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The greatest adventure

Balancing motherhood and a career

by Zeina Zeidan Maalouly

The greatest adventure of all, that is how I would describe my dual journey: my career and motherhood. The ability to balance two vastly different worlds is testament to the versatility and strength that lies within each woman. This ability is often left untapped and under-appreciated, because the world continually tries to convince us that we are the weaker sex.

Work has been a constant part of my life since my late teenage years because school fees always had to be paid. I had to combine a hectic scholastic life with as many working hours as possible to make ends meet. I was so determined to realize my dream of becoming a successful businesswoman and entrepreneur that I gave little attention to anything else.

I must confess that motherhood was not at the top of my mind during my early twenties, and it remained that way until I met my husband. After marriage, like most married couples, we discussed whether or not we should start a family. But with my career moving forward, as well as my husband’s, the question was: How can we juggle work and a child? I was confident that I would be able to balance life as a businesswomen and a mother—after all, I had managed to juggle work and school. But the first challenge came when I was pregnant and still had to work; it was a trying, yet exciting time.

When my first child was born, it was definitely a life-changing experience. It made every other experience pale in comparison. I was one of those mothers who bonded with my baby even before I gave birth. I felt as if I knew my child. Being a working mother, I felt torn apart. Society makes many of us feel guilty for wanting to pursue a career after having children, and I was prey to those dark thoughts for a while.

Our motherly instincts drive us to provide comfort and security, so the idea of leaving our precious little one at home with someone else can feel like a betrayal or abandonment. I struggled with these feelings, and it took me some time to come to terms with the situation. Women are expected to place themselves on the altar of sacrifice, to not compromise, and those who choose to—or have to—work are silently persecuted for wanting to have it all. This is the cultural reality.

Realistic expectations

My experience of being a new mother while also trying to keep my career moving forward made me realize that we cannot have it all. It is simply not humanly possible. Nevertheless, simple changes would have made it easier—not just for me, but for all mothers. This support includes longer parental leave and greater flexibility in the workplace. If we want more women to be in the workplace and to ascend the career ladder, women should not have to make tough compromises.

The current business arena is set up without such support, and so there will always be many instances where I am forced to miss out on important milestones, either in my child’s life, or in my career. I could miss my toddler’s first word because I had a meeting. Or I could miss out on a work opportunity or a client because my child is sick and needs attention. Beating myself up about such things is futile. I have learned to let go of attempting to make every moment perfect and memorable. Even full-time mothers cannot live up to such unrealistic expectations.

Once I broke free from the shackles of expectations, I had to perfect the art of compromise. Tomorrow there is always a chance to compensate for what was missed today. I do what it takes—even if it means moving my schedule around to wake up earlier or stay up later, or working overtime—to ensure I can enjoy a long weekend of quality time with my child. I see time as something much like the love between a mother and a child: a priceless thing that must be given unconditionally. This is why I strive to ensure my family feels loved, and why I soak up their love in return. It is a heartwarming shield that counterbalances the cutthroat world of business and finance.

With regard to the impact being a mother has had on my career itself, it has helped me develop patience and become exceedingly good at managing time. Those two attributes have made me more efficient, which has benefited both business and family life.

The power of teamwork

Building reliable support networks at work, and also closer to home, has been equally essential. These networks enable me to delegate and trust the right people for the right jobs. As a leader, knowing that I have a team capable of handling even the small details gives me the total confidence to make the best decisions for the company.

It is true that it is challenging to go against the tide of cultural expectations about motherhood, and I have seen so many talented women leave jobs they love to raise their children. And yet, it is ultimately about managing the emotional energy tied to your home, just as you would for work. As my career continues to evolve, the realization that I am not just working for myself, or my future self, but also for my child, the next generation, gives me extra drive to push ahead in this greatest of adventures.

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Zeina Zeidan Maalouly

Zeina Zeidan Maalouly, Ph.D, is chair of the board at Royal Financials S.A.L.

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1 comment

Rola April 8, 2019 - 11:56 PM

Well articulated! I respect your views. I left work when I had my first child,I felt torn apart back then..now after 8 yrs of being a full time mother with three kids , I pursued another major and I’m studying masters as well.it is never the end.. mentality dictates false illusions sometimes..

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