The Career Struggles of a Woman

I find myself – again – in a very difficult and uncomfortable position. I am unable to make the career choices and decisions I would like to make – that I NEED to make even – because I feel I need to wait for other people around me to make their own decisions first.

How many other women live their lives this way?

When I gave birth to my children, I made the decision not to work. This was a very conscious decision on my behalf. It was a very easy decision. My children were my priority. They were babies. They needed a parent to give them fulltime care for a certain period of time. That parent would be me, their mother. Their father would play the other traditional role of providing for us. I was happy with my decision for the first years of our marriage. But then the children started growing older and I realized three things: we needed more money as a family, I needed to be financially independent, and I needed to have something to occupy myself when the children started going to school.

This was when I made the conscious decision to start working. I was very fortunate to find my way into journalism and it became my passion. But I was always “limited” in the choices I could make because of my responsibilities towards my children. People who know me will not be happy with my use of the word limited here. I’ve actually managed to do quite a lot in a short period of time; much more than so many women manage to do. But I haven’t managed to do some of the things I would have liked to do. I could never take on work with news agencies, for example, because it would have meant working shifts and on holidays and thus spending less time with my children. I would have liked to do a PhD or to take a study fellowship abroad for a year or more. But that was out of the question. I would have liked to be able to consider working abroad. That has never been an option for me.

In the meantime, my ex-husband, the children’s father, got his Master’s degree and then his PhD in medicine. He also worked abroad for six years. He’s had more of an opportunity than me to progress in his career and to save some money. I am certain that he has also had to hold himself back from achieving certain career dreams because of his family. But of the two of us, I’ve been the one to hold myself back more.

I am now in a situation where my new husband is based in the UK and my ex-husband and children are based in Egypt. All my career decisions are now on hold. I need to know whether my ex-husband has plans to work abroad again because salaries in Egypt are too low. My husband is settled in a good job in the UK and we’re both hesitant to have him leave that to come to a completely unstable Egypt. Taking the children out of their schools in Egypt and putting them in a school anywhere else (in the UK or in a country where their father works) would mean that they would be missing out on being with one of their parents. One of my children is already settled in university in Egypt. The next one has one year remaining. Moving her from her school in Egypt would be very complicated for that last year. The other two children are not keen on leaving their friends and extended family behind.

So here I am, jumping back and forth between two countries and two families unable to take on fulltime work. Unable, even, to use this time to take courses in anything that could develop my skills because I am not settled anywhere long enough. I am waiting for two men to make their own career decisions first so I can then follow and make my own. And this frustrates the heck out of me.

Am I doing something wrong? Is this just the way things are? Do women just naturally prioritize family in a certain way while men prioritize family in others? Is it a matter of the men in my family having more potential in their careers or responsibility for their families and thus their career decisions are more important than mine? I’ve never wanted to be the main breadwinner in my family. But I do want to have a career. And I do need to have independent financial security. I want to have a decent-paying job that stimulates me. I want to have choices. And my choices now feel so limited. I am suffocating.

Is this a gender issue? Or is it a very personal Nadia issue? What are the experiences of other women? What are the experiences of men?

(Note: This is NOT an open invitation to readers to dissect, analyze, judge, or criticize my personal life choices. I have told you some very personal information but I’ve also withheld other information. Please keep your comments to the general topic I am trying to address here: Do women generally find themselves in a position where their career decisions are dependent on the decisions of men? Is this normal? Is this acceptable? Do other women find this frustrating? What do women do to avoid this? I’m interested in hearing other women’s experiences. I’m also interested in hearing men’s experiences, whether it’s men who have been able to advance themselves professionally and financially while their wives have not or men who haven’t been able to do this because their wives’ careers were given priority instead.)

 

 

21 comments

  1. ياااااااااااه قلتى اللى فى عقلى و مش عارفة أعبر عنه ربنا يخليكى يارب :-):-)
    definitely it’s not a Nadia issue thats how things work most of the time ..for me i am a physician taking my career seriously but deep in my heart i know my child has the priority …but wt im doing is to reach to a comromise i had only one child and i took about a year vacation .and when i had to go back to work cuz i had a dead line for my egy.fellowship i had to choose a place with less quality in order not to be away from daughter sometimes i wish for better job but certainly it’ll come on the expense of my family ….

  2. and of course if i had to travel bcuz my husband has got a chsnce to move on with his career i’ll be with him ..but?!! why not to finish wt im doing here and pass through tough couple of years and then be together again i think i’ll demand for this

  3. ALL my girlfriends face this problem.
    I moved with my husband from Egypt to the US to Canada to Egypt to Canada again, all within ten years. It was incredibly difficult trying to plan ahead for my career with another possibility of moving all the time. In the end, I decided I wasn’t a suitcase, and that we needed to stay in Canada for good. Luckily, it eventually worked for us. This very confusing and frustrating time was when I didn’t even have kids yet, or they were still too young to really care where we were.

    I know too many divorced families in Egypt and in not one single one does the dad pay for his kids living expenses, or even a fair share. There are two kinds of divorced dads in Egypt: the bad, who want nothing to do with their kids, no money or relationship to make way for the fresh start in the dads’ lives; and the “good” who still have a relationship with their kids which consists of toys on the weekend. Never mind that the teachings of every civilized religion and the enforced laws in every civilized country give the dads a bigger share of the responsibility. It’s not a reality in Egypt right now. This makes the imperative for women to be financially independent even more so, in a country that is even more maddeningly patriarchal than most. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not planning on getting a divorce anytime soon. But anything could happen, God forbid, like death or disability or ANYTHING. Besides, I’m a much nicer, less clingy, more interesting woman to live with when I have my own work!!

    It IS a gender issue!
    Three things really helped me: the circle that I could make choices in was bigger than I thought although smaller than I would have wished for. Seeing that my husband’s choices didn’t have to be my own was one of the great realizations of my life.
    The second was encouraging my kids relationships with other adults I trusted. It made their lives richer and gave me more room.
    The biggest thing that helped and continues to help me is being with a husband who supports strong women, even if he doesn’t realize it sometimes🙂

    You are not alone Nadia, best of luck!!!

  4. Subhanallah,today when I was picking my daughter from school, I was thinking about my career struggle. Alhamdullah I was given a special artistic talent and wished to study in school of art. My family made me study medicine and to be a physician. When I married and had children, I chose to stay home for my 3 daughters. Then I decided to go back to school and have another career. My husband advices me to be a school teacher. I got my teaching credential hoping to have a job that allow me to be with my kids when the school ends. Unfortunately with the recent budget cut in the most of public schools, I was not able to secure a full time job. I am currently work as a substitute teacher. I really hate my job and I can’t tolerate to be in classroom again. Now I carry two degrees in teaching and medicine, and I have no passion to non of them. I don’t know what to do and I really looking for something that meet my interest and skills.
    Please advice!!

    1. Have you ever tried career counseling or talking about all this with a life coach, Sohad? Sometimes it helps to brainstorm with someone with experience. I agree with you, though. It’s very important to do something you’re passionate about. It’s just tricky sometimes finding out what that is.

      1. Thank you Nadia for taking time to reply on my post. I have a quick question. I understand you have a passion toward your career as a journalist, did you study journalism to be qualified for this job even though your a medical doctor?

      2. I did study journalism but it’s not how I started. I had a lucky “break” because friends of mine had started a new website (IslamOnline) and were looking for someone with a science background who had strong English language skills. They knew me and were willing to help me learn how to write. I learned a lot from them in the first six months by sending them crappy material that they would then edit for me. I’d then learn from their editing how it was supposed to be done. After settling into the career and starting to do well, I then did a Master’s degree in journalism. In journalism, it’s the experience that’s much more important than the practice. Since you have a medical background, and if you have strong writing skills in Arabic or English, you may do well to try to start writing about science issues. You’d need to try it out to see.

  5. Ah, Nadia. Once again you have touched an important issue that many of us face. I asked my husband to read your post as it perfectly encapsulated the frustrations I feel as well. My situation is not as complicated as your but still frustrating to realise that although my husband and I both started out with PhDs together, we have since taken different paths and mine is definitely limited. The choices I made are mine and I bear responsibility for them but I cannot help feeling the frustration of not being able to pursue my career as I would like it.

  6. Honestly, it’s an issue that any ambitious women will face sooner or later in their life . It’s hard for those women to understand the struggle. (those who go straight to marry after graduation and reproduce at least half a dozen babies in a short period of time and claim that they are willing to forsake their choice to stay home because of Allah’s sake.) I am sorry, I want to point out that those women do not struggle. They never mean to develop their career after graduation. They do not struggle, period. AND they do not understand.

    A strong headed woman like you and me and a hundred out there always hit the wall of frustration. Sometime, I blame myself for marrying a muslim man. (I can see that a non-muslim married woman may face less frustration in this aspect.) I wanted have a choice and freedom to advance myself and continue my interests after having children. I did make a lot of adjustment and sacrifice after the children were born.

    In fact, I was happy and willing to stay home with my children when they were born. I stayed home for a good 5 years with them. I moved to another country with my husband because of his better career development. During the years I stayed home, my husband kept advancing his career and move to a different direction of his work. Allumduallah, it all went great for him. For me, it becomes more and more insignificant with what I want for him. The idea of I should continue to stay home becomes a fact and for that I should be thankful. Yes, I do and I am always thankful and grateful for what I have and where I am.

    Since I have been away from my work for so long and being living in another country, I cannot get back the position I used to be and need to take an examination to be qualified to work. Sadly, I end up in a “job”, not a career, just to spend my time and earn a morsl amount of money when my children are in school. Now I want to advancing myself and change my career. I have to face the cruel fact that I am already 48. Should I and should I not to go back to college, that is a question for me ounding right now.

    My girls vow that they will never to choose to get marry and have children. I do not know what to respond. I agree with what they said in some part of me. I want to get some wisdom from your articles sometimes. I can see my girls are strong women like you. they They like outdoor activities before hitting the puberty. Now in their words: they are stuck with the outfit and their hijab. They feel suffocated being a muslim young woman. Their muslim girl friends do not have much aspiration towards future and career as compare with their American girl friends. All they “plan and think” are stay home and get married to a doctor. For my girls, they want to have their career and be independent financially.

    My mom always said, ” a girl with too many ideas in her head is dangerous”. Is it wrong to have a brain or being an ignorant woman is a bliss AND especially in the muslim world??

    I am as frustrated as you. I do not want to die as an old woman full of regret.

  7. WOW ya Nadia. you’re just being wonderful as usual.i have been tracking your blog for years but this is the first time to comment because this blog is just related to my situation knowing that i have a different social status so, please be a little patient with me and my long comment.

    2008 scene :-
    a successful 24 years old career girl on her track for a career progress, embracing her dreams and successfully trying to save some money to travel and see the world(travel freak who doesn’t travel much).

    2009 scene :-
    my dear mother collapses with a severe brain stroke followed by several various strokes leaving her temporarily paralyzed so, quitting my job and my dreams was a must as she needed 24/7 nursing/caring.

    2010- 2011 scene :-
    starting to pursue a new career in management and as soon as i am trying to sign up for courses my mother starts with kidney issues which will end up with 3 times a week dialysis . (forget about career- suit yourself, baby).

    2012- current scene :-
    my situation is becoming a little stable so, trying to find my self a way out of my ugly bore, finally got myself that HR diploma as i have no intention to go back to the banking career. but then, my old dream of becoming a journalist is popping up and i think i will pursue that and may be studying journalism will be my next step.

    NOW after telling you the story of my life for the past few years in BRIEF did i mention that i have brothers? brothers who are old enough to take care of themselves and their families too. brothers who went crazy when our mother got sick but, being sad and crazy when your parent gets disabled doesn’t really mean that you can toughen up and be a normal person who helps around frequently so,
    it just became for granted that i do all the sacrifice, when i tried to get a job last year every body was uncomfortable about it and they kept asking about mama like i am going to throw her to the beasts. not to mention that nobody was ready for shifting time as they have careers and families and I DON’T (you are a girl with no husband or family of your own you don’t have to work at all so pay the price @#$#@#$$@#@).

    again, i am awfully sorry for my too long comment but i feel relieved as this is the first time to feel relaxed to talk about my awful situation for the past few years and i am absolutely glad it came out to you as you inspired me a lot, you got me back to sport after 15 years for god’s sake when i tracked your blog🙂

    p.s: comments and wisdom will be welcome.

    wish you all the best and be safe🙂

    1. I know some cultures are very against of sending aged parents to nursing home. Have you and your family (including your mother) talk about some options to deal with the situation? For example, hiring a day time live in person to be with your mother, hiring a “relatives” / “neighbours to be with her during the day, get your mom a safty alarm that connect her with 911 in case anything happen while you are not next to her and such and such.

      I think your mother will understand and want to see you happy in your lice. As for your family member, even though they don’t chip in time, then at least they need to chip in money to pay for the price if you need an assistant. It is so unfair for you first of all, and it is so unwise and costly to waste what you learned.

      Just my two cents.

      1. Helena,
        thanks a lot for responding to my comment. concerning the nursing house: yes, it is not an option to send a parent to a nursing house .. even if the health status requires extra caring not only because of a useless social disapproval, but also because here in Egypt well, it is a little shocking may be but guess what? we have an awful health system and i mean nursing, social services, labour and so on. if you want to take care of someone you’d better do it yourself unless you’re lucky. but i agree with you that it is unfair to waste what i learned. luckily, i got myself a part time assistant and i think i will try to pursue a new career.

    2. You are doing a very good thing by taking care of your mother but you are harming yourself gravely by not working. You need to find a balance. Taking care of your mother is the duty of the whole family and not just you. You need to put your foot down and tell the rest of your family that you need to work as a matter of personal security. You never know what might happen in the future. You may not need an income now but if the day came when you did, you would find it extremely difficult to find work at an older age with little or no experience. There are many solutions depending on the family’s circumstances. Are any of your brothers wives stay at home moms? In that case your mom can do a rotation and stay at different brothers houses while you get yourself settled at work. Do you have family who can pass by and stay with your mom while you’re at work? You can also hire someone to do that. You are not without options. What you need to realize is that it’s your duty to secure a future for yourself against the tough times that inevitably come round for most of us.

      1. yes Nadia, i know i am harming myself by not working but, i had no option before and as i said in my reply to Helena, luckily i got myself a part time assistant as neither of my brothers wives stay at home moms.and although i used to be a workaholic before, i think staying at home for long periods does affect us badly. i think i have to go for a new career soon. something i have passion for so i don’t waste more time doing something i don’t like.i didn’t really like banking in the first place but it was an important experience though, may be i can go for a study in journalism this time or may be something more related to culture as i used to find out about foreign cultures and study languages all the time when i was a student. hopefully i can secure my future soon inshalla🙂

  8. Yes Nadia. I agree with you that women may need a career for future security, and it will be difficult when we grow older. In my case I have a difficult choice because if I don’t like what I am doing I will not succeed to secure any job. First I don’t want to go back to chase many board exam to be a licensed physician. I didn’t choose medical field in the first place, it was my parents choice. Second, my work as a teacher in public or Islamic schools are very stressful in USA. I didn’t choose this career either. Everybody in my family and my community said I am good with kids and being a teacher will make me always close to my daughters. I was burnt out with all my commitments towards my family, my work, my Muslim community, and my volunteer work. I m staying home now in transition to evaluate my life and to search for something I am good at and I like it in the same time. I only know I am a creative and amature artist. In order to pursue a career in art, which I love the most, I need to have a degree in art. I already have two degrees in medicine and teaching. Do you mean I need to take a risk and get a third degree? Or I should focus on what I am good at now even I don’t like it.

    1. excuse me for intruding, but i dont think you need a degree to convince people that you paint good paintings, art speaks for it self, and the good thing about art is that u can do it anywhere anytime.. you might need to learn some techniques of course but u can do that thru attending workshops and courses… in addition to that you can also read about the history of art, the different artists etc.. ,y point is at the end of the day if your work is good no body will ask you if you have a degree..

  9. I am now in one of those moments too, i am 29 i currently have a very well paid job but i will be having a baby next September, and i am un able to imagine leaving my own baby to some one else to raise, since i have a full time job 9-6 … even if this someone is my mom for instance, with my first daughter i read every single child care and parenting book, i almost understood every single process that babies go through, i was taking my mother-job seriously, and she turned out to be an amazing smart child el7amdulellaah, i then started work again when she was 2 and everything is fine, the problem is that i cant imagine not doing the same to my second child it feels like it wont be fair, but i will loose my job, and maybe my career(my current job is very boring to be honest , but being financially independent is very important to me) on the other hand my husband is very supportive and he is encouraging me to stay in my job and he will give me all the support i need… but i still cant…😦 but anyway i know that things will turn out fine, they always do…

  10. Hi again, i have saved some good amount of money and i love psychology/councelling and helping people i was thinking of applying for a degree in psychology but i cant see how i can develop that into a career? i mean here in egypt, any ideas??

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