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23 October 2018Last updated
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UAE superwomen talk balancing family and career

Spend your whole time wondering how everyone else seems to juggle so much while you can’t even keep up with your kids’ homework schedule? Four amazing women tell us how they stay standing

Louisa Wilkins
12 Jun 2015 | 12:00 am
  • Rue Kothari with her daughter.

    Source:Aiza Castillo-Domingo/ANM

Rue Kothari

43 from Britain, is fair director of Downtown Design, editorial consultant for an interiors magazine, and mum to Inara, seven

I’m definitely a busy person, but I think that’s just in my nature. I love to feel challenged and fulfilled in all areas of my life so I take on as much as my day can handle. I’m usually up early to get Inara ready for school, then I’m in the office by 7.45am. I squeeze in some personal training three times a week and try to run when I have a spare 30 minutes. My job is fairly intense, and outside of office hours there are events to attend, talks to moderate and the usual networking and social engagements.

Of course, having a child means that when you’re home you don’t get to put your feet up, but these moments are so precious... helping Inara with her homework, reading together, making things, painting and playing music.

It’s hard to find time for the little things – getting my nails done, or reading a book by the pool. If I don’t actually schedule time for these, they don’t happen. The reality is that life is only hard if you’re not organised.

Despite being thousands of miles away, my mother and I speak almost daily on the phone. It’s so important to have that person who can put things in perspective for you when you’re living life at high velocity. I’m pretty self-sufficient, perhaps too much. But I’m lucky to have some amazing friends I can rely on if I need to and the support you get from school, teachers and other parents is crucial when you’re a working mother.

I try to meditate every day, which keeps me focused and positive. Also, I have a notebook I can’t live without – to-do lists 
for work and home, appointments and more.

Fact is it’s only hard if you make it that way. Sure, racing to the school gates to pick up my daughter in between meetings, going to the costume shop at 10pm because there’s a dress-up day I’ve forgotten, and trying to schedule in days off to chime in with the school holidays can be really tricky, but somehow it always works out. The hardest part is feeling as though I don’t have enough time with Inara. I adore her and we have so much fun together. I wish I could be at home with her more. It’s the classic dilemma of the working mother – feeling as though you’re pulled in two directions, never quite being able to give to each as much as you’d like to. This happens to me on a daily basis!

You just have to be dogmatic about things. Looking at things practically means you just fix the problem without letting it affect your attitude. Otherwise, I find that chocolate is the best universal cure.

I think the main thing to remember is that nothing is ever what it seems, so never compare yourself to other people. Everyone muddles through life and has a healthy amount of chaos underneath the gloss. Just cherish the details and the happy moments.

For some creative inspiration, follow Rue on Instagram – @ruekothari and @downtowndesign.

Nourie Mansour

Nourie Mansour

31 from Egypt, is a full-time research analyst, part-time FlyWheel instructor, and mum to Reefy, three

I chose both of my jobs specifically because they aren’t desk-based so they give me flexibility to manage my own time and do what I need to do with Reefy. I take him on lot of my work appointments and often take him to FlyWheel with me.

Reefy goes to nursery from 8am until 3pm and I have a full-time nanny. If I didn’t have her, I would have to keep Reefy in nursery until 6pm, which wouldn’t be financially viable for me. My nanny cooks and cleans and watches Reefy for me at FlyWheel when I am teaching.

I get a lot of support from my current partner and from my ex-husband, and from all of my friends... they all help me out a lot. I don’t have any family here so my friends have become Reefy’s extended family.

When I got divorced, my family were pushing me to go back to Egypt – they said life would be easier for me there, and it probably would be. But being here is a way of proving to my son that I didn’t take the easy way out. I work two jobs and I juggle to make things work because it’s important to me that I am a role model of a strong woman who is pro-active about her life and independent, as that is the type of woman I would want my son to be with.

I think women are under a lot of pressure from friends and other mums. You feel judged for working, but for me it’s a necessity. My family has money, so I could go and live off them. But I want to live on my own two feet.

I prioritise my own time – exercise, time with my partner, time with my friends, down time – so that I am happy and calm when I am with Reefy. I think it’s important for all women, but especially for mothers, to schedule time for ourselves.

On top of that, I also think it is important to find something you love to do – whether it’s a job or a hobby. When you are running out of steam, being passionate about something will get you going again.

There are times when it all gets too much and I’ll be crying in the car on my own. When that happens I am happy for traffic jams to give me extra time alone to regroup and put the smile back on.

While doing this photo shoot, I thought, “This is a good metaphor for the life of a working mother.” In the photos we are smiling, but between shots it was me struggling to get Reefy to sit with me on the bike and to be where the photographer needed us to be. Behind every picture there is so much more than what you see.

Even though the picture portrays a perfect reality, behind the picture there may be something totally different. So we shouldn’t pressure ourselves with what we think other women are able to achieve, as we only see the perfect pictures. We really have no idea what is going on in between them.

To catch some of Nourie’s positivity, book into one of her FlyWheel classes – dubai.flywheelsports.com – or find her on Facebook (Nourie FlyWheel).

Jumana Al Darwish

Jumana Al Darwish

33 from Jordan, is co-founder and happiness officer at Happy Box and mum to Ayla, three

I’ve been managing to juggle lots of different areas of life, but there’s always a fear I might drop one of the balls. So it feels like I have to maintain a certain balance that isn’t always easy to come by. The biggest struggle is satisfying the demands of a new business alongside my role as a mother. But I’m lucky that my work allows me to involve my daughter Ayla – and she loves it. It’s our way of bonding and spending time together.

I find it hard to know when to switch off. Since last year I’ve been promising myself a quiet getaway to recuperate and I’ve yet to take the steps to do that. There’s always one more thing to do. It’s very hard to find the time to just stop – especially as I have chosen to base Happy Box out of my home; 24 hours simply isn’t enough.

I’m very reliant on the support system of help I’ve created and I’m very grateful for it – whether it’s my husband or a friend, or family, or a trustworthy nanny, or the new members of The Happy Team, or the mumpreneur network I am part of.

It’s this support structure – teamed with my readiness to give up on sleep and my Type A personality that demands organisation and perfection – that enables things to run smoothly.

If I make it look easy, I need to tell you that the truth is that it really isn’t. It’s all a learning curve for me, a constant work in progress. The easy part is being passionate about it. That hard part is juggling it all – work and home – while trying to maintain a social life with friends and staying in touch with family.

But I love it – I love the hecticness and the go-go-go; it keeps me on my feet and I thrive on the pressure!

My advice to other women is to seek out happiness. I have bad days just like anyone else, but I choose to paste a smile on my face until it turns my day around.

Also, count your blessings – constantly – and listen to your own needs. Whether it’s time to step back and pamper yourself, or spend time as a family so you can reconnect, or indulging in a Twinkie cake in bed, taking care of yourself is imperative.

The Happy Box offers monthly deliveries to your home of themed activities for children and adults. For more on Happy Box, visit www.thehappybox.ae and follow them on Instagram – @thehappyboxofficial.

Dr Saliha Afridi

Dr Saliha Afridi

37, clinical psychologist and managing director at The LightHouse Arabia, is a mum of four – nine, seven, six and three months

As you get older, things definitely get a little bit harder... this time round with a newborn feels more difficult. When I had the other three, I had nothing much else going on. But this time, I have a business to manage, a house to redecorate, a busy social life... it’s stressful. But I know that it isn’t stress that kills us, but how we feel about that stress. It’s all about mindset. For me, meditation keeps me focused and grounded and helps me reboot my body and brain, so I can keep it all going.

Also I have an army of people who help me carry the torch – nannies, maids, drivers, the people who work at The LightHouse Arabia with me. So I shouldn’t be alone in this picture. I prioritise investing in that support network – it’s more important to me than the latest bag.

My main struggle is finding my centre and balance. The minute I don’t meditate, or I don’t pray, or I don’t look at my schedule, everything becomes unstable. It’s a struggle to fit in the things you want to do as well as the things you have to do. It’s about management of time and energy... 
I don’t have much room to negotiate in my day. For everything to fit in, it has to be planned... I have to forget about spontaneity and flexibility.

There are days when I look at my schedule and I think, “I’m not going to do any of it. I am just going to close the curtains and lie in bed and stare at the ceiling.” But my passion for my work gives me another layer – of motivation, and defence against burnout – as it gives me clarity on why I do what I do. The sense of purpose drives me and gives me the strength to find ways to fit everything in, for example working at night once the kids have gone to bed.

I believe in self-actualising... I think that until we do what we are capable of doing, we are never actually happy. It’s important to me that I achieve my potential and that my children see me doing that. I believe in prayer, God, the universe and the source and I find that every time I ask, it gets answered. In my job I hear women comparing themselves to other women all the time and this is so dangerous. We all have a different sized plate and we need to know how much we can handle, so we don’t push ourselves into the terror zone.

Realise who you are and what your capabilities are and, if you are lacking in one area of your life, find a way to skill up on that – whether it’s parenting, or your job, being organised, or something else. Otherwise you will use a lot more energy in that department than you need to. Also remember to be grateful to the people around you who help make it possible for you to get here. Nobody gets here on their own.

For more life enhancement from Saliha, visit www.lighthousearabia.com.

Louisa Wilkins

By Louisa Wilkins

Editor