I have always believed we can conciliate the many facets of our lives – personal and professional, hobbies, sport, etc – and for me the concept of “conciliating” comes very naturally.
Maybe this was due to the fact that in my family this was not really the case – while Granny was a housewife and totally dedicated to her family, Mom was very much the opposite and very much career-driven. In my case, up to a certain age I was adamant I would conciliate marriage and career, and later on, when I decided to have children, I was as determined to find some balance between all these facets of my life – as I wanted them all.
I never felt I was sacrificing one aspect too much for the benefit of another – one day I would give up something related to my family in favour of my work, but on the following day I would put put my family first. Sometimes it was hard, as on the day of my first business trip after becoming a mother. My son Afonso was some six months old and I was going to Madrid for only one day!, but even so, as I went down the stairs of our building and looked back to see him in Mimi’s arms waving at me with his little chubby hand I felt the tears running down my cheeks…another time it was his school Christmas party and I had a meeting with my American boss at the time. Although I had warned him beforehand I would have to leave early and he understood the reason, there was a lot of traffic (December in Lisbon is awful in that aspect!) and I had to park the car very far from the school, and then run up the hill to get there. When I got there, breathless from all the running and feeling that at any moment I might have a heart attack, the function had already started but fortunately his performance was about to begin, and as I waved I could see he was happy to see me there. He never knew I had barely made it!
For several years I also lectured at a professional school in addition to my work in companies of the financial sector. It was something I really enjoyed and I usually kept a very good relationship with my students. Sometimes I would have lunch with some of them and we’d keep in touch; some of them would also call me from time to time to ask some question about the subject I had lectured. It was natural that we would talk about our respective lives, and no doubt I, as a proud mother, talked about my little boys and how I conciliated an already booming career with my life as a wife and mother.
One day, at forty, as I arrived at a new job one of my former students, a girl, was part of my team. By then she was married and the mother of two girls, and one day she told me she often thought of something I had told her several years before, when we had accidentaly met on the street a few weeks before her wedding. I had to confess I didn’t remember that conversation, and she went on to tell me:
“ I shared with you my apprehension about conciliating marriage and children with an ambitious career, and I remember your telling me something that I have never forgotten – you said : ‘ You can conciliate all – as long as you want to’ ”.
I laughed and told her I was very happy that my motto had been inspiring – and that I truly believed in it, in fact it was someting I put into practice every day.
And then she went on to say she thought I should write a book about it, as it might help other women as it had helped her!
I had never thought about it, and left it at that, but we kept talking about it as a joke between us. This conversation in fact helped me realise that “you can conciliate all” was, in fact, one of my mottos in life and something I strongly believed in – and still do.
I have not yet written a book about it, but who knows, I still might, some day. However, I don’t think my experience is different from that of millions of women –and, I would add, and increasing number of men as well – who get up early every day, dress and feed their children, take them to school, then go to work and face demanding jobs, run to do some errands at lunchtime, then get their children from school (unless they are lucky enough to have grandparents or help who do that for them), run home to cook dinner, help their children with their homework, put them to bed and read them a story and then succumb, exhausted, in front of the television…how these women still find time for romance with their husbands or companions – some still do I suppose – and to go to the gym twice a week, once in a while to the hairdresser and a few times a month for a manicure, I don’t know…but somehow most of us do it and we survive. Some people who still have the old-fashioned look that women should be wholly dedicated to home will say that this is not living, but barely surviving, but what these “conciliate all” women have lost in time and serenity they have gained in independence, autonomy and relevance of their role in society. These women have jobs, careers, they earn their money, they have a say in the decisions at home…and whenever their marriage is not what they think it should be at least they have the option to get out, unlike their mothers and grandmothers who often had to put up with abusive husbands or loveless marriages just because they had no other options…
Women who conciliate all may have a hard time doing it – yes, we have no spare time; yes, we are tired, sometimes exhausted; yes, sometimes we have no energy at all; yes, sometimes we’d give all for a good night’s sleep, for a day at home doing nothing at all…but then we are addicted to our hectic schedule, to our bag with files that we have to read over the weekend, to our life at the office, to our daily challenges at work and most of all to our professional achievements! And we are also keen on being dedicated mothers to our children, to going to school meetings and knowing the exact dates of their tests…we also want to go out on a romantic date with our husband or companion, and to meet our girl friends for coffee for that special gossip that only women can share…in addition, we also want to pursue our favourite hobbies and of course we have to keep going to the gym as we want to keep in shape.
In the end it’s very simple– we want to have it all. So conciliating things is not really an option, but something we need to do in order to survive. As I have done it – and still do -, as the girl who worked with me does, as our neighbours, our colleagues, most of the women we know do it. It is part of our nature.
Before I finish, a word to men – you will do this next; in fact many of you are already conciliating family and career to the best of your ability. Learn from us because we already have a “doctorate” in this. You’ll be more tired, no doubt – but you’ll also be better husbands, companions, fathers, because of it. And, certainly, more complete, because a person who conciliates the several aspects of life is, undoubtedly, a much richer person. And I’m not talking about money, I’m talking about the satisfaction that a multifaceted life will bring you.