Glitter, Guilt, And Gigabytes Of Unheard Voice Notes: The Not-So-Glamorous Life of Today's Working Parents In The UAE Here's to us, navigating through assignment storms, cuddle demands, and unwavering love, whilst maintaining a semblance of professional composure.

By Ruwaida Abela Northen

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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How is it already the end of October? As the month draws to a close, the eerie glow of Halloween is just around the corner, casting shadows and whimsy in equal measure. Parents find themselves entangled in a bewitching dance of jack-o'-lanterns and costume hunts, adding a spectral twist to their daily routines.

It's been a little over two months since school gates swung wide here in the UAE, welcoming back the flurry of pupils with their boundless energy, whilst simultaneously unleashing a tidal wave of emails, voice notes, and calendar invites to the dreaded parent-teacher association (PTA) meetings upon the already fraught parents.

It's quite the spectacle, this back-to-school tango for us who call the UAE home. On one end, there's the bliss of quiet, early evening hours, thanks to worn-out kiddos too knackered to rebel against bedtime. On the opposite end, we, the parents, are thrust into a rigorous jive, side-stepping a deluge of school communications, whilst trying not to trip over our own feet, or, more accurately, the myriad of toys cluttering our living spaces, and managing a full-time job, maintaining a social life, and remaining in love with our spouse.

Schools, it seems, have unilaterally decided that parents, with our seemingly infinite wisdom and never-ending patience, have also miraculously obtained a degree in emergency event management, specializing in last-minute costume production- because, of course, Amazon Prime's same-day delivery is our fairy godmother ahead of tomorrow's dress-up day. But the pinnacle of irony here comes, garnished with a generous dash of absurdity, in the well-meaning concern of my eight-year-old's teacher about his struggles to balance emotions. To which I, suppressing a manic laugh while reminiscing about my last breakdown over a misplaced coffee cup, replied, "Lady, please. I'm 38, and I still struggle to balance my emotions daily!"

Welcome to the slightly unhinged, utterly bemusing world of a working parent navigating through the ever-so-rigid realm of school schedules and demands. A place where my roles diversify from parent and professional to include master baker, phonics guru, and fervent negotiator of the treacherous seas of school communication. And, oh, did I mention I have four kids?

Related: Striking A Balance: Juggling Parenthood And Entrepreneurship in the GCC

The Late-Night Costume Designer

Picture this: it's Friday afternoon, I am plotting a fun and relaxing weekend in my head, imagining the tranquil pause before Monday's chaos, disrupted abruptly by a chirpy ping from my smartphone. My youngest, it appears, needs to morph into a "unicorn space giant" for school tomorrow. I squint at the message, half-expecting it to morph into something less absurd upon a second look. Alas, no such luck.

There's nothing quite like the adrenaline that courses through a parent's veins upon receiving a last-minute, utterly unexpected school costume requirement. I find myself foraging through wardrobes, fervently wishing I had taken that beginner's course in costume design.

My youngest, blissfully unaware of the frenzy, dreams sweetly of candy floss clouds. Meanwhile, I attempt to transform him into a creature that I'm fairly certain is purely mythical, even in the fantastical world of space travel. Glitter is sprinkled; sheets are ravaged and refashioned. And suddenly, it's midnight.

In my desperate attempt to craft a unicorn space giant (what does that even look like?), I wrestle with the concept of schools' unrealistic expectations, and their perpetual inability to foresee the chaos that inevitably ensues in households across the land. Can no one, in that vast edifice of education, foresee the madness that precipitates from a simple, seemingly innocent message sent into the familial ether?

"Dear Teachers, a memo for you: Our homes do not double as 24/7 costume shops, and, spoiler alert, we parents are not, in fact, wizards capable of conjuring fantastical creatures from thin air (though admit it, that would be splendid)."

The Monday Morning Singalong

Ah, the blissful start of a fresh week, when every parent's heart is light, coffee is strong, and emails have yet to reach the terrifying triple digits. Imagine, if you will, my surprise, receiving an oh-so-cheerful invitation to attend a dance recital at 9.52am on a crisp Monday morning.

The internal theatrics begin- a dramatic monologue of whether to be the absent parent, or the uncommitted employee. You ponder if you dash out of work, sprint to the school, and catch just a mere glimpse of their debut as "Tree #3," would it count? Could you, in a panting, sweaty state, claim your parent points, and still salvage your professional reputation? Ah, but the truth is bitter: the scales of work-life balance never quite tip in favor of sanity.

So, I have two options: pen a regretful reply, bracing for the melancholy echo of unshed parental tears, and vowing to somehow make it up with extra cuddles as well as an apologetic scoop (or three) of ice cream post dinner. Because guilt is, after all, the silent seasoning of parenthood that no one warned us about.

Or, I could reschedule half my day, go watch my twins, adorned with branches, sway solemnly in the wind, whilst I, armored in my finest work attire, cradle my fourth coffee of the morning, and spend the entire time calculating how to tackle the email avalanche awaiting my tardy return to the office, and the unavoidable traffic that awaits.

Ironically, the scenario painted a perfectly absurd tableau: executives, entrepreneurs, and other professionals, all momentarily marooned from their careers, awkwardly squinting through the harsh stage lights, contemplating whether their hearty applause could be modified with a rapid email response.

A thought bubbles amidst the rhythmic clapping: what if we, the parents, scheduled a mandatory meeting with the teachers, say, during their lunch break? Oh, the uproarious laughter that would bellow from the staff room!

The emotional cost, notably the permeating guilt of seemingly recurrent inadequacy in both professional and parental realms, is seldom acknowledged. Mothers often grapple silently, compensating, accommodating, and sacrificing slices of their career to avoid being seen as absentee parents.

Related: Tips For Women In Business (From Women In Business)

A Sea of Communication (Or Miscommunication?)

Meet me, navigating through an ocean of assorted communications, paddling from emails to text messages, and then being capsized by waves of voice notes. Also, when did voice notes become an acceptable mode of professional communication?

The teachers, God bless their ever-enthusiastic souls, speak into their phones with a serenity that suggests they think parents, too, are surrounded by the soft murmurings of a quiet classroom- or perhaps not a classroom, but you catch my drift.

One can only chuckle when a voice note arrives mid-presentation from my three-year-old's nursery, thrust into my already buzzing world of professional chaos. I spot this 23-second voice note from the nursery, and then refuse to listen out of principle, because, frankly, if it can't be texted, emailed, or sent by carrier pigeon, it can't possibly be that urgent, can it?

My plea to transmute the voice notes into texts for the sake of immediacy and professional decorum was met with a firm "No, this is our policy," and they even attached a copy of said policy. It left me pondering whether my annual fees were sponsoring an educational establishment, or a steadfast fortress of unwavering bureaucratic resolve. It seems my significant annual investment in the nursery seems to assure my child a seat in coloring class- but my input on communication preferences? Not so much.

Customer Care (Or The Apparent Lack Thereof)

Drawing upon my experiences with the schools of the UAE, it's comically paradoxical that as customers, we seem to be positioned somewhere between the importance of "morning snack" and "leftover art supplies." How else to explain the rigidity in communication, the unyielding stances, and the casual dismissals of concerns?

My request to shift from auditory to textual communication, surely a mere blip in the vast sea of school management, was swept away with a nonchalance that had me stifling a bewildered chuckle. Was my plea for inclusivity in communication too wild a concept for an establishment that routinely charged the equivalent of a small car's worth for a year of kindergarten?

And here we land, slightly disheveled, and sprinkled with the remnants of glitter from the midnight crafting escapades, and we are still only at the first term of our tumultuous journey through parental woes (and the current school year) in a world where schools seem blissfully unaware of our secret double lives as working professionals. (I wonder how they think we pay for their school fees!)

The genuine question that thus sprouts from our shared tales of sporadic school demands as well as the perpetual juggle of parental and professional roles is simply, "Dear schools, can you not see the frazzled expressions hidden behind our professionally polite smiles?"

You see, amidst the numerous roles we flit between, from chief costume creator to silent, resigned listeners of eternal voice notes, there's a plea for a smidgen of understanding, a dash of empathy, and perhaps, just perhaps, a little flexibility on your part. Schools, in their rich tapestry of schedules, demands, and somewhat archaic communication means, seem to have skipped a lesson or two in modern-day parental dynamics.

Let's chalk it up, shall we?

  1. Timely communication Homework for schools: ensure all communications, especially those that demand parental action (hello, unicorn space giant costume), are sent with reasonable lead times.
  2. Empathy in scheduling Perhaps it's high time to acknowledge that a 9am recital, adorable though it may be, simply cannot trump an important work meeting. Let's synchronize our watches, and find a mutually agreeable time for these memory-making moments, shall we?
  3. Practical communication Schools, do tune into the fact that while your voice notes might contain pearls of wisdom, working parents might not have the leisure (or, indeed, the tranquility) to sift through them amidst their daily hustles.

In essence, schools and parents alike are juggling balls aplenty. A small glitch, a minor miscommunication, and it's all too easy for balls to be dropped, leaving us scrabbling on the floor trying to regain our dignified poise.

So, dear educational establishments, as you stand steadfast with your policies, schedules, and seemingly urgent last-minute demands, perhaps take a moment to glance -through the looking glass- into the world of parents who are fervently trying not to drop the ball(s).

Your assignment, therefore, dear schools, and I assure you, this will not be accepted late: Empathy & Effective Communication 101. Deadline? Well, it was due yesterday. But let's forge ahead, and consider it an urgent action item, shall we? Let's not allow it to be relegated into the abyss of unread emails and unheard voice notes in the busy lives of well-meaning, hard-working parents.

Because every unheard voice note, every missed PTA meeting, every absurd costume requirement is a reminder of our colossal love for these little humans, a love that propels us into endless cycles of glitter, guilt, and gigabytes.

Here's to us, navigating through assignment storms, cuddle demands, and unwavering love, whilst maintaining a semblance of professional composure.

Related: Unpacking The Dreamhouse: Where Barbie's World Meets Entrepreneurial Gold

Ruwaida Abela Northen

Managing Director, JRN Consultancy

Ruwaida Abela Northen is the Managing Director at JRN Consultancy.

With over two decades of experience tucked under her designer belt, Ruwaida Abela Northen has become a veritable virtuoso in the realms of consumer marketing, corporate communications, and high-impact campaigns, not to mention her finesse in public and media relations. Ruwaida’s odyssey began with the Corinthia Group in Libya, then she hopped over to Malta with Starwood, and further jetted to Bahrain with the Ritz-Carlton. From there, it was off to Qatar, where she worked her magic with Shangri-La Group.

Climbing the corporate ladder with agility and determination, Ruwaida ultimately ascended to the role of Vice President for PR and Corporate Communications, shattering glass ceilings as the first Arab woman to hold such a position in the company’s history.

In 2021, Ruwaida decided to chart her own course, establishing JRN Consultancy, a boutique agency specializing in luxury lifestyle, travel, and hospitality. With its headquarters nestled in the glitzy skyline of Dubai and representation in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, JRN embodies the spirit of a “journey.” A fierce advocate for female empowerment, Ruwaida has built an all-women team, who, under her guidance, are conquering the world one luxury experience at a time. 

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