x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

My Life: To wed or to work

Fatima al Shamsi ponders work/life balances for women

In the midst of my getting ready for graduate school and moving into a new apartment, the only recurring theme in my life seems to be babies. With various family members welcoming newborns into the world, I have spent hours "oohing" and "aahing" at photographs instead of unpacking or assembling new furniture.

After my younger brother was born when I was eight years old, I spent more time with him than I did with anyone else. In addition, I was always teased by my friends for behaving as everyone's mum, but I never considered it a reality even as I made sure my sick friends were tucked into bed and had drunk plenty of fluids.

It wasn't until recently that for the first time in my adult life I thought that one day I do indeed want to be a mother. When I told a friend about this revelation, for some reason admitting to wanting a family felt like the dumbest thing a supposedly young independent woman like me could say. Her reaction, surprisingly, was that I had finally come around. She said there's no fighting the reality that we are at the prime baby-making stage in our lives. So while new societal norms have us putting off families to start a career, our bodies are ready.

In New York I went to university with many people who had replaced dreams of starting a family with dreams of slaving away in a career. But just as I think that a woman shouldn't have a baby too soon, I also believe her life shouldn't be solely about how quickly she can make her way to a CEO position. It should also involve sharing one's precious moments, and should be focused on family to give it a higher dimension.

Still, I don't want to have a baby right now. There is the lack of funds, career and, of course, a husband.

While I don't think there is ever a perfect time in life to have a child, some scenarios are much better than others. Both young women and men need to realise that having children is about common goals and dedicating yourself to raising and supporting a family. Furthermore, in cities such as New York and Abu Dhabi, where balancing work and life takes time and energy, this generation needs to understand that day care centres and nannies aren't a substitute for parenting.

Though it's true that in Abu Dhabi more people are waiting until they are older to get married, there is still pressure to wed and, especially for young women, to have children. But I think couples need to get to know each other before starting a family.

This generation has matured differently than earlier ones. Many more people stay in school longer and are much more concerned with grades and job interviews. There are different expectations of us and, thus, while biologically we can start families as teenagers, I don't think that at 20 we are emotionally or mentally prepared to do so.

Coming from an Emirati culture in which starting a family is supposed to be one of the most important steps in a woman's life, I think there needs to be more awareness about the responsibilities and difficulties that come with choosing to wed and having children.

When my aunts ask me every summer when I want to settle down, I know it comes from a place of love, but pressure is not conducive to making the right decision, and having a baby should not be based on pressure.

So while we encourage girls to be educated and to get a job, we also need to teach them that they do not have to sacrifice being mothers in order to maintain a career, or vice versa. Men need to be aware of this issue and take some initiative to make things easier for their partners.


Fatima al Shamsi is an Emirati based in New York.