I’m Noora, I work at Futurice in Helsinki as a Business Designer. I have two daughters aged 5 and 2. When I returned to work after maternity leave with my first child, time took on a whole new meaning. It became the most precious of commodities. I wanted to be productive at work, be present at home – and maintain my beloved yoga practice and friendships. Like many working parents before me, I had to become a master of prioritisation. Over the past five years, I’ve figured out some ways for managing this precarious act of balancing family and work life, and feel there are three main support pillars that enable me to keep it together most of the time.
EQUALITY. In London where I had my first child, not many fathers take extended paternity leave, but when I returned to work after my second child in Finland, my husband stayed at home with our toddler for three months. He also took care of most of the housework. This enabled me to fully focus on getting back into a groove with work, without worrying about how my child might be settling in at kindergarten, whether my kids have all their rain gear ready, or even what would be for dinner. My husband handled it. This transformed the way household chores, and the ‘emotional labour’ that so often sneaks up on women, is divided in our home. It has brought our daughters closer to their father and bolstered the way we as a couple support each others’ careers. I have such respect for single parents, as even with two parents finding a family-work-life balance can be really hard. I believe that fathers taking leave to look after children is one of the biggest drivers for equality at home, in the workplace and in wider society. It contributes to progress on so many fronts, from equal pay to breaking down harmful gender stereotypes. As a feminist raising two daughters and also having grown up in a family where both parents supported each other in their respective careers, it is important for me to portray a model for my daughters where mummy’s not only earning money for the family but also doing something she is good at and enjoys.
WORKPLACE CULTURE. Last time I changed jobs I had the happy problem of having several job offers on the table. I spoke to the hiring managers to find out more about the culture at each company, and my call with my now-manager was the deal-clincher for me to join Futurice. I was told that the working hours are flexible and people should do their jobs when and where is best for them. We spoke about balancing family and work life and he said that if your family life suffers because of work, your work will suffer also and vice versa, which is something he as a father knew all too well. I felt confident that in this company I could combine interesting work and good career progression with the ability to survive the joy and madness of bringing up young children. Flexibility is key – at Futurice some people start work at 7 and some at 10, depending on what’s best for them, and that may change from day to day. I often do some work from home before my kids and husband wake up in order to get a head start on the day, and that is something that works well for me. Colleagues are very understanding of family commitments - if I have a child’s medical appointment, music performance or karate grading in my diary, that is always respected as something important. This kind of atmosphere creates a culture of mutual respect and trust within the company and enables working parents to thrive both at work and at home.
LETTING GO. So, dividing responsibilities at home and having a supportive employer sounds like the magic formula that guarantees a harmonious and stress-free working-mum existence. If only! Life is not a textbook, and whilst the above sets the baseline for holding it together, time is always limited and never enough. Sometimes work schedules are dictated by trips or events and neither partner can be flexible. At these times, for my family, external help is vital. We are in a lucky position in getting invaluable help from grandparents, but also rely on other external help regularly – a couple of babysitters we really trust and know our girls love, and a cleaner who comes every other week. Even so, unless you have help 24/7 which is pretty impossible for most people, there will always be some level of chaos that must be endured. Days when dinner is a far cry from an organic home-made feast or a pile of clothes that might be clean or might be dirty has to be left in the corner of the room until tomorrow, because you’re exhausted and want to spend the remaining 30 minutes of the day on your yoga mat or in front of the TV. Sometimes you just have to accept that – you have to prioritise – as the to-do list is never ending. You can’t keep everything together so you have to focus on the things that matter the most, and forget – or laugh – about the ones that don’t.
Noora Ahmed-Moshe works as a Business Designer at Futurice. She is a mother of two daughters aged 5 and 2.
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