06:00 – get ready while helper gets elder child ready
06:45 – drive to school
07:07 – drive from school to work
08:15 – arrive at desk, make coffee
08:45 – get into the day
16:00 – leave work to fetch child
17:00 – arrive to collect child
17:20 – run quick errands/groceries
18:00 – home
18:20 – get into homework (if not cooking)
19:00 – homework done/give toddler attention + supper
20:00 – bed time for big child, bond with toddler
21:00 – exhausted, do some work while getting toddler to sleep.
22:00 – pass out and barely sleep while checking kids.
This is an absolutely ordinary day for me. I go about it with absolute finesse, unfazed by it all. I’m only able to put in those physical hours at the office, I try not to have lunch away from my desk and I pray that there are no meetings that have been set up for the sake of meeting, thus enabling me to do physical work. I’m grateful for the type of employer that I have, grateful that I am able to fulfil my key role as a mother, whilst making a decent living and being able to take care of my children. I’m truly thankful.
I am also aware that I am unable to take on a new, more challenging job without sacrificing my parental responsibility, at this point in my life I simply don’t have it in me to try and impress a new boss nor do I have the capacity to do 12 hour working days without compromising on my children. I often wonder though, is it because I am unable to or because I don’t want to? Have opportunities come my way and I have brushed them aside purely because I’m hiding behind the fact that I am a full time mother? Or have opportunities and ground-breaking assignments not come my way or offered to me for that exact reason?
I look back on my young career and think of the truly excellent parts of it, the parts where I have done incredibly well and have been commended and recognised for those – those came at the sacrifice of time spent with my children. In my line of work there is quite some travelling involved and during those weeks away from home, that’s when I throw myself completely into my work, when I don’t feel guilty for grafting and leaving the office after 19:00, those are the times I really shine. I then sit back and wonder if it’s at all possible to truly excel when you are a young mother doing it on her own?
There are many days where I yearn for a full time partner, so that we could share the physical aspects of parenting. There are days I wish I had enough money to afford a troupe of helpers – a chef, driver, au pair and a nanny, just to outsource all aspects of the day where I am not really needed. I tell myself that this would make my life easier and allow me to take on the more difficult assignments that require much more focus and effort than I am currently able to give.
I then do a silent census of truly truly successful women that I aspire to be like in corporate South Africa. The CFO’s and CEO’s and directors of top companies and I cannot for the life of me think of one that is an unmarried/single mother to young children (perhaps I need to research more), they all seem happily married or have supportive spouses, one or two don’t have children at all.
Perhaps I am too hard on myself, perhaps I am too afraid to unlock the enormous potential that is in me and I am hiding behind being a mother. I have had many discussions with mothers to young children and quite a number have said that they believe they could have been more successful in their careers had they not had children, some have gone on to say that men do not face the same issues that we face – because honestly 80% of the time when a child falls ill, it’s mommy that is called to attend to the child. This does not mean that we resent our children, we simply acknowledge that life, particularly are corporate aspirations, would be incredibly different had we not had children.
Don’t get me wrong, I adore my children with every ounce of my being and whilst I acknowledge that the timing of having them could have been better, I am incredibly grateful for them and their presence in my life – they truly are the reason I put in more effort into my daily work. I am also not saying that it’s impossible to do incredibly amazing things whilst being a young mother to young children, I am observing that it is challenging and success stories of high achieving women who are single mothers or working mothers with primary custody are few and far between.
I wonder, do I need to secure a spouse to help alleviate the load and the mommy guilt that I know many women who are mothers often feel when missing that soccer match or recital at school? I also wonder why it is that there is often a silent discrimination against working mothers, where opportunities are automatically given to our male counterparts. I also wonder how possible it is to be a hyper-successful unmarried mother in corporate South Africa – is it possible? Do we need to profile more of the women who have successfully done it? Above all else, I wonder if being a young working mom to young children, doing it on my own in this day and time has enough room to achieve as well as my married counterparts. I wonder…
Writer: Palesa Motau