Child psychology tells parents that the first five years of a child’s life are the most important in terms of his/her emotional, cognitive, and physical development. These years are called ‘the early years’. As with plants and trees, if the soil is not readied at the beginning, so many problems can ensue later. That’s why I decided to put my career on hold for those years of my daughter’s life. She’s two and a half now, and about to start nursery soon. Her father and I are very excited of course about this new stage in her early years. We’re also—or maybe, I am more—a bit anxious about this not-so-easy but yet very necessary transition.
As a woman who became a mother in my mid-thirties, I can say that with life experience, work, family, and friends, I’ve come to learn much about the significance of building up a solid foundation with my child. During the first couple of months of becoming a mother, I used to have very cat-like reactions to anything that I thought could even come near my baby. I was a very protective mother – and still am. My over-protectiveness meant things like keeping my child in her high-chair for longer periods than she should have in fear of her getting harmed. I used to sanitize everything, even her hands. I didn’t want her to get sick at all. And when she did, I used to feel guilty. And then by the time my daughter became almost one, something huge shook up the universe: the COVID-19 pandemic.
Naturally, I felt even more scared and my protectiveness doubled and tripled and quadrupled. It’s also important to mention here that this all happened—my pregnancy, delivery, and the pandemic at the difficult time of my beloved father’s passing. There were times when I would sit down by myself and write in my native language, Arabic, about my reflections and feelings. I even had plans to publish my first book. But every time I thought of going back to work or had the opportunity to fully dedicate myself to my career, I used to find myself going back to my little daughter with even more insistence to water the soil in my young relationship with her. And every time I saw the green leaves blossom and grow—being there for her first smile, laugh, meal, word, step—I got this sense of gratification that I had never felt before in my life, or my career.
I started off my career right after graduation from university. I worked for many years as a school teacher and then went up the academic ladder and became a university instructor. At some point in my career or profession as an educator, I felt that I had lost the passion for teaching and also the connection with the students. And since I am a passionate person in essence, I made a big shift in my work experience and moved on to work in media production. Although the size of work load that I had with media was much heavier than teaching, my passion for work was back. I enjoyed every single bit of it. The long hours, the pressure, the adrenaline rush, the daily challenges. Everything. Of course there were some negative experiences there, but I always overlooked them for the love of the work. And the few times I would get a “thank you” or a “congrats” from my colleagues or manager—media production tends to be highly competitive and toxic at times—I would bank on that sense of gratification and perform better and better.
I am a workaholic person by nature. You know the saying that goes: “If you want something done, give it to a busy person”? Well, I am that person. I’m used to hearing expressions like “don’t worry”, “relax”, “chill out” from my family and close friends. It’s not because I am a panicky type of person. I believe I can be very realistic and rational. However, there’s an innate need within me to maximise time. When I did well at work, I used to feel elated. But like any substance dependency, that sense of gratification or elation was always momentary: at some point, the passion that was there for the work started diminishing. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean that I got bored with the work or started to hate it. No. What I mean is that my perspective changed. I began to feel more realistic about it. Especially when the blows at work got bigger and bigger.
With my daughter, the sense of gratification I get can fill the universe with all sorts of colours and ribbons, and endless hope. In addition, what I have experienced so far as a mother has taught me so much about myself. With my daughter, it’s not about perfectionism. As a matter of fact, she has taught me to be more flexible and less judgmental. Motherhood, I believe, is the most intimate experience a woman can go through in life. So, there’s no room for advice or tips here. This is only a spotlight on a very challenging topic I notice with many working mothers or career-women around me.
Of course, I still remember my pain when I was giving birth to my daughter. I know very well how life-changing motherhood can be – life-changing in difficult ways sometimes. The inability to cope with the new reality, the lack of experience, the absence of support, the physical suffering, the mental pain, and everything in between. It’s not an easy job, but I keep trying every single day. I am worried too by the social media illusion that I see so many women trying to pursue which in the end is only a mirage. I am not trying to discount here the importance of modernization or technology and I’m not the best person perhaps to resort to if you have a problem with your operating system!
What I am trying to shed light on is the enormous pressure that working mothers have to deal with once they grab that mobile and scroll down those picture-perfect homes or families. It’s even worse with the thousands of groups on social media calling on women to be strong and independent and powerful. Personally, I’ve never been a fan of “extreme feminism” and unfortunately I see so many young and bright women falling prey to the shallower and more unnatural call of such radical feminism. Why do women have to be labeled anything in order to be educated or empowered? Why do women have to give up their natural right and privilege to motherhood in order to be powerful and distinguished? Why do women have to freeze their eggs or marry really late in order to achieve their selfhood?
Certainly, I am not going to raise my daughter to grow up thinking only of her natural gift as a woman. I want her to be smart and polite, but also I don’t want her to think that being a mother is just a thing that can be replaced or substituted by something else. I want my daughter to experience it all – her way. However, it is my duty to teach her about the many meanings which attach to her being a woman.
Faten Yaacoub works as an independent media producer. After completing her Master’s in Comparative Literature, she worked in academia, before moving into media production. She has published in different genres; poetry, critical articles, critiques, and personal reflective essays. Having worked in Lebanon, the US, Egypt, and the UAE, currently she resides in Dubai.