Monday, 29 November 2010
The Female Dream - Reality vs Fantasy.........
This year has been particularly challenging for myself and quite a number of my friends. While the economic situation has not been great; the biggest challenge for us (myself and my friends) has been finding a way to juggle the demands of family alongside demands from work, extended family members and still keeping our dreams alive!
I was brought up to believe I can be whatever I want to be and have it all (family, career, wonderful husband.....)! However, I have found myself increasingly asking ‘Can a woman really have it all?’
Why? Please let me give you just three instances that have got me wondering:
1. My friend Vicky:
Vicky is an accountant married to a medical researcher. She had a great job in London while her husband was part of a research team here also. However, in April, the funding for her husband’s research got withdrawn and the team had to look for funding elsewhere – or face unemployment.
Luckily, they found a funder –who insisted the research be moved to Sweden! Well, Vicky’s husband has insisted that he is not willing to live a separate life from his family and wants them all in Sweden with him. My friend is distraught as this will mean leaving her job, friends and familiar sorroundings - but she will now be following her husband to a country that she cannot even speak the language...........
2. My second friend Ola:
Ola is an engineer who works with a large organisation outside London as a manager. She is also a mother with two kids aged 2 and 7 respectively. Unfortunately, this year, her youngest child has sufffered from several chest infections and Ola has had to take quite some time off work to nurse her baby. While her husband has been helpful, a large part of this burden has fallen on Ola. As a strong Christain, she has borne this challenge well.
However, Ola is now upset because her bosses recently passed her over for promotion - and promoted her colleague who has less experience than her. She feels this is because this colleague is more flexible (willing to work longer hours and travel more). What really upsets her is that she trained this colleague when he just joined the company!
I am the first to admit that I am ambitious and determined to suceed in whatever I do.
However, earlier this year, when I was offered a job that involved travelling within Europe twice a month; I declined.
My present job involves travelling within the UK sometimes; and this already leaves me feeling guilty whenever I leave my kids. I cannot even begin to tell you how many times I have snuck out of a meeting to call home to check on the kids. While my male colleagues are still laughing and networking, I am often looking for an opportunity to call home asking - 'Have they brushed their teeth? Have they eaten? Have they done their homework? Have they ......!'
Dont get me wrong, I love my job but I hate the way I have to juggle!
Why this juggling act?
After a long chat with my friends, I do believe the way we bring up girls is totally misleading. Please imagine this scenario of how a typical Naija/African daughter is brought up:
Daughter aged 21: 'Mum, I graduated with a First Class degree and my university has offered me a Masters scholarship'
Mum: (excited) 'I'm so proud of you. Remember, you can be whatever you want to be. I pray you will marry a wonderful husband and the sky will be the limit for both of you.'
Mum (sighing) 'You never cease to amaze me! I am so proud of you but remember you really should start thinking of getting married. You know your biological clock is now ticking louder.............!'
Daughter aged 35: 'Mum, I have just been made Director of Operations for the whole of Africa. If God is willing, my dream of heading this organisation might come true when our CEO steps down in 3 years time.'
Mum: (resignedly) 'My dear, the only dream you should be having now is finding a husband and having babies as soon as possible.....!'
Well? Am I wrong?
My experience as a Nigerian girl is that you are sold the dream that you can achieve anything and then as soon as you get past 25, you are reminded that without a husband (and children); a woman has achieved nothing.
I suggested to my friend that we need to be more honest with our little girls i.e. Encourage them to be high achievers, but also tell them that getting married and having children MIGHT limit their ability to pursue their dreams full-time. I believe that this conversation needs to happen with teenage daughters (ideally when aged 15-18 years)
My friend disagreed because she says that this could be discouraging to a little girl - Killing her dreams and making her feel that womanhood is a burden.
While I accept that this might happen in some cases; I still do believe that we need to be more honest with our daughters. Yes, a woman might have a supportive husband who enables her chase her dream; but the truth is that once you have a child, you feel guilty everytime you put yourself first. At least if our daughters are better informed, one of the things an ambitious girl should be looking for in a potential partner is how supportive he is/ will be!
Do let me know your take on this - Should mothers be honest about the compromises that come with marriage and motherhood OR
Should we let our daughters dream?