Thursday, 30 July 2009

Have been suffering from dizziness since Monday every time I move and after succumbing to a visit to the doctor today, discovered vertigo is common to women of my age.

Feel life is trying to send me a message here, vertigo of course being so compatible with a lifestyle featuring two children under the age of seven and a full time job as chief officer of a communications company.

Two very good articles in the Times today. Alice Thomson writing about why career advice to needs to make young women aware not only of the realiities of a career but also of working life as a mother (ttp:// and an article by Vanessa Lloyd platt (http://http// on whether life as a high flying legal mum is just too hard. Both worth a read, for ourselves, and for those of us with daughters.


Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Working mother suicide

The headline blasts my eyes from the front page of tonight's London Paper: Suicidal Mother's Final Text An inquest today has ruled that a successful lawyer, a working mother with three daughter's, a year younger than me, committed suicide by throwing herself into the Thames at Richmond. The reason given - she was struggling to balance a career with family life. She was believed to have been perhaps suffering from post-natal depression.

I am at a loss to understand any of this.

Here is a tragedy indeed. I read the story torn between pity and horror.

A depressed woman, struggling, unhelped? It beggars belief.

A mother of three children preferring death? I cannot encompass this in a thought. It is too much to process.

Things come to mind. Toni Morrison writing about slaves who killed their children rather than see them be taken in slavery. More unthinkable information.

And today, a woman is so overwhelmed by emotions I cannot pretend to understand, and prefers to annihilate herself. I struggle to see this as a selfless act and yet I want to. I cannot believe that she could see beyond herself, blinded by her depression and its mental and physical anguish.

I look at the picture and she is a million working women that I know. And yet buried under a depression so deep that she cannot take a further step on this earth and chooses to plunge to her death.

How can this degree of pain and illness pass undetected?

I am not a religious person but a prayer comes to mind. God grant me the serenity To accept the things I cannot change; Courage to change the things I can; And wisdom to know the difference.

I pity Catherine Bailey. I am aghast at her act. I pray her children will find a way to understand and forgive their mother, and that their lives will not be affected by this act.

Though I wonder if that is possible.


Social mobility is a question of parenting too

I came home from this week-end after two weeks of sun-filled bliss to weekend papers raging with the depressing findings of a new report from the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions, Unleashing Aspiration. The main conclusion? That the millennium pretty much brought to a close the period of unprecedented social mobility which enabled me to aspire to become an entrepreneur in my 30s and a chief officer in my 40s having started out life as going to school on an assisted place because my family lacked the money to send three children to good schools. It turns out that the future for my daughters is much bleaker.

Now, as I have a 20 track record in PR I am familiar with the campaigning formula where you create a report with really, really bad news and you get all the middle class papers wringing their hands about it. It works every time. So I'm not panicking yet.

Having said that, the editorials did raise significant cnocerns, given I have two young daughters. What do I do to help them avert the seemingly unavoidable fate of slipping down the economic ranks?

In the Sunday writer Andrew Martin exhorted parents to be pushy. Get them to switch off the computers and TVs and do stuff. Push, push, push.

But here's the thing. How did I really benefit from social mobility? Was it because my mother was pushy? Was it because I went to an independent school? Was it because I did music classes? Was it all of the above? I don't know. But one thing I do know was that growing up with a single parent working mother, she was too busy to do most of the stuff that mothers who don't work get time to do for their kids, and this means, I had to do it for myself.

There was no cotton wool for me, no spoon feeding. And I wonder if that isn't the point? My upbringing made me realise the only person who was going to do anything for me - was me. And I'm grateful to my mum for that.

Research amongst recruiters shows that today's Millennials - or Generation Y - are much more dependent on their parents. They live at home longer, their parents write their CVs and covering letters, they even call up prospective employers and turn up at the interviews.

Many corporate induction programmes now engage with parents as part of the recruitment of graduates. That's graduates, not 16 year old school leavers. People with degrees.

In today's Metro, there was another survey, this time from the much less exalted Fruit Shoot, an organisation that doesn't benefit from having Alan Millburn as its chairman. Another PR tactic - but it works!

Entitled "Girls skip games" it reads "Traditional playground games are dying out thanks to Britin's growing 'cotton wool culture'. Just 24 per cent of schoolgirls regularly use a skipping rope and 37 per cent of boys play conkers."

Maybe social and economic conditions will mean that it will be much harder to aspire to high social mobility in future. But I wonder to what extent it's down to parenting and education and the "hot-housng" of our children which is increasingly the norm for the middle classes. Endless ferrying to "activities" that leave little scope for the imagination or the expression of personal will and desire, overwhelming surveillance, over-caution.

To my mind, there is absolutely no doubt that anyone who aspires to high upward mobility is going to have to prepared to take some risks, a few leaps of faith. But if everything you've ever done has required the encouragement, goading, reminder of a pushy parent - will you be prepared to do it? Will you even be capable of it?

I hope so. I fear not.


Monday, 27 July 2009

Holiday kids clubs

Holidays are fraught for working mother guilt. I never take childcare because of course, holidays are when you reassert yourself as the one and only mother. But of course that means I become the childcare on holiday. Does everyone have children who see going to the toilet as a source of amusement or is it just me? On a 13 hour flight back from my holidays the whole plane must have thought I fed my children nothing but fruit and liquids. Still. I now know there is only one way to holiday guilt-free and without childcare - the magical land of the kids club. The quality of the kids club is going to be the sole hotel selection criteria moving forwards and I can strongly recommend the facilities at La Residence ( It was the first time my children actually asked to be taken to the kids club - more heavenly than the spa!


Always after 10

In almost any nation, almost anywhere in the world, I would bet that the secret life of the working mother begins after 10. Work finished, children in bed, hopefully settled, husband fed, sometimes by his own hand, hopefully sated. Everything tidied, notes left for the childcare, the cleaner, the window cleaner. Blackberry checked one final time (almost last time that is - what's midnight for after all?). Then it's out with the computer and on with connecting around the world. If only we really did all connect with each other, working mothers might actually feel less alone! Of course I can hear everyone say, stop with the complaining already, it's not only working mothers. Ah yes. But do you choose to order next term's uniform after 10? I doubt it. And were you woken up not once not twice but three times by your jet-lagged children? Also - I doubt it. Of course, you're thinking. Jet lag. Means holiday. Means far away location. Means not such a bad life after all.

And you would be right.