents or one, it’s a lot of work to raise a family while also establishing a career. The cost of living is also so high that most families require two incomes to stay afloat.
“We are tribal people. We are meant to be in groups such as aunts, grandparents and other adults in the mix who are mentors,” Weikle said. “It’s only very recently, in the middle of the last century where we’ve been isolating ourselves in the nuclear family and trying to do it all.”
Michelle Donnelly gets it. She currently works in the employment communications department at Shoppers Drug Mart that is a “nice mix of healthcare and the private sector”. She chose the position because of her desire to balance her life with husband Luke Donnelly, their three teenage children and her career.
“It was getting a little out of control at my previous job,” Donnelly said, noting that she and her husband made decisions to turn down opportunities to prioritize the family.
Many employers are flexible nowadays. Donnelly is able to work from home and spend time with her children. The downside is that her colleagues expect her to be available at any time of the day and evening.
Ali looked at her career a bit differently. In her first two years in real estate, she admitted that she prioritized work because no matter what new business you go into, you may not earn money. She noted that she has worked many late nights at home and if it wasn’t for her supportive husband, Jad, she doesn’t think she could have made that change in her career.
In a short period of time, Ali has built her own real estate team. Now, she has the ability to focus on her young children and husband, but she is also helping her associates. “Other people are gaining sustenance and a cheque because of my success now and I can help other people and spend quality time with my kids,” she said.
Weikle says working moms often feel overwhelmed by the emotional labour of everything they’re doing to arrange their family’s lives. They often compare themselves to other working moms on social media and feel inadequate because they believe they’re not living up to the standard of how they would like to parent and how their lives should look.
“Lower some standards in some areas and get the exercise you need to stay healthy,” Weikle said. “We need to recognize that we need more help. We need to admit that it’s hard.”
While Ali and her husband were able to rely her mother for assistance when needed, Donnelly says she mainly relies on herself and her husband to balance their family’s lives instead of asking for or hiring help.
Donnelly strongly encourages women to set boundaries in the workplace and make sure they have a support system that works for them.
“It is not what the job expects of you. It’s the boundaries you set and the expectations you have,” she said.