How This Dubai Working Mother Changed the Way We Think of Balance

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Photo: Courtesy of Maggy Meyer

The feeling of maternal guilt is one that working mothers are all too familiar with. Indeed, even if we’ve been told that we can have it all, the truth of the matter is that career women have to choose. Do we want to reach the top or do we want a family? If the answer is both, do we put in the hours that are (unfortunately) necessary to progress in certain industries or do we make it home for bath and bed time?

Striking a balance that works for you, your employer, and your family is the key to not feeling like you’re always missing out – even if, as some women have told us, that never really completely goes away.

For practical advice from a woman who does it all, Goodness turned to Mona Abou Hana, a Partner in PwC’s Government and Public Sector Consulting Practice in Dubai who leads the firm’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship agenda. She was one of the youngest partners in PwC’s history and is currently one of the few in the Middle East with a young family, which might tell you a thing or two about how hard it is to balance both.

When asked how she deals with stress in her role, she shares, “There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with stress. It depends on your career aspirations, your support system, and your company. It also depends on whether you are more family driven or career driven. The answer lies in your own specific situation. In my case, for example, my immediate family doesn’t live in the same country, so we have to rely on ourselves.” Her schedule regularly takes her to Saudi Arabia, Oman, and the rest of the Emirates (and away from her three-year-old daughter), while her husband, who is also career driven, is often on the road as well.

“Everything has to be well thought of, well planned, and well scheduled. If anything goes off plan, that’s when a lot of stress comes in,” she adds. However, no matter how organized you are, there are just some things you can’t plan for. “There are no doubt hiccups. For example, my daughter could be sick and I have to travel or my husband has to travel – that rocks the boat because it’s off plan.”

So what has helped her find balance and overcome any guilt she might have? “I’ve learned not to assess things on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. If you want to assess your work-life balance or how you’re dealing with stress, you need to look at things over a period of six months to a year. In demanding jobs like mine, you will always have stressful weeks, weeks where you will prioritize work, or weeks where you will prioritize your family. As long as I see balance after a long period, that’s how I know I was successful.”

So, at the end of a six-month period, take a look back at your life. If your time spent with family and your time spent prioritizing work (sort of) average out, that, according to Abou Hana, is balance. Simple.

As a super-working-mom, there are other things you can do to make your life easier. Conversation, Abou Hana says, is one of those. She recommends speaking to your seniors as well as your juniors about your situation to make sure everyone is on the same page. This will also help you plan better as a team. “When I’m able to speak about it to my team, we can plan a lot better, but I also humanize the situation so they know that, if they’re experiencing stress, they can talk to me about it,” she shares.

What else can you do? First of all, delegate if you are able to and, second, be honest with yourself about what you can and can’t do anymore. “What I really want to do is find the time to read a book, but things change after you have kids.”

Also, remember that what you are doing is for your family. One common thread that seems to tie all working mothers together is the belief or hope that what they are doing will set a good example for their children and especially their daughters. As Abou Hana explains, “I’m career driven, but I see that as having a positive impact on my daughter. Sometimes, when I’m sitting on my laptop at home, she’ll come and sit down next to me with her little pink plastic computer.”