I have been having a lot of coffees and teas, with different women recently. Most of them are in their early 30’s. They ask me hard questions: should they take the leap and plunge into this long-time business dream; or if they should focus on family or their existing career? They ask me because they think I managed to pull off both ends together. Well, I sold a business just a few years back and I have four boys and a fantastic husband to boast of. But truth be told, I did not do it all by myself.
The “Lean In” philosophy has given women a lot of pressure. I read the book, and I even bought it as a gift for some of my women staff. I really like the stand it makes – do your best and do not shy away from making yourself heard and seen. However, I did not realize the amount of pressure it has given to women. Women who chose to stay at home feel judged by this book; and women who work also feel judged if they are not the “lean in” type.
The truth is, I never struggled between work and family. My company was my first baby. It’s as important to me as my boys are. My husband knows that (he is my business partner too) and I am really fortunate that my parents-in-law understood that as well. While we made sure we got home by 630pm for dinner every evening, my in-laws were the one who ensured we had food in the fridge for the helper to cook, and that the boys were fetched to/from wherever they were supposed to be. We made all major decisions regarding the boys’ lives, like which brand of formula milk they took or what kindergarten to go to; but seriously, there were million and one other decisions that I did not have to worry about. If not for my parents-in-law, I wouldn’t have the luxury to focus on work.
Not that I didn’t want to be part of their growing up years. I do feel a pinch of regret not witnessing the first step, or hearing the first words. But stopping work never crossed my mind. And do I feel guilty or regret for my decision and my choice? No, I don’t. I know myself and I know that I make a lousy homemaker. And with that choice made, I trusted my mother in law and my helper totally to do their magic. Especially with the helper, I do not micromanage. The key understanding I made sure she has is that her job is about looking after the children and everything else is secondary. So, it would be very wrong of me if I start picking on her for not mopping the floors everyday.
There were also times I wondered if I should have sent the kids to robotics, piano, tennis, violin, taekwondo, speech and drama and all those fancy enrichment programs. Fact is, we are in a very competitive education system, and we parents would do anything to give our kids a good headstart. Well, I sent them for swimming and later on, shichida. (#3 had to attend phonics class cos I forgot that he has to learn to read before P1… so it was a last minute emergency arrangement :P) I know I am a kiasu mom and I strongly suspect a closet tiger mom too. But I really could not afford the time, and I could not ask my father in law to drive them all over town for the different programs. So I tone down my own expectations.
For me, I was lucky to have a great support network to pursue my career; and I adjust myself so that there is no unnecessary tension and unreasonable demands for my supportive family too. We all have certain ideals but we do not live in ideal situations, at least not all the time. Do not doubt and second guess ourselves for the decisions that we have to make. We women believe we need to look after ALL aspects of our lives. Well, I believe we can have it all, but just not at the same time. Besides, we should have it all on our terms, and not on other people’s terms.