Childcare and the sharing of when you're a working mum. Discuss. It's a minefield I've been negotiating for the past eight years, and one that has really peaked in its need to be properly organised since I've been separated from my son's dad.
I read an interview in the Times last week with Helena Morrissey the founder of the 30 of director posts in companies held by women by 2015. She says that women should be getting their husbands to stay at home and look after the kids if they want to achieve success in the workplace.
Helena, who has nine children, and a job as chief exec of Newton Investment management said that women need to be realistic about work and childcare, claiming:
"The idea that a woman can have a family and friends and hold down a difficult, high-octane job when both partners work full-time – that is a very tall order. I am not saying it's impossible, but it's a bit unrealistic'.
Hurrah. At last someone speaks a small amount of sense about the realism of 'having it all' – a small amount because achieving it IS more than a 'very tall order' and she SHOULD be saying it's downright impossible, because generally, it is.
My own problems with working around a small baby, then a toddler, then a school-age child aside, I've lost count of the number of rasping, choked up female friends I've had on the phone after just a week back in the office after maternity leave – the same ones who 'needed' to go back to work either for financial reasons or for escape (the 'to keep a part of me alive' chestnut).
Seven days in, they were all on the verge of a breakdown either through the pressure of work, inadequate childcare (childminders going sick, nurseries providing rubbish care, child being too ill to attend), the feeling of no longer being part of the office 'scene' or the fact they missed their baby and just couldn't cope with putting their 'business head' on at 6.30 in the morning when their house was full of pooey nappies, screaming tots and a dithering husband.
Weekends were spent trying to recover from the stress of work AND cleaning up seven days worth of breakfast dishes, and arguing with their spouses about whether they could afford a cleaner/nanny/au pair and/or just do without the second salary. Most of them ended up quitting work for good after six months, swiftly hatching out another offspring, and taking on more family-friendly part time work or, SHOCKINGLY to their career-minded colleagues, staying home until their babies were of school-age.
Morrissey's solution though is for couples to discuss which of them should give up or take a back seat with their career to take on more childcare. It's a decision she and husband Richard, then a journalist, made when they were expecting their fourth child. He stayed at home, she returned to the boardroom.
I also know people who have made this decision, and again, it never seemed to last the course from what I witnessed; every new term at playgroup used to herald another new house husband's arrival, bumbling red-faced through the door, apologising profusely for skinning mums' ankles with his out-of-control buggy and valiantly trying to join in conversations about leaky nipples and 'getting back in the saddle'.
They would be silently replaced with a different token male the following term, the last one oft witnessed briefcase in hand marching jubilantly to the station and to his office, basking in the glow of his escape. The offspring would then return with his/her mum who would would explain that she 'missed' the baby too much, her husband was struggling to cope, (read: handing the baby over to mum the SECOND she walked through the door each evening) and so she had decided to give up work after all.
But for Morrissey, the house husband seems the ideal solution: she maintains her vast salary, pops out lots of children, and her husband obviously delights in his role of stay-at-home-dad. Or does he?
The interview went on to reveal the couple have a nanny to help him out with the care of their six daughters and three sons (aged between two and 19) – which he combines with his new job as a Buddhist priest...
Morrissey says she works up to 60 hours a week, and gets up at 5am to organise the kids school clothes and breakfasts, but always tries to be home by 6.30pm.
It's great that she's striving to empower women in the workplace, but really – with nine kids and that kind of schedule, how can anyone have any kind of life? Surely it's just one long, continuous agenda-like existence, ticking tasks off along the way, and having no differential between boardroom and bedroom? Is that really conducive to family life? And by having a nanny, is her partner really a house-husband at all, or just a dad who works from home?
What do you think?
How do you split childcare?
Do you think it ever works having dad stay at home and mum return to work? What do you think of high-flying career women like Helena Morrissey?