Working mums debate

To work or not to work? That is the question on many mums’ minds. Nicola Supka mulls the options Discuss this article

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The ‘expat mum’ is often portrayed as a pampered being who packs the kids off to school then spends the rest of the day shopping, lunching, working out in the gym or beautifying herself in the spa. The reality, however, is often very different, particularly in the current economic climate where many mothers are either seeking work or worried about remaining employable.

Returning to work can be tough for anyone: even a few months out of the loop can take its toll on your confidence. But for mums, who may have taken a couple of years or more out to take care of their kids, the thought of returning to the workplace is enough to bring them out in a cold sweat – no matter how determined they are to get involved again.

Many fall at the first hurdle – updating the dreaded CV. Though we all wish we had a magic wand, in practice it can take many hours of thinking and typing to perfect your resume and application letters. Those hours are well spent, however, particularly in a highly competitive market where it’s critical to demonstrate that you have the skills and confidence to do the job better than any other applicant. You need to take stock of your many and varied achievements, both in previous employment and elsewhere in order to build confidence before you start networking and attending interviews.

That means thinking hard about the new skills you’ve acquired as a mum. You may need to think outside the box – for example, many mums think unpaid work has to be listed in a separate section in the resume, but this is definitely not the case. In fact, prospective employers don’t really care whether or not you were paid, provided you can articulate the skills and strengths you developed as a result. Unfortunately, ‘washing Timmy’s PE kit’ or ‘drying Sarah’s tears’ are not skills you can put on a resume. But if running a baby group or organising a birthday party are the best recent examples you have of your ability to manage people or events, find a way to include them, perhaps by asking friends to write you a testimonial.

It’s also important to consider what kind of work you’re really looking for. Do you really want to be constrained by the daily grind of nine-to-five (or six)? Flexible working – if you can get it – may be the answer.
For Nicky Baker, a career break made sense when her kids were small but, once the youngest started nursery, she felt it was time to return to work. A mum of three and a former teacher, an opportunity arose to provide maternity cover at her children’s school.

‘I thought it was a good way to see if I could juggle everything, without committing myself to a permanent role. The school allows me to still be the kind of parent I want to be. For example, they recently arranged cover for me so that I could attend my child’s sports day.’

Ann Felton, however, was less fortunate. Having worked full-time as a pediatric nurse before coming to Dubai a year ago, she was keen to find a job here, but it has not been straightforward. With three teenage daughters, flexible working hours and holidays were a must, but nursing jobs in Dubai simply don’t offer these kinds of benefits. ‘I’m having to seriously think about giving up nursing,’ admitted Ann. I will probably look into voluntary work. I can’t sit here and do nothing; I want something to put on my CV.’

For many mums, the affordability of domestic help here makes returning to work a far more attractive proposition. ‘In the UK, 70 per cent of my earnings as a teacher went on childcare and all our weekends were spent doing chores,’ says Nicky. ‘It was stressful and really tiring. Weekends here really feel like weekends.’ Yet many women have concerns about the childcare options available in the UAE. Ann explains how, in the UK, au pairs are trained in first aid and childcare. ‘It was a respectful relationship; we invested in our au pairs.’ Is it the same with live-in maids here, though? Possibly not – Nicky acknowledges that if her youngest son wasn’t at nursery, she might not feel so comfortable returning to work full-time and leaving him all day with their live-in helper.

There are other options, though. Mardi Grey-Byrne admits to needing to have ‘a hundred things happening’ to be content. Clearly, becoming a full-time mum was never on the cards, but at the same time, Mardi didn’t feel comfortable delegating the parenting responsibility of her baby girl to someone else. The high-powered roles with lots of international travel that she’d once enjoyed no longer appealed. She decided to start a business. ‘It allows me to be the kind of parent I want to be, and I realised there are thousands of women out there with a similar story.’

By Karen Iley
Time Out Bahrain,

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