Working mums in Dubai

To work or not to work, that is the question. Time out talks to four mums about working versus staying at home

Anita Shepherd, Nicola Wilson, Sue Thackray and Franziska Shwarz
Anita Shepherd, Nicola Wilson, Sue Thackray and Franziska Shwarz
Anita Shepherd
Anita Shepherd
Nicola Wilson
Nicola Wilson
Sue Thackray
Sue Thackray
Franziska Shwarz
Franziska Shwarz
Anita Shepherd, Nicola Wilson, Sue Thackray and Franziska Shwarz
Anita Shepherd, Nicola Wilson, Sue Thackray and Franziska Shwarz
Debate team

• Anita Shepherd, a part-time credit controller, is mum to three-year-old Luca. She came to Dubai 14 years ago from Australia.

• Stay-at-home mum, Nicola Wilson has lived in the UAE for 19 years and has one son, Noah, aged three.

• A full time chartered quantity surveyor, Sue Thackray is mum to Emily, six and Flynn, four. She arrived in Dubai in 2006 from the UK.

• Co-owner of online shopping site, Franziska Shwarz is mum to twin girls, Alexis and Filippa, aged three. She came to Dubai three years ago from Germany.

While stereotypes of yesteryear dictated that Dad was the only bread-winner, today, more mums than ever are going back to work. But how does it affect their families? Do most enjoy getting away from the rugrats? And what about those studies that say your offspring will become a generation of delinquent losers if you return to the office once breastfeeding is done and dusted? We set the world to rights over lattes and gorgeous cakes at The Lounge at Marks & Spencer in Dubai Festival City.

Do most working mums work out of necessity or choice?
Nicola: Personally, I wouldn’t go back to work unless it was born out of necessity. Some mums do work by choice – they have to get out of the house and get some grown-up time. But some people might want to be a stay-at-home mum and can’t.

Sue: I’m a working mum by choice. I took six months off for my daughter and three months off for my son as maternity leave. When I first came to Dubai I stayed at home with the kids for nine months – and I found I just couldn’t do it. I admire women who can stay at home but I just don’t have the patience for it. I like to have my days mapped out.

Anita: Mine was choice too. I totally agree with Sue. I took one year off and I started work again slowly, from home. Now I do three hours a day, five days a week, which is perfect. As Sue said, it gives me a purpose in the day. And the patience thing? Oh, you need so much patience to stay at home all the time.

Franziska: I know a lot of mums who were going crazy stuck at home. I also needed something to get my brain working. I needed to be with people who could speak proper sentences and be able to get stuff done without offering a piece of chocolate or a cookie for it. There’s also a stigma against stay-at-home mums – you are looked down on for not contributing to society.

Sue: But the stigma applies to working mums too. In fact I think working mums really get looked down on in Dubai as there are more stay-at-home mums here than in the UK.

Franziska: In Germany, if you are a working mum, you’re considered a horrible person because you’re abandoning your children. Yet if you’re a stay-at-home mum, you’re not worth anything because you’re not contributing the economy. Either way, you lose. I really wanted to have a job. But I didn’t see myself going back to my former role in the hospitality industry because I wanted to combine working with having time with the kids. The only way to do that was starting my own business online.

Do working mums feel more guilt than stay-at-home mums?
Sue: I do feel guilty at times. We always go to concerts and sports days, but the after-school activities are difficult to attend. On the other hand I don’t have any guilt about going shopping because I know I’m contributing to the family purse. Maybe my kids will grow up and say, ‘Mummy, you were never there for me.’ But you don’t know until they grow up whether they will resent you for working or not.

Nicola: They might grow up and resent you for staying at home and smothering them too. I don’t think there is any way you can predict how your kids will feel about your parenting skills in later years.

Franziska: That’s right. They’re going to go through that phase where they’ll blame you for everything anyway, so you should do what you think is best at the time.

Sue: When I didn’t work, I used to have to justify every little bit of money I spent.

Nicola: Oh, you soon get over that! I don’t feel guilty because I’m staying at home looking after my child. That’s my job, only I don’t get weekends off, I never get a pay rise and I’m on call 24-7. I’m technically the nanny – so I reckon I should be paid for that.

Anita: You can’t win. Mothers are just bred to feel guilty whatever they do.

Do you think employers are sympathetic towards working mums?
Sue: It depends on who you work for. You do feel guilty about making excuses for being late for the office, and you’ll be looking for other things to blame it on rather than admit it was something to do with the children.

Franziska: But what about when the children are sick? How do you deal with that when you have a full-time schedule?

Sue: I have a live-in nanny, and fortunately, I’m only a 20-minute drive away from their school, so if anything does happen, I’ll go and pick them up and take them home and make sure they’re okay. If they need the doctor, it’s the same thing.

Franziska: That’s the beauty of owning your own business. There are two of us – and we both have twins who are the same age. So we both know what it’s like and we both have our own issues to deal with in terms of family. We can say, ‘Sorry, I can’t work today, the kids are sick,’ and it’s not an issue. We also have help at home, which makes a big difference.

Do working mums spend more quality time with their kids?
Sue: I think my kids get a better mum because we jam-pack our weekends, and in the evenings we get an hour together totally to ourselves. I’m not rushing around trying to get the housework done or sort out
the laundry or the washing up.

The time I spend with them is definitely quality time.
Nicola: I can understand that. When my husband comes back from work, Noah hears the car in the drive, he pegs it to the front door shouting ‘Daddy! Daddy!’ And Greg comes in and has his quality time with our son. There’s always lots of squealing and tickling and laughing as they’re running up the stairs. It’s a time of day that they both get so much out of.

Franziska: It’s very difficult for me to strike a balance because I’m constantly at home and constantly at work. I use the time when they’re at nursery to really get the day’s work done. Then when they get home, I’m all theirs. I’m a much more organised, patient and fulfilled mother as a result.

Sue: But in terms of ‘you time’ working mums have it tough because your weekends are all about the children from Thursday evening to Sunday morning.

Anita: That’s so true. There’s no sneaking off to have a facial at the weekends because that’s eating into your family time – which is so precious.

Do the children of working mums suffer any ill effects?
Sue: If you really believed that, you wouldn’t ever go out working unless you really had to. So no, I don’t believe the effect has to be negative.

Nicola: My mum worked and then didn’t work on several occasions throughout my childhood, and I can honestly say I never gave it any thought at all as a child.

Anita: Yeah – you just go with the flow. It’s what you know and what you’re used to.

Sue: If you’re there for the important things like their sports days and concerts and activities, and they still have their great birthdays, then these are the milestones they will remember.

Nicola: They’re not going to remember whether you were there to make them cheese on toast on a Wednesday.

Anita: If mum’s home at a reasonable time and at least one parent is around after school, I don’t see why there would be a problem.

Franziska: If you organise yourself so the kids are picked up by a relative – or they go home with a friend for a couple of hours, that’s a good solution too. Someone should always be watching over them to make sure they’re not just in front of the TV eating chips all afternoon.

What are the main challenges faced by working mothers?
Franziska: Juggling it all! Like thinking ahead to what they are going to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You always have to be one step ahead.

Anita: Oh yes. Organising yourself is definitely the hardest bit – there are never enough hours in the day.

Sue: The hardest bit for me was finding someone I trusted to look after the kids. In the UK, you don’t have live-in help but you have nurseries that are open until six o’clock at night. My son was only 15 months old when we moved out here and walking out of the door for my first day at work, leaving this person who I didn’t really know in complete charge of my children was incredibly hard.

Anita: We don’t have a live-in nanny. We put Luca into nursery part time – and when I started work he began to go full time. It’s worked out really well.

What are the challenges faced by mums who give up their job to have babies and then want to re-enter the workplace?
Nicola: Getting back into an office environment would be challenging. I don’t know what kind of computer systems are used now because those sorts of things change really quickly. And not being my own boss and putting up with office politics again certainly isn’t something I’d relish.

Anita: I’m with you on that one. I’m fine with what I do now because I’m very much in control – I don’t have anyone breathing down my neck. But to go back to a full-time job where you have appraisals and tricky colleagues – and if your skills are out of date too... It’s pretty daunting.

Franziska: But there are more opportunities for women in Dubai to start up their own businesses. If I’d been back in Germany, I probably wouldn’t have been able to open my own online business because the market there is very much more saturated. Here you can be innovative and fill a niche.

Sue: In the UK I had the ideal situation because I was able to work a three-day week and have longer weekends. But women don’t get the opportunities here to do part-time work in the same way, and it hasn’t been easy on the childcare front.

Anita: For sure, I know I’m really lucky to be able to work part time. It’s the ideal situation all round. I’m actually at a very good place right now – and am hoping the bubble won’t burst for quite some time!

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