Some women have a seamless journey returning back to work after having a baby, others not-so-much. Mother of two, wife, lawyer and all-round wonder woman, Rekha Simpson talks truthfully about the realities of being a working mum in Dubai
When I think back to my 20s, I wish I’d have spent more time doing the things I loved like travelling, dancing, investing in a hobby outside of work. Perhaps many of us reflect and feel the same (the guilt over not getting past the first chapter of a book for months on end!) but I know that my career became the focus and the excuse for not fitting anything else in. How could I possibly juggle work with having a life? Of course, I loved my weekends, sleeping until whenever I liked (I could cry when I think of all that sleep I was getting), but I was tunnel vision in the working week and would put in all hours to make sure I was on my A-game.
Moving to Singapore in 2014 was a turning point for me. A failed relationship only just behind me, I set sail for Singapore, took myself out of my comfort zone and for the first time since qualifying as a lawyer, felt comfortable taking a side step in my career. A late comer to overseas adventures, I decided to embrace southeast Asia in my early 30s and felt rewarded by experiences outside of my working life.
Fast forward to 2017, I’m married, back in London, spending an hour and a half commuting from south London to west London (why oh why did I make that decision), and back in a cycle where I lived and breathed work. Out of the blue one chilly summer’s evening, my husband announced that he was interviewing for a job in Dubai and that maybe this is what we needed - I was stressed to the point that my menstrual cycle was in the gutter, I was permanently exhausted and had ailments that I didn’t even know existed. He got the job, I resigned, and quickly fell pregnant - what I didn’t think through was how I was going to get back into work, or how I was possibly going to do that in Dubai.
I was lucky to spend the time I did with my eldest, Layla, but by the time she was a year old I was scratching my head and wanting to do something that was for me. I loved being a new mum, but there were frankly times when I didn’t, and I needed some separation from home and motherhood. Perhaps it was a sense of needing my identity back, which had for so long been defined by my profession. But before I could even accept a job offer, I fell pregnant with my second daughter and my mind spiraled. How was I going to manage two under two, start a job, deal with the house, the husband, and with no family support? How do people do this?! I had a great employer who basically embraced the fact I was pregnant, offered me a part-time position while I was pregnant, and really supported me through that journey.
It doesn’t mean to say it was easy. It wasn’t. It was the start of the pandemic, no one knew what working life would be like and I certainly didn’t know how working from home and home learning would possibly work, with a newborn. I would say the first year after I returned to work after my youngest was born was a constant juggling act. From collecting my eldest from school at midday, to rushing home to breastfeed my youngest and then having my eldest around my ankles while I was on work calls, each day ended with me strewn out on the sofa and barely able to move. However, I did have flexibility which made life that much easier, and the understanding of an employer which I think is key. What I wasn’t doing well at was delegating some of my life responsibilities to those I needed to delegate to, like my husband and my nanny. I insisted on doing the cooking, I insisted I had to put the girls to sleep each night. I was putting all this pressure on myself, yet working hard and leaving little time for any self-care.
To my surprise, my mentors at work believed in me and my ability to succeed. When I was asked if I wanted to return full-time, and at a higher level, I was torn. Would this mean I would see even less of my children? Would I lose out on special moments with them? The truthful answer was yes, in some respects. However, what it would allow me to do is finance after school care, carve out that dedicated time for my girls in the evenings and weekends instead of working beyond my part-time hours, where I would get annoyed at the kids for wanting to sit on my lap during every call and wipe their filthy hands all over the screen.
There is no escaping the fact that returning to work after having kids or even while they are still young and growing, is a tough gig. I have put pressure on myself at various moments to give 100% to my job and 100% to home life, and it’s a slow realisation that this is just not possible. Returning to work is all about carving out time in my experience. When I’m at work, I’m dedicated to my role, when I’m with the girls, I’m dedicated to being there and fully in their presence (unless I’m exhausted then they’re dedicated to jumping all over me and I’m more easily persuaded to buy the big ice cream I apparently promised). I have to trust that they are fine in the care of others when I’m not around, I have to be organised to make it all work as much like clockwork as it possibly can. For those returning mums, you will forget that lunchbox at least once in the year, you may even forget their school shoes at home or lose a library book. What you won’t forget is your ability to juggle life with work because that’s exactly what you do most days, and that whilst you can’t be everything to all people as a working mum, you’re doing your best and that’s good enough.