Monday, 26 October 2009

Nothing serious

Not sure how I stand in the balance of successful working motherhood today. Two little clinging girls telling me how much they miss me when they are at school make me want to give up the balance altogether. But then spoke to my friend Cathy and fellow working mother, who has been through the most traumatic year, winding up her business and setting up a new freer, more fulfilling, freelance business - and I believe anything can be possible.

Still looking for new childcare - so if anyone out there knows anyone experienced at childcare looking for a job, post me a post!

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Do women really want to work?

A new CPS report written by Christina Odone, and based on YouGove research (read it here: suggests very few women want to work full time and truthfully, many working mothers would rather not work at all. (If you read the research also read Mark Easton's analysis of how the research may be skewed here:

Meanwhile, a piece in yesterday's Telegraph by Emily Laurence Baker called Show me the Mummy (frustratingly, I can't seem to link to this for free, though in the paper it is headed in small type "The perils of modern parenting") gives advice on how working mothers can make their children feel loved. Amongst the don'ts it lists that you shouldn't tell your children that you find your colleagues more interesting than children's playgroups - I agree with the sentiment - nor that "your work buys the extras" - ditto. It doesn't however seem to address the issue of what working mothers ought to say to their children about why they work. Is it economics or mental sustenance?

So here is my manifesto. I've probably said it before but I'll say it again. I love my children. I enjoy my work. At the moment, working and being a mother is tricky. There are many areas of incompatibility which make trying to do both a cross between contortionism and juggling. But that is because most work is organised for men, and of course fatherhood doesn't place the same pressures as motherhood does. No one questions why fathers go to work because it is the tradition. And I'm not knocking it! Fathers going to work is good too.

I go to work because I had the good fortune to have one of the best educations available and I think it is pointless to waste this on activity which I can delegate to a very capable person, who also needs and wants work, who enjoys it and wants to do it. And I think I can do this without damaging my children.

Working full time is in many ways easier than working part time - the childcare options are certainly much easier.

I sometimes think I would rather work part time - truthfully, I think everyone would like to work less.

I also believe that if the compatibility of work and motherhood is ever to increase, then ducking out of the workplace because it is a bit hard, or because we get a bit criticised is, well, a bit rubbish to be honest.

If our daughters and our son's wives are ever going to have a hope of being mothers and workers, then we need to stick at it, not worry about the labels, nor the perceived criticisms - and keep trying to find ways to make it easier and better.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Am I happier?

New research suggests working mothers are more hurried, more guilty, probably at work because they enjoy it as much as because they need the money, possibly making their children unhappy, but they are also happier.

I'm going to say a huge HURRAH to that. It's certainly true of me. Work isn't always perfect, and the pressure is sometimes intense. But I enjoy the professional side of my life. Do I enjoy it as much as the mothering side of my life? And if forced to choose, would I choose it? No, and no, of course not.

Perhaps it's because there's an important unvoiced aspect of work/life balance which is the importance of that balance. Work/life needs to be in balance, one shouldn't dominate over the other, but the two are parts of a whole, they support each other. Lose one and the other loses part of its semblance.

Two good friends of mine are annually told by their accountants and sometimes their husbands that they don't have jobs they have paid "hobbies". This is seen as something vaguely comical, like they are being taken in. As though work has no function unless it is linked to high and often disproportionate remuneration.

To me this completely misses the point. Call them paid hobbies or work, to many women, maintaining a professional self is key to the ability to main the "life" self, the ying/yang if you will not just of being happy people but of being happy and capable mothers.

Incidentally, none of these mothers has fat, unhealthy, layabout children. In fact, none of my working mother friends has more unhealthy children than any of my stay at home mother friends - who also incidentally work very hard at many unpaid tasks.


Tuesday, 29 September 2009

We make them fat too

New research ( in the Journal of Epidemiology and Health shows that children of working mothers are much more likely to be couch potatoes and eat junk food. They get driven to school and many eat less than two of their five fresh fruit and veg portions a day.

It's been reported in the Daily Mail, the Times, the BBC. I can feel the guilt weighing on my shoulders - though we never drive to school and there's more fruit and veg at home than almost anything else.

But there's no question that it's tempting to take short cuts when you're tired and overworked, and when most of your friends are just like you, so you all support each other in thinking it's ok, and that it's just once in a while when the healthy snack is replaced by junk - when actually it's all the time. If no one is looking...

But of course it matters. There isn't any point working if children suffer - but actually, there's no reason why children shouldn't have as healthy a lifestyle, irrespective of whether we work.

Though it does take a little extra planning and effort - and it's a little harder than just giving in to every single temptation and bribe that all children long for.

The Blame Game

Research was released today in the UK that "working Mums raise unhealthier children". While I won't get into the details of the research as you can read it yourself at ( or (, it is clear that blaming working mothers for the decline of the health of children (and society in general) is still headline grabbing and popular.

Come on - give me a break!

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Top in business but what in families?

Today the FT published a list of what it's panel considers to be the world's 50 most powerful women in business ( It is a daunting list. Sleek hairdos, restrained make-up and pearls a-plenty. I can't imagine many of these women packing school lunches at 6.00am, or coaxing a four year-old into lacy socks, or texting during their children's open assembly at school.

Do I admire these women? Absolutely - I more than admire them. I see them, and the thousands of other women in positions of power and emerging corporate power around the world as an absolute necessity in balancing a workplace which is too dominated by male values.

But I wonder how many sacrifices they made along the way?

Working Mother UK is currently running a survey to understand better the needs and pressures facing high achieving working mothers. We've had almost 40 responses so far - and almost 50% of these have said they feel guilty about not being a full time mother.

The majority also believe they are more efficient at work because they are mothers - and only marginally less efficient as mothers because they work.

But the emotional pressure is still huge.

My eldest, who is only seven, has been crying a lot recently. A friend - another mother of a child at her school - told me that she'd been crying in assembly. When I asked her why, she said it was because her little sister was all alone, and had been looking around as though she were looking for me, and couldn't see, and looked like she was about to cry.

Today we went swimming. I organise their swimming lessons so they both swim at the same time - and so do I. She went off with her teacher, and as I watched, she burst out crying. So I went over to her and asked what was wrong, and all she could say was, I don't want to swim on my own, I miss you so much mummy.

I hugged her hard - and sent her off to her lesson, which she really enjoyed.

But that isn't the point. The point is that the pressure on working mothers and their children is enormous. I don't blame employers, I think the reasons are far more subtle and fundamental.

The same survey is showing that most mothers don't feel that having a child has affected their career prospects - except in terms of salary - so blaming employers is not on.

But the pressure is on.


Thursday, 24 September 2009

Hairy legs

What is it still about women and hair? Hurrah that it's now ok for a size normal model to go down the catwalk but Gwyneth Paltrow can't have a few downy blonde hairs without causing a scandal in the LondonLite ( Now I'm not defending her. Nor am I going to pretend that she's a working mother like anyone who commutes five days a week and blogs when midnight is approaching and the whole of the family is asleep. But I'm glad she has more to fill her days than mindless shaving and waxing when she's just popping out for a bite with Chris!

I want to quote Miranda in that "memorable" scene in the SATC movie, where the four of them are sunbathing in Mexico and Samantha is aghast at Miranda's bikini line. Tolerance for body hair is second nature when the day to day is dominated by the demands of a big job and a little person.