Sunday, 6 April 2014

An Interview with my Mother

It was Mother’s Day here in the UK last Sunday, and I was lucky enough to be able to come home for the weekend to spend some quality mother-daughter time with my mum. The evening before I traveled back I watched a YouTube video about a film where successful women in America are interviewed. The filmmaker mentioned that as a part of this she was able to interview her own mother which was a really special experience. She was able to ask her questions that she wouldn’t usually ask and in turn discovered things that she has never known before about her mother.

I was completely inspired this, and knew that it was something I wanted to do with my own mum. I’ve always been proud of the example that my mother has set for me. From when I was three she’s been the breadwinner of the family, which was quite unusual where we lived in the nineties. On top of this she has also worked incredibly hard to climb her way to a very reputable position in the typically male-dominated sphere of international banking. In addition to this, she is of course a wonderful mother.

When I started to interview my mum, I knew that the world of banking wasn’t where she had always envisaged herself. In fact, when she finished school she was supposed to train to become a professional singer. However, when that didn’t work out she managed to secure a job in the Central Statistical Office (she’s always been a bit of a maths geek!). That’s when her computing systems career started. I did wonder how she managed to make such a huge leap from expecting to become a singer, to entering the corporate world. She explained to me how she had always wanted a job that she enjoyed, and to be recognised for the work that she was doing. From her starting point to the stepping stones that she took towards the company that she currently works for, I can see how she managed to do what she loves while still following work that offered her a better deal financially.

My mum has now been working for her current company for over 25 years. Considering that she worked through a time when equal pay between the sexes was not required, I was interested to hear if she had had any experiences of sexism or bullying. She was not aware of being discriminated against for being a woman all that much. “When I got my vice presidency in 1997, I was the first female in the my department to get to that level” she told me, “and somebody did suggest that I was just the ‘token female’”. I was pleased to hear that when she was promoted again this year, the only surprised reactions were those of people who thought she had already been working at that level for a long time. It’s been only a couple of months, but my mum already describes this as one of the highlights of her career.

As a woman in a ‘man’s world’ I was keen to ask my mum a bit about what it was like choosing to have a child whilst building a career. This had always interested me, because I know that starting a family wasn’t something that was always in her plans. “There is never a good time,” she explained to me when I asked her how she chose when to have a baby. “People who make a concise plan are putting pressure on themselves and their bodies”.

My mum took the decision to return to work while I was still very little. We spoke a lot about how she often felt guilty for not being able to spend more time with me at home when I was young. “I don’t think I strike a good work/home balance. I’m a bit of a workaholic,” she admitted. I’d never realised some of the things that had gone on behind the scenes in my childhood, and to hear that she felt guilty about not being able to spend as much time with me shocked me in a way. We have plenty of wonderful memories together, and I was always proud that I was one of the only children at school who had both a working mother and stay-at-home dad. Whilst my mum did deliberate on whether or not she should have followed a career which allowed her to spend more time with me, I think that we both agreed it allowed us to treasure the times that we do spend together. Not to mention that she has been able to show me the incredible possibilities that can become a reality with some hard work.

A final thing that I was particularly eager to hear was if my mum held any hopes for me as I eventually enter the working world, and possibly become a working mother myself. The main thing that I took away from her advice was that I need to try and find the work/home balance that she felt she had never struck. The future is thankfully looking bright for me. I hope to one day start my own business, which will allow me to work from home. On top of this, these days there is much more of a focus on this balance in the business world. With any luck, this will mean more flexible jobs for men and women alike in the future. “But don’t stress," my mum reminded me, "Your kid is going to grow up to be great anyway”.

There was a lot more that my mum and I were able to discuss that we wouldn’t normally. Of course, I have not shared some of these details. If you’re lucky enough to have a mother figure in your life, I would highly recommend giving this a go. It’s a wonderful way to open up the lines of communication and know one of the most important people in your life in a different context than you’re used to.

Will you be trying this with a parent?
What makes you proud of your mum?

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