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Hilal Her

Challenges of Motherhood for Working Women

May 2024

Motherhood is a journey filled with love, joy, and countless rewards. However, for the modern Pakistani woman, it often comes with a unique set of challenges, especially when juggling the demands of a career with raising a family. Many Pakistani women choose to pursue a career alongside motherhood due to their desire for independence, fulfillment, and financial stability. However, this choice often leads to what is commonly referred to as the “dual burden”—the simultaneous responsibility of managing household duties and excelling in the workplace.

Despite women’s increasing participation in the workforce, societal expectations and traditional gender roles continue to place a disproportionate burden on women when it comes to caregiving and domestic responsibilities. From managing household chores to caring for children and elderly family members, working mothers often find themselves stretched thin, struggling to find a balance between their professional and personal lives.
Moreover, the expectation to uphold cultural norms and family traditions can add an extra layer of pressure on women, particularly in conservative societies where gender roles are deeply entrenched. The societal expectation for women to prioritize their roles as wives and mothers above all else can create conflicting priorities and internal turmoil for those who also aspire to pursue their professional ambitions. As a psychologist specializing in behavioral therapy, I have witnessed firsthand the struggles that many working mothers face and the impact they can have on their mental wellbeing. Let’s delve into the causes of these challenges and explore strategies for overcoming them, empowering Pakistani women to thrive both in the workplace and at home.
Balancing Responsibilities
The constant juggling of work and family commitments can take a toll on the mental health of working mothers. Research in psychology has shown that the stress of trying to meet multiple demands simultaneously can lead to feelings of being overwhelmed, anxiety, and burnout. Moreover, the pervasive societal notion of the “ideal mother”—one who is selfless, nurturing, and always available—can contribute to feelings of guilt and inadequacy when women perceive themselves as falling short of these unrealistic expectations.
Nazli* is the mother of three children and works as a banker. She believes that balancing motherhood and work is a challenging endeavor. She says, “Working mothers are renowned for their exceptional ability to juggle multiple tasks simultaneously, although the strain we experience can significantly impact our wellbeing. Furthermore, children often regard their mothers as accomplished role models, which adds to the pressure that we experience. However, the primary source of stress for me is completing my work in a timely manner so that I can leave the office at the designated hour. I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to have the freedom to work remotely from home, if necessary, in an ideal work environment.”
Working women may experience conflicting emotions as they strive to fulfill both professional and maternal responsibilities in a culture that reveres and celebrates the role of the mother. Internal conflicts and a sense of torn priorities can arise from the pressure to excel in the workplace and be present and engaged in their children’s lives. The lack of institutional support and policies that cater to the needs of working mothers can exacerbate feelings of stress and guilt. In Pakistan, where maternity leave policies may be inadequate, and childcare facilities are limited, women often find themselves having to make difficult choices between advancing their careers and prioritizing their family’s wellbeing.
Shehrezad* is a mother of two and is employed as a psychologist at a local hospital. Regarding motherhood and the relevant amenities at various organizations, she commented, “Working mothers experience significantly higher levels of stress due to the simultaneous responsibilities they undertake in both their professional and familial roles. It is imperative to establish an on-site daycare center at the workplace, and it is essential to provide mothers with the flexibility to work remotely. Furthermore, medical benefits should be considered an additional perk rather than being included in the wage package.”
Beyond the workplace and societal pressures, working mothers also face internal struggles with self-doubt and the fear of not being “enough” in either role. This psychological burden can manifest as imposter syndrome. Wherein individuals doubt their accomplishments and fear being exposed as frauds. Despite their professional achievements, working mothers may question their competence and constantly compare themselves to an unattainable standard of perfection. The stigma surrounding mental health in many Pakistani communities prevent women from seeking the support and resources that they need to cope with stress and guilt. The fear of being judged or labeled as “weak” may lead working mothers to suffer in silence, further exacerbating their psychological distress.
In navigating the psychological impact of balancing work and motherhood, women need to practice self-compassion and cultivate resilience. By acknowledging their limitations and accepting that they cannot do it all, working mothers can alleviate the pressure to meet unrealistic expectations. Accepting imperfection and celebrating small victories can help women recognize their worth and value as professionals and mothers. Through self-care practices such as mindfulness, meditation, and exercise, working mothers can prioritize their mental and emotional well being, ensuring that they have the strength and resilience to overcome the challenges they face. It is imperative to break down these barriers and promote open conversations about mental health, encouraging women to prioritize their well being and seek help when needed.
Overcoming Challenges
While the challenges of balancing work and motherhood may seem daunting, there are strategies that women can employ to navigate these obstacles and thrive in both spheres of their lives. One effective approach is to establish clear boundaries between work and family time, allowing for dedicated periods of focus on each aspect of life. Setting realistic expectations and learning to prioritize tasks can help alleviate feelings of overwhelm and reduce stress. Additionally, building a support network of family, friends, and colleagues can provide invaluable assistance and encouragement during the times of need. Delegating tasks and seeking help when necessary is not a sign of weakness but rather a demonstration of strength and self-awareness. By sharing the responsibilities of caregiving and household chores, working mothers can lighten their load and create more time for self-care and relaxation. 
Furthermore, practicing mindfulness and self-compassion can help working mothers cultivate resilience and cope with the inevitable challenges that arise. Nurturing one’s own physical, emotional, and psychological wellbeing is essential for maintaining a healthy work-life balance and sustaining long-term fulfillment.
In addition to personal strategies, advocating for systemic change and policy reforms is crucial for creating a supportive environment for working mothers in Pakistan. Last year, the Senate enacted the Maternity and Paternity Leave Act of 2020, which provides six months of maternity leave and one month of paternity leave for fathers following the birth of a couple’s first child. When the second child is born, the mother will be given a four-month leave, while the father will be given a one-month leave. While Article 37(e) of Pakistan’s constitution requires the state to provide maternity benefits to employed women, it does not specify a time limit for maternity leave. This is a step in the right direction, yet the state and society need to do more in order to combat the ‘maternal brain drain’ and recognize women’s economic contributions. By lobbying for improved maternity leave policies, affordable childcare options, and flexible work arrangements, women can contribute to the creation of a more equitable and inclusive workplace. Organizing support groups and community initiatives can also provide a platform for women to voice their concerns and collectively address the challenges that they face.
Investing in education and skill-building opportunities can empower women to pursue career advancement and achieve financial independence. By continuously updating their skills and staying abreast with industry trends, working mothers can position themselves for success in the ever-evolving job market. Additionally, seeking out mentorship and networking opportunities can provide valuable guidance and support as women navigate their professional journeys. Ultimately, overcoming the challenges of balancing work and motherhood requires a combination of individual resilience, social support, and systemic change. By embracing proactive strategies, advocating for policy reforms, and investing in personal and professional development, Pakistani women can create a more equitable and empowering future for themselves and future generations. 
The challenges of motherhood faced by working women in Pakistan are multifaceted and complex, stemming from societal expectations, traditional gender roles, and the relentless pursuit of perfection. However, by acknowledging these challenges and adopting proactive strategies for overcoming them, Pakistani women can reclaim their power and resilience, finding fulfillment and success both in their careers and as mothers. Let us strive to create a culture that celebrates the strength, determination, and unwavering spirit of working mothers, empowering them to thrive in every aspect of their lives.

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