Managing Children and Cases: Motherhood in the MBA (Part II)

Athary Almubarak (Class of 2017) came to Barcelona to start her MBA with her two young children, ages 2 and 7. How did she prepare for this big step and how did her family adapt to life in Barcelona? This is the second of a two part post featuring student mothers at IESE.

Can you share with us some of your thoughts when you were planning to do your MBA? Did you have any concerns about managing your children together with your studies and career goals?

Managing the full time MBA along with two children is not something I imagined would be easy. During my first visit to IESE, I remember searching for students who were mothers but couldn’t find any. Instead I had a conversation with a father, who told me while his wife is a stay at home mom, he still finds great difficulty managing his studies. This was a little discouraging but I told myself, with the right mixture of determination, time management and support, I would be able to successfully manage all my responsibilities.

My main concerns were related to time management. I had concerns that due to my responsibilities as a mother, I would not have adequate time to fully analyze and prepare for case discussions on daily bases. I also had concerns that my classes and my children’s school schedule would conflict since I had to take them to and from school every day. I also did not want to miss out on important life events, especially since my son was less than a year old when I was starting the program. The good news is that I was able to overcome all these issues.


I’m sure it would be very difficult to do this on your own. How have your partner and your family been supporting you during the process?

Without my husband’s and family’s support, this would have not been possible. I have great parents who raised me to be ambitious and hardworking. I was in the same position as my kids when my parents were pursuing their higher education abroad and with determination and commitment, I witnessed them achieve their ambitions. Their personal and professional achievements thoughout the years were a great source of inspiration for me. I am also blessed with an understanding husband who encouraged me in so many ways.


Great to hear that! How have the school, your classmates and professors been supporting you through the process?

I found amazing support in the IESE environment, which started before I arrived in Barcelona. Since my children’s school starts at 8:30am, the MBA office enrolled me in a section to accommodate this timing. My team was very considerate too. During the first year, we scheduled our daily meetings in the morning or during lunch breaks so I can be with my kids in the evenings. My mentor, professor Carles Vergara along with other professors were all understanding through many situations, for example when I had to miss a deadline because I was in the hospital with one of my children or when I had to leave class for an emergency at their school. I have to thank Career Services as well; during my first year I had to miss many career workshops and activities but when I reached out to them over summer break, they helped me to catch up.

The best example was when I had an exam and my children’s school was closed for holiday. My daughter ended up spending the day with the MBA office and it is one of her most memorable days. Every once in a while she asks me about the nice people she met there.

Athary Almubarak faced many concerns starting her MBA with two young children but overcame them with careful planning and generous support from her family, friends and IESE

Athary Almubarak faced many concerns bringing her children to IESE but overcame them with careful planning and generous support from her family and IESE

How did you prepare for your move from Saudi Arabia to Barcelona?  

The first natural step was to search for MBA students that were in a similar situation. However, this was not easy as most parents in the MBA program were male students married to stay-home mothers. So my family and I had to visit Barcelona prior to making my decision to move. We visited all the nurseries and primary schools surrounding IESE, I visited IESE on Admitted Weekend to know more about the typical day and how I would be able to align this with my other responsibilities. We checked the housing options and explored the the city. After we felt more comfortable, we went back to Riyadh, packed our bags and arrived in Barcelona one month before school started to give us some time to settle in.

Then school started! The first term was a roller-coaster! I thought of quitting almost every two weeks. It was full of sleepless nights and stressed out mornings. I had to become ultra organized, planning everything in advance. A number of things that helped were using online grocery shopping services that saved much of my time and enlisting hourly domestic helpers to assist with some household chores.

During this time, I became much more efficient in my personal life. I realized it’s all about recognizing where the challenges are, and learning to develop workarounds. After my first term grades were out, my confidence was boosted, things were put into perspective and my stress level went down.


Now that you’ve settled into your Barcelona life, how have your children adapted?

They adapted better than I expected. They really enjoy their school, made friends with people from different nationalities and got exposed to a different educational systems. I believe this will better shape their personalities and make them more open in their future. They are even learning two new languages, Spanish and Catalan. When we first came here, my son Fahad, was just forming his first set of words and it ended up being in Spanish which was amusing. 🙂

Barcelona is also very kid friendly. It is easy to get around by foot, we love passing by artists, performers and musicians on the streets and exploring fresh food, flower and flea markets in different neighborhoods. The city is also packed with parks that have everything like a boating lake, playgrounds, and grassland. The kids enjoy the lively, vibrant atmosphere.

My daughter Aljohara, loves art; and she is as fascinated by the art galleries as much as the adults. We learnt about the famous Spanish artists – Picasso, Dalí and Velázquez – and visited the works of Antoni Gaudí. Sometimes we go graffiti hunting and meet painters on the street. This really motivates Aljohara to draw and color immediately after.

Athary with Aljohara, 7 and Fahad, 2

Athary with Aljohara, 7 and Fahad, 2

That’s fantastic your daughter is inspired by the art in Barcelona too! In your opinion, how has having your children here changed your MBA experience?

The primary reason for doing my MBA was to integrate my technical career with a strong foundation of business knowledge as well as to expand my international outlook. In this area, IESE’s program was perfectly compatible with my needs. Through the “learning by doing” methodology, the world-class caliber of the academic staff and the diverse student body, I can say that up to this moment I have achieved my main goal.

However, the IESE MBA program offers much more than just academics. It offers Spanish classes that I couldn’t attend because it happens right when I have to pick up my kids from school. My class consists of very interesting and talented people, each with a unique set of culturally influenced viewpoints but there were social gatherings and networking events that I had to skip. There are a variety of student clubs but I was not able to fully participate in the activities because my plate was full. Finally, there were many treks and international modules that I couldn’t be a part of.

While having a dual role of an attentive mother and an IESE MBA student did not allow me to have the “ultimate” IESE MBA experience, I am very satisfied with my experience as I had expected this. This is why it’s important to set achievable goals and prioritize them well.


Any other words of advice to mothers or soon-to-be mothers planning to do their MBA?

Firstly, you have to understand that career advancement and children are not mutually exclusive. If this is really what you want, you will have the energy to do both. I would love to see more mothers coming back to school. Motherhood forces the development of some skills that makes them well suited for the MBA workload. You definitely need to be self-driven and resilient because going through an elite MBA with children requires a lot of work and can be exhausting, but trust me it is completely worth it.

Start planning for it as early as possible, make sure you have your support system figured out well in advance, whether it is daycare, a nanny or your husband. Define your priorities, list exactly what is it you want to get out of this experience and try to stick to them! It will be hard to do so, you can be easily distracted with the amount of options and opportunities you will be facing, so let the big picture be clear in your head and always refer to it. Remember that challenges are bound to happen, so don’t question your decision when you face them. If I can achieve this, you can too. Reach out to the resources around you and ask for help. Then pay it forward when you succeed. Good luck, and let me know if I can help.

Thank you Athary for sharing your reflections on your MBA journey and for your solid advice to future IESE mothers.

Camille Chow View more

Associate Director, Admissions (MBA '16)


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