When I was a teenager I always wanted to be in my 20s because, just like my sisters, I wanted to be career-oriented, professional, and independent. When I got there, I was thrilled to graduate in Law and step into practical life. It took me four months of perseverance to get my first job in one of the best law firms of Lahore. When I started working there, I used to think why I chose to get in such a tight spot, with all the thrashing, pressures, and deadlines which I now treasure so much.
My colleagues used to envy my self-motivation but I would often ask myself if it was worth the effort and deep down the reply was "yes, the best is yet to be". This positivity had a lot to do with my family’s support. My working mother used to tell us that hard work never killed anyone, in fact, it helped one grow, gain confidence and respect.
One year into my career and I got married. Soon, I had a daughter. The law firm I was working for offered me good exposure in terms of clientele and work yet when it came to paying the maternity leave benefits, it was not on their radar. When I resigned, my employer tried to convince me that he would compensate. But I thought it should not have taken a resignation for him to realise that I was entitled to such benefits under law.
I remember the pangs I felt when I resumed work and had to leave my daughter with the in-laws and at my parents, at times, and at other times with the maid. There was a constant guilt and stress that my daughter deserved more time but each time my faith renewed that it was in the best interest of my own mental health as well as our family that I worked.
After my daughter, I had two miscarriages in the first three years of marriage. By that time, we had moved from Lahore to Islamabad because of my husband’s job, and thankfully I got a good job too. After the miscarriage, when I was still in the hospital, I told my husband that I was feeling too depressed and I had to do some soul-searching to realise my ambitions for an LLM. He was a bit surprised at the timing but encouraged me to explore my options.
I was to leave my three year-old daughter and my husband behind to pursue my degree. Some people around me were shocked and gave snide remarks.
When I went to the UK, I only had funds for the first semester but, thank God, and thanks to my family’s support it all worked out. It was tough living alone and on the first day I cried so much, wondering if I had taken the right decision. With time I settled in; one year passed well and I was able to visit home thrice and talk through Skype daily. My daughter was growing up well and her teachers at school gave full marks to her and her father for performing very well despite my periods of absence.
When I came back to Pakistan, I already had an offer with my employer in Islamabad with whom I had worked for a year previously. I rejoined on the same position with slightly better salary package. I was the only female manager in the department. In the next three years after resuming work, I got one promotion and had three more kids, including twins.
When I was being considered for promotion as senior manager, I was going through hard times. My father had passed away, my husband underwent angioplasty, and I was expecting twins with high-risk pregnancy along with some rough patches in the office.
I was stressed out, had premature twins who were in the NICU for almost two months, so I resumed work during maternity leave to avail it later when my twins got home. At that time, it all seemed so tough and I felt as if that time would never pass but luckily I got good help, got back to routine, and realised that life is not always about having everything go right. It is also facing whatever goes wrong.
I have four kids, one-and-half year old twin girls, 3-year old son, and 9-years old daughter. I have felt very hurt when my kids have called a maid ‘Amma’ instead of me but, with some effort, I have seen it change too.
I do not get to spend much time with my kids after a usual 10-hour work day but when I go home I try my best to talk to them, read and play with them. When the maid is not there my husband and I divide the household chores and although it can get hectic, at the end of the day, it gets managed.
Our kids don’t play ‘school school’ as much as they play ‘office office’. For them, it is a big treat if I take them to my office after school. They behave well there. Like all parents, we try to do our bit for our children related to their development, studies, creativity, food, clothing, friends, etc.
One rule that my kids have always followed is not to watch TV in our absence. While we are at work we get to talk to them on the phone. They are to sleep in the afternoon and wake up around the time we reach home from work. On weekends, we get more time as a family and plan outings. But traveling together as a family is a distant dream and even a trip to Lahore requires special arrangements for the troupe.
I have been working for over 10 years now, out of which five years are with my present company, a great employer which has given me the platform to develop myself as well as others. Recently, my company featured me in our corporate calendar and I am one of the 35 certified Executive Trainers for the company for which I also got an award of recognition.
I think working women have to keep pushing boundaries, explore their strengths, and enjoy their achievements, of course, with a will to go an extra mile in drawing a healthy work-life balance. At such times, one requires support from the family/spouse, children and employer, especially at times when there is a need to travel, or kids have exams or when kids are unwell.
I cannot claim that I am a successful woman but I know I am a happy mother who likes to work and as L. Ron Hubbard says, ‘Man thrives, oddly enough, only in the presence of a challenging environment. You think of your challenges and get energised. You are excited to try new solutions. You have fun. You are alive!’ Let that be true for women, too.
The writer is an in-house lawyer at a telecom company. This article appeared in The News on Sunday on March 2, 2014 with the title The best is yet to be