ExecutiveMagazine - 3/12/2019 1:00:43 PM - GMT (+2 )
To paraphrase a popular saying: You cannot truly understand someone until you have walked a mile in their shoes. Even with all the research and theorizing on the plight of working moms, fully grasping the experience of raising children while maintaining a career requires actually living it, or the next best thing—truly listening to those who do. Executive spoke with working moms from different industries, at different career stages, and with children of varying ages, and asked them how they manage to do it all. While these mothers only represent a fraction of the working moms in Lebanon, we hope that there are enough shared experiences for our readers to identify with or learn from.
What emerged from our conversations with these women is that all of them rely on their extended family for childcare. This is not surprising given the tight familial fabric that exists in Lebanon, but could also be a symptom of the lack of easily accessible and available childcare options, such as babysitters or support from employers.
All of the moms Executive profiled also noted that their husbands share the responsibility of raising the children, perhaps an indicator that the traditional image of the Lebanese man who believes his wife’s place is at home with the kids is gradually changing. This is not to say that the women we spoke to do not feel that there is still a long way to go before working mothers can be as free to pursue their careers as their husbands are, but at least the conversation has started.
Motherhood on the road
Profession: Middle East video producer at UNHCR
Children: A daughter, aged two
Dalal Mawad travels on average five to 10 days per month for her work, despite the fact that she has a two-year-old daughter. “I’m not going to lie; I do miss out on moments [of my daughter growing up] because I’m not there, but it’s a choice I made, and I don’t see why a dad can have a career, and a mom can’t,” Mawad says. She personally hates the term “working moms,” arguing it should be a given that mothers work—just as it is given that fathers work and are not labeled as working dads.
Mawad says she counts on family support when she is away for work. Her mother lives far from the family, so Mawad relies on her mother-in-law to pick up her daughter from the nursery at 2 p.m. and care for her until she (when in Lebanon) or her husband comes back from work. “My daughter is very fond of her grandmother. It’s been easy because I get along with her grandmother when it comes to [child] education and upbringing, so we don’t clash. If we had clashed, it would have been much harder. I feel very comfortable and at peace with myself when I am away,” Mawad says.
Her husband—who is self-employed but works long hours—is also integral in taking care of his daughter when Mawad is away. “He’s there for her bedtime routines, and on the weekends he’s with her all the time. We are very equal at home when it comes to child rearing and other responsibilities. This is why I’m able to do what I do, and he’s very supportive of what I do. We found a system where we are both comfortable,” she says.
Speaking of being away from her daughter when she’s traveling, Mawad says: “It’s not easy, and I won’t lie to you that I don’t feel guilty sometimes, because I do, but I’m not one of those mothers who are control freaks and worry about their children all the time. When I’m at work, I focus on my work and I’m at ease because I know she is in good hands. I check on her once a day in the evening when we Skype or FaceTime.” Mawad explains that her daughter has gotten used to this lifestyle because she has been traveling since she was still breastfeeding.
When Mawad is in Beirut, her schedule is much more flexible and she spends a lot of time with her daughter. “I try to leave the office early as we don’t have stringent hours,” she says. “I see her in the morning and dress her up before her dad takes her to school. My job also allows me the flexibility of working from home, so on those days I pick her up from nursery and stay with her all afternoon. I kind of feel that I make it up for other days where I’m gone all the time.”
Mawad says she hopes she is providing her daughter with the role model of a woman who is passionate about both her career and her family, and with the example of a father who is engaged in raising his family too.
A tale of childcare in two cities
Profession: Chairperson of the Department of Emergency Medicine and deputy chief medical officer at American University of Beirut Medical Center (AUBMC)
Children: Two daughters, aged 14 and 15, and a son, aged 10
Eveline Hitti’s three children were born in America. She had her first daughter during her second year of residency—a stage of graduate medical education where one practices medicine under the supervision of a licensed practitioner—at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and her second daughter a year later. “This is a bit unusual, because in a three-year residency program it’s hard to have one child, but I ended up having two,” Hitti says. “In hindsight, it was probably not a bad thing because in a residency you can plan to some extent. After residency, and especially for emergency medicine, vacation becomes a bit challenging because you always have to find someone to cover for you.” She had her third child while she was working and says she went back to work five weeks later because she “felt the pressure of having to go back to work, both financially, and from the burden on the [team],” whereas with her daughters, she was able to take two months off after each of their births.
In America, Hitti says she was the primary caretaker of the children. During her residency, the couple outsourced childcare to a nanny (her husband was a PhD student at the time), and Hitti would take care of the children when she was home. When she finished her residency, she says she intentionally chose a nonacademic hospital so she could have control over her hours because she knew she was going to shoulder most of the responsibility of childcare. As such, she chose to work three full nights a week, despite that being considered a tough schedule.
When her children were aged one, four, and five, she and her husband decided to move back to Lebanon, and she began working at AUBMC. “The big difference I felt in this transition is that, in Lebanon, there is more family support, but my job changed a lot from the US to Lebanon. In the US, I was working full time, but in a place that was not academic, so I had only my clinical responsibilities, and I feel that helped a lot in that I spent a lot more time with my kids when I was there,” Hitti says. “But with AUB came the extra load of teaching, research, and administrative service, which has a high-impact potential, of course, but also a higher time commitment—the spillover into personal and family life is a lot more when you have all these responsibilities. Adjusting to working at AUBMC was a big challenge, as was adjusting to negotiating the responsibilities at home as a result.”
Before all of her children started going to school, Hitti says they outsourced childcare to their families and daycares, but there was also a little shift toward her husband—currently a professor of communications at the Lebanese American University—becoming more engaged in childcare.
Hitti became interested in researching the gender gap in careers and shifting the perception of childcare being a mother’s responsibility to it being a shared responsibility for two reasons. The first was her personal experience with childcare, the second was attending her 13-year reunion at Johns Hopkins and discovering that four of the eight females who had graduated with her are no longer practicing emergency medicine, while four men in the class had high-level positions in their field.
It takes a supportive environment
Profession: Communication manager at Resource Group
Children: A daughter aged four and a half
When Ghina Ramadan was pregnant with her daughter, she was hired by the marketing department of a bank. She recalls telling them that she was pregnant at the time and their reaction being nonchalant, which she found unusual given the stories on corporations shying away from hiring pregnant women.
She returned to the bank after her 70-day maternity leave, which she found too short. “You are still not ready, physically or mentally, [to go back to work]. At that point, the baby still does not have a set sleeping schedule and wakes up at night. After I gave birth, I moved back to my mother’s house for six months so she could help me with the baby, and we would alternate waking up with her at night. I felt like I was doing hard time,” Ramadan recalls, adding that a fair maternity leave would be six months, in her opinion, although a year off would be ideal.
For the first year and a half of her daughter’s life, Ramadan would drop her at her mother’s while she was at work, before finally enrolling her in daycare. By that time, Ramadan had left the bank and was working at an advertising agency. Her husband, who worked in the nightlife business and was flexible during the day, would pick up his daughter from daycare at 4 p.m. and drop her at Ramadan’s office in downtown. “By its nature, an [advertising] agency job is more flexible with working hours—maybe because we often stay late working on deadlines—so it is beneficial for working mothers. I could even bring my daughter to the office for a bit, which does not happen often in the corporate world,” Ramadan says. “My boss had a daughter close to my daughter’s age, so she was very understanding and would say that children come first. I would often continue working from home after my daughter slept.”
For personal reasons, Ramadan left her work at the agency and was out of the workforce for six months. “It was the first time in my life that I had been without work, and I felt that my life was empty. I felt I was not evolving at the same rate, intellectually or socially, and was not a productive member of society,” she recalls.
In early 2018, she began working with her current employer, Resource Group, an investment company. Here again, she benefited, as do all mothers in the company, from the option of working from 8-5 p.m. instead of 9-6 p.m, and from flexible working in case of family emergency. “This is very important, and I recommend that all companies do that. When a woman feels supported, she is more productive and dedicated to the job,” Ramadan says. “I know some women whose work did not provide them with this flexibility and they left their jobs. In our society, mothers play the bigger role in raising their families and should be supported at their work so they can do that.”
Ramadan believes such flexibility in work conditions requires that employees have a strong work ethic and good time management skills. She often has a quick lunch on her desk or continues working from home so that she is never behind on her workload.
The greener grass
Profession: First grade teacher at International College (IC)
Children: A son aged nine, and a daughter aged five and a half
Teaching was traditionally perceived as an ideal job for a mother. While today all career options are—or should be—open to women, teaching still has undeniable benefits for those balancing work and childcare, Layla Shatila says. “The children get to go and come back from school with me, so I don’t have to worry about who’s going to pick them up and drop them off. While other career options usually have late working hours, teaching allows my children to be with me most of the time, and so I don’t have to leave them with the nanny while I am working late.” Most days, Shatila leaves school with her children at 2:30 pm, and when she has after-hours meetings they wait for her in her classroom.
Teaching is also convenient for mothers in that—apart from the occasional professional development conferences abroad—no work-related travels are expected. Shatila says teaching also helps her raise her children, since she often uses the same behavior management strategies she uses with her students to discipline them.
She says, however, that teaching is an all consuming job that sometimes leaves her with little energy for her own children. “Teachers are drained physically and mentally from dealing with children all day. I wake up at 6 a.m. and have to be full of energy welcoming the students at 7:30 a.m. and spend the day with them until 2:30 p.m,” Shatila says. “We also have meetings twice a week until 4 p.m., so by the time I’m done, I’m drained, but still have to help my son with his homework and spend time playing with both my children.”
Before the kids reached the age of two (when they would be allowed to enroll at the daycare located a few steps away from the school she teaches in), Shatila was like any other mother figuring out the best childcare options for her family. With her son, she was lucky enough to be granted an academic year off work and returned to school when he was eight months old. She then left him with her in-laws, who lived near the school in which she taught, and would spend her breaks with him. With her daughter, she was refused a year off work and so she quit. “I felt that I can’t leave my children before they are at least eight months old. I stayed with her until she was a year old and then I started work at IC,” Shatila recalls. The daughter spent the following year home alone with the domestic helper before being enrolled into daycare. “I would worry about her, but I had no choice. Once she started daycare, and my son was in school already, things got much easier.”
Although Shatila is not at work in the afternoons, she still has a lot going on and has to manage her time efficiently. “I have to be very thorough in organizing my time between my lesson planning and work responsibilities, and my children’s activities, wellbeing, and homework,” she says. “I also need ‘me time,’ which is usually spent at the gym, while the children stay home with their father or with the helper. I also have to think of my time with my husband, which we barely have because one of us is usually with the children.”
A hectic yet fun life
Profession: Head of business development and communication at FFA Real Estate
Children: Three sons aged two, four, and seven
For Mireille Korab, juggling a demanding career while raising three boys is a challenge she relishes. “It is overwhelming, but I love it. Everybody asks me how I manage, and the answer is that I don’t manage, I do my best and try to manage,” Korab says.
Speaking about the experience of having three boys while growing a career, Korab says: “With each child, it got easier emotionally because you get used to the idea that you have to leave the house to come back to work, and that you have to separate the working hours from the mothering and worrying hours. But it gets harder trying to fit in taking care of three boys and managing your job up to your standards and taking care of the house, the husband, and your social life, and trying to find time for your self-care, and even for shopping because there is no time for shopping—thank God for Instagram so that we can shop online!”
Korab says her job entails attending afternoon and evening engagements, such as gala dinners or receptions and openings for clients’ places, which takes time away from her family. She feels the hour and a half during which she carries out bedtime routines with her boys is a crucial time for her, so she has taken to leaving the office early, if possible, when she has evening commitments, even if she spends extra time commuting.
Korab had a live-in Lebanese nanny, Angel, who moved in with her when each child was born and stayed for the first year. “Angel is an essential part of me being able to have three kids while working full time and commuting three hours to and from home in Adma[to Beirut],” Korab says.
Now that her sons are older, she relies on family support for childcare. “My husband and immediate family are really a big support in handling everything in terms of the children’s activities and commuting from school,” Korab says, adding that she would not have been able to do it without her husband, who is very helpful with the children, handling the logistics of their daily commutes and waking up with them when needed. She and her husband make sure they do not travel for work at the same time so one of them is always with the children.
When her first son was younger, he would ask Korab why she did not pick him up from school like most of the other mothers. She has since made it a point to highlight that each member of their family has an independent life. “I make it a point to share little events from my day with them, and I ask them about theirs. That way, I show them that they can have their own day without needing their mother to be around,” she explains.
Korab hopes that she and her husband are good role models for their boys. “I think that their dad and I giving them this model of working parents who really try to do their best for their kids, and who organize their time for them, should push them to find partners who have this same ambition, and are really helpful to their partners. This is when I will see if I did it or not, when I see how they will treat their spouses,” she says.
Of passion and delegation
Profession: Chief Operating Officer of Robinson Agri
Children: A daughter aged 15, and a son aged 18
To Nadine el-Khoury Kadi, being a successful working mother entails three main aspects: a good support team, delegation, and passion.
Khoury Kadi’s support team includes her parents who helped her with childcare and household tasks. “When my children were young, I would leave them at my parents’ [home] or my husband’s parents. When they started going to school, they would go to there afterwards,” she recalls.
Her husband provides unconditional support so that she may excel in her career and looks after the children when she has business trips. “In Lebanon, we are luckier than in Europe because we have an extended family support system. Also, all the husbands I know are supportive of their wives’ careers, and so the perception of the traditional Middle Eastern man is changing in my opinion. My father, for example, equipped us with culture, education, independence, and thinking out of the box, ” Khoury Kadi says.
At work, Khoury Kadi is supported by her sister who shares her passion for innovation and sustainability. Together, they run a successful enterprise, leaving a special mark in the agricultural sector. As COO, Khoury Kadi has learned the power of delegation. “Alone we can go fast, together we will go far. The more a leader empowers her employees, the better they perform at the job. As such, we create an environment for the team where sharing knowledge and values is a source of strength,” she mentiones.
Being a working mother herself, Khoury Kadi says she knows what it means to balance work and home. Saturdays are days off, and she allows her employees—both women and men—to leave work early, or take time off if they have something related to their children. “But they all continue their work at home and meet their deadlines, even if they left the office early. This is because they know I trust them, and they are happy, so they produce more,” Kadi explains.
Finally, Khoury Kadi loves her work. “I am passionate about agriculture and aim to develop smarter farming and solutions. This summarizes my moto in life: the three Ps of patience, passion, and perseverence” she says.
Khoury Kadi compares her brain to an excel sheet and says she has to be very organized to strike a healthy balance between work and home. “As a working mother, I have to always compensate and balance. If I’m traveling one weekend, I make sure to spend extra time with my husband and children the following weekend, for example,” she says.
Khoury Kadi says parenting her teenagers is a different experience than when they were children. “They are confused at this age, and you have to know how to approach them. It is a nicer age in a way, but harder for a parent,” she says.
Khoury Kadi has worked throughout her children’s lives and says this is very natural to them, especially since some of their friends’ mothers work. “When they see me on TV they are very proud that I work and am successful. My husband and I still make time for them, and we travel together as a family on an annual basis, no matter what happens,” she says.
Living with guilt
Profession: Head of Human Resources at Bank Audi
Children: Two sons, aged nine and 13
To Nayiri Manoukian, being a working mother is perfectly summarized in this quote: “Women are expected to work as if they don’t have a family and raise their family as if they don’t have work.”
Manoukian believes the core issue facing working mothers today is an intrinsic feeling of guilt that they are not doing enough for their families. In her opinion, this is related to the way women are raised. “I come from a family where my mother never worked and would always have lunch prepared when we came back from school. So I come from this background of a traditional mother who raised me to always put family first,” Manoukian says. Her father, however, raised her with a different perspective, supportive of a working woman. “He was insistent I obtain higher education, something he was deprived from, and continue to learn as long as I am able to do so,” she says. “He was also insisting on financial independence, continuously preaching to spend with caution and be in control of my financial situation.”
When she got married and had her first child, she continued to rely on her parents’ support. “When I gave birth to my first child,” Manoukian recalls, “I used to work in oil and gas and would stay in the office until minimum 7 p.m. I would alternate leaving my son at my mother’s and my mother-in-law[‘s home]. You can imagine my mother’s attitude in regards to me picking up my son late at night, and she would berate me for not having time for my family and child! On the other side, I had the full support of my father and husband, who would remind me that my career is very important, and that I should focus on it.”
Although her husband has been very supportive of her career since day one, she is still expected to manage the household and childcare. “I delegate of course, or as my husband puts it, I subcontract. So I don’t do the cooking, but I am the one who has to make sure the cooking is done; I don’t clean the house myself, but I make sure the house is clean etc—this takes time,” Manoukian explains, adding that now that her kids are older, they are independent enough to stay home with the helper until she is back from work.
All this led to a feeling of “mom guilt,” which Manoukian feels all women share to some extent. “With my second son, I remember coming back from my maternity leave with tears in my eyes and thinking I had one (child) whom I never had enough time for, and now I have two. Why am I putting them through all this?” she asks.
When she shares her feelings of guilt with her husband, Manoukian says he reminds her that the boys will eventually leave them to start a life of their own, so all she can do is be an example for what they should look for in a partner. “I think I am raising my boys to expect their wives to be sharing with them the household expenses, as well as raising the children,” Manoukian says. “They should see women as equal partners. It is our generation that will raise the next one to have the right mentality, and that will go into the next generation.”