Maria Elena Critto is a Sociologist, and graduate of Universidad del Salvador in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She is married with five children and has held research roles in the private medical insurance industry. She has a background in market research and PR.
What has your career path been like as a sociologist? How did you develop both your professional career and your family life?
My first job as a sociologist was with a PR consulting firm. I started working there during my studies. Later, I started working for a private medical insurance provider. We started a research department within the company and began to do studies and surveys to measure satisfaction and the quality of our services from the point of view of our clients and service providers. It was a very interesting and challenging experience, with an excellent team and work environment.
A year and a half later I had my first child, a girl. I really enjoyed my work and it showed. I took the legislated three months of maternity leave and went back to work. At first it was hard to leave the baby to go to the office, but I always tried to return home on my lunch break to breastfeed her. I was always excited to come home. I also made sure that my free time was focused on the baby.
When I had a lot of work to get done, I would stay late at the office and ask my husband to arrive early. It was tough to get in so late. I can remember the pain I felt, and even, on occasion, the tears that I cried when I spent the whole day without spending time with my daughter.
I remember the stress of trying to be in many places at once… I would run back and forth all day. But I made the most of each minute and made effectiveness a priority in everything I did. The help I received from my mother and sisters, who would take my daughter out during the day, also made an enormous difference.
When my second child was born, I kept up the same pace, delegating many tasks to a nanny, to whom I would give a list of different activities to do with the children each day according to their age.
When did you decide to spend less time at work and more at home? What was it like to make this change?
When my second child was born, my boss gave me the option of doing a lot of my work from home. I would go to work everyday and come home at 3pm to finish the day’s tasks. It was a great opportunity to have my work measured by meeting targets instead of making office hours. I was very committed to my work, and felt responsible for it. But I couldn’t have done it without the help of the nanny. She was my right-hand woman. When I was busy working she would play with the children and read books to them. She would also feed and bathe them sometimes.
When my third child was born, I had a team prepared at work to cover everything without my active presence. This is when I had the opportunity to take nine months of maternity leave and realised how much I was missing of my children’s lives. I enjoyed every moment of leave to spend time together.
But this time, when I went back to work, things were much tougher. I couldn’t sleep at night, got headaches occasionally, and even consulted a doctor. He helped me see the stress I was under by wanting to give 100% to my work and 100% to family life at once. It was clear that with three children, work and home life were getting out of hand. It was not the same as before.
It was a very difficult and painful time for me. I realised that my children needed more of a mother, and a more complete mother. Leaving my job was not part of my plans, but I couldn’t keep up the same pace. Deep down I felt that no job or professional growth could be worth as much as my family.
Thank God at that point were not under so much financial pressure. My husband didn’t want to influence my decision. He just listened and supported me. When I analysed the facts I realised that even the kids were giving me clear hints that something wasn’t right… That’s when I decided to quit. I submitted my resignation three times, and it was only accepted the last time around under the condition that I would keep working as an external consultant. The company gave me a great opportunity to balance work and home life.
My children were overjoyed to hear my decision and know that I would have more time to spend with them.
What did being a mother bring to your professional life and how did your profession contribute to family life?
Being a mother brought a more human vision to my profession. Thinking about others and their needs, including emotional needs.
My profession helped with organisation and effectiveness in family life. It taught me to delegate and plan.
Why did you decide to study at the school for parents?
The truth is that I asked myself so many times how it could be possible that I spent so much of my life studying and receiving training, but I never studied to be a mother. We often end up making decisions on a daily basis without much information or justification. But we also realise that the way we carry out our work in the home has an enormous impact on family life, and on the happiness of the people we most love… and even on our community and society.
What can be done to once again value the work of the home?
Firstly, we need for mothers to recognise the value that the work of the home has and its impact. We need to value the little things that we do each day in the home, and do them out of love, with a spirit of service, thinking of others, of our loved ones and our society. Too often we attribute more value to formal, well-paid work as recognised by society, and we forget the true worth of the little acts that we carry out in the comfort of our homes.
Secondly, we need to recognise the value of our role as parents. We need to dedicate time everyday to doing things better. It is worth it to invest in our family.
The home is where the child learns to be a person, to socialise with those around them and with society. It is in the home where values are learned, where children learn to be independent and responsible, and where their basic needs are met. Our children are the adults of the society of the future.
This is where we can start building a better society. It is the cradle of society, where people learn, internalise values and acquire customs and habits.
Recognising the value of our work as parents means restoring the value we see in these little things that take place in our home. This means giving them space, and to give them space we need to slow down and dedicate quality time to our home. We also need to recognise the value of our example.
If you were to return to work full-time, what part of what you do now in the home would be too essential to give up?
I wouldn’t give up family meals. I wouldn’t give up time together to converse and to listen to one another. I would make sure that they knew that they can always count on me. I wouldn’t stop telling them how much I love them and how proud I am of them. I wouldn’t stop hugging and kissing them. I wouldn’t stop being available for them when they get home from school. I wouldn’t stop doing activities with them (reading, playing, etc.)