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.)