My mother once said, “If you wish for something very strongly, people who support you will appear and open the way.”
I have learned that lesson the hard way in my life as I handled a vital job, graduate school, and, most importantly, being a single mother. Support from my colleagues at work, my professors at school, and my community has helped me.
My story: Traditions and responsibilities
Women, especially in Japan, have several traditional and societal roles—as wives, mothers and employees—and time management can be a challenge. Speaking from personal experience, I believe that with a strong will and the proper support, women can succeed in finding balance.
But for me, it has been a struggle. Upon my return to work after my second maternity leave, we decided as a couple to equally share the child-rearing and household chores, since my spouse wanted to maintain a dual-income household. Thanks to policies like flextime and work-from-home combined with the acceptance and understanding of my colleagues, I was able to better balance my life.
But a natural disaster made me re-evaluate my job and helped me decide to go to graduate school so I could change career directions. I wanted to study more because I felt distressed by role conflicts between being an employee, mother and wife after the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011.
Directly following the disaster, I worked as a project manager of the emergency-management team. As an employee, I understood my role and what needed to be done. But at the same time, I was also both a mother and a wife. And as a mother, first and foremost I needed to take care of my sons despite being on-call around the clock with my commitment as an employee. I found myself torn and asking myself, “Why only me?“
Although I understood that all the roles were important and could not be compared, these role conflicts continued to haunt me. Even after the disaster response had settled down, I still found it difficult to balance these roles.
My spouse had agreed to my desire to attend graduate school in principle, but the reality wasn’t so good. What I saw when I came home from attending school was a cluttered room and children who were being mistreated. No degree of being extremely busy at work is an excuse when your children’s welfare is at stake. I finally made the decision to live separately.
Going it alone and getting help
Since I don’t have relatives’ support where I live, I had to make some sacrifices as a single working mother. But what I found was colleagues, friends, professors and volunteers in the community offering to help me.
On weekdays, when I have an inevitable meeting or class I need to attend, this support community is there to care for my sons. And on weekends, my professors recommend bringing my sons to campus with me, where they have the opportunity to have conversations with various adults. Recently, I was able to complete my coursework–I now have a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Social Design. I applied for a role working on inclusion and diversity at Accenture, where I can put my recent education to good use, and am now working in that area.
I’m thankful that I can leverage tools like Skype for conference calls from home and policies such as flextime and work from home. But even more importantly, I’m thankful for my colleagues’ understanding and the various support I receive from my community, friends and colleagues. Now it’s my turn to empower others.