At her home in Nairobi, Jacqueline Bogonko-Kano laughs and plays with her 11-month-old son, Kai.
“He has a character of his own, aggressive and sure of what he wants. What he wants now is to play and crawl without any limitations,” she says fondly.
Mrs Kano counts such moments during weekends as precious and to be savoured because come Monday, mother-and-son time is reduced by 80 percent.
Many working mothers grapple with the challenges of staying ahead in their career game, which comes with the guilt of not being at home on time or attending impromptu school meetings on a Wednesday. How do they shed the guilt? How do they find a balance?
Working as the Head of Modern Trade at Capwell Industries, Mrs Kano has to be up at 5 am, feed the baby, and leave for the workplace at 6:30 am where she will camp until evening.
“The first week after maternity was the hardest. I felt guilty. I wondered if leaving him to go to work was worth it. But to be honest, the guilt has reduced over time,” the 33-year-old says.
In most industries, motherhood and career progression still seem like oil and water. Is there regret when one chooses a career over family or vice versa? Will I let my employer down? Will I become lazy and inefficient? These were the questions that shadowed Mrs Kano.
“Honestly, I was scared for some time,” she says.
Her career was working like a well-oiled machine.
“To me, motherhood felt like pausing my career ambitions. I also felt unprepared to be a mother let alone a working one. I finally realised that it was possible to have my cake and eat it too,” she says.
Nzilani Mulati is a mother of two. Before becoming a mother, she saw a therapist. One of the assignments she was given during therapy was to nurture a baby doll.
“I realised that working and parenting isn’t for the faint-hearted. It’s one thing to raise a hypothetical baby, a real one is a game-changer. Being a working mother requires a special grace that comes in form of having a supportive husband, nanny, close friends, and family. Otherwise, you’ll be overwhelmed at home and work,” says the 38-year-old.
Before the additional title ‘mum’, Mrs Mulati’s life was adventurous and spontaneous.
“I was also very goal-oriented. I knew where I wanted to go and was working towards it. I travelled with my husband and hang out with the girls,” she says.
And then she got children, a girl and boy aged four and one respectively.
“Everything changed. I’m glad that I prepared for motherhood before getting into it. This was crucial as it enabled me to establish practises to help me have both a career and children,” she explains.
“In preparing, I positioned my spirit and heart to receive children. This has made being a working mother easier because it’s a decision that I consciously made.”
Motherhood, or rather family in the workplace, Mrs Kano opines, has not been given the importance it deserves.
“People no longer see the value of the family unit. It’s no longer a primary but a secondary focus. As a result, women feel like they have to choose one over the other because there are no structures in offices to support both,” she says.
According to Mrs Kano, the power of choosing to be a working mom cannot be underestimated.
“If your career is important to you, then honour yourself by working. Every morning, the choice before me doesn’t get easier. What comforts me is the fact that I decided to be a working mum,” she says. “The paycheck at the end of the month is also motivation as it allows me to have my own money to secure his future.”
Since she was brought up to be active, being a stay-at-home mother would have destabilised her. “Working gives me a sense of self and life once the children are gone because they will. What you sacrificed to raise them may not even occur to them. You don’t want to be bitter that you gave up your life – your passions, dreams, and self,” she says.
Because both work and mothering have to be done, the road to hallelujah has required wise use of their limited time. For Mrs Kano, it has meant cutting out social time to be home to bathe, feed, and play with her son. For Mrs Mulati, it is waking up early to prepare her girl for school to connect with her.
It also means pacing yourself and planning at work.
“Motherhood isn’t an excuse to be a lazy and inefficient worker. I’ve learned to plan my work accordingly so that my work life and colleagues don’t suffer,” Mrs Mulati, a programme manager at Amani Institute says.
“Doing this has resulted in me being present for both. When I’m at work, I’m at work. When I’m home, I’m home,” she says.
A shift in perspective has also made the sacrifices made worthy.
“Because I only have 13 years with my children, I see opportunities as a tennis ball and motherhood as an egg. The tennis ball bounces back. The egg remains broken,” she says.
Mrs Kano who is also pursuing a Master’s degree says one’s career must favour motherhood.
“Any wrong career choice has a ripple effect on my child too,” she says.
This means turning down opportunities to work in better-paying companies in favour of those who value people.
“You want an employer who understands the dual role you have to play as a working mother because they value people.”
Mrs Mulati adds that motherhood plays a role in shaping one as a good leader.
“It has made me a better leader because my children have unlocked a side of me I didn’t know I had. I have a renewed sense of stewardship of my work. I deal with people from a lens of love because I realise that the people around me are people’s children too,”she says.