Earlier in the summer, a middle aged husband, lets call him Mr X, wrote an anonymous letter to The Guardian lamenting his wife for refusing to entertain the possibility of a return to work even though both their children have been at full-time school for some time. Indeed, the eldest is about to start college.
While Mr X refers to their comfortable existence with a nice house in a safe neighbourhood, annual holidays and so on, he is clearly in the throes of a mid life crisis, maybe even depression brought on by the pressure of a demanding career in law. He dreams of the day when he is able to take a less lucrative but less stressful position because his wife is finally bringing in an income, albeit a small one, and is angry that she has made no attempt to find a job. But is this realistic when a woman has been out of the workforce for many years?
Since publication, the letter has generated numerous comments from the middle class world the family belong to. Some of the most interesting remarks have been posted on Mumsnet and NappyValleynet, the SW London social network for mothers. Coincidentally, the family is reputed to live in Wandsworth. While some are supportive of Mr X, others rant that he doesn't appreciate the demands of bringing up a family and running a household while another commentator asks, "how do you get back to work after 10 years of no career?"
Well, last year I finally made the transition to working mum after over a decade at home following the birth of my first child in 2004. While I had always hoped to resume my career, a third child and a move out of London (yes, we were in Nappy Valley) had made me assume that this was only a remote possibility. However, my husband's redundancy made a return to work more of a necessity as opposed to a lifestyle choice.
Yes, it was terrifying and it would be an understatement to say I was forced to leave my comfort zone. Like many stay-at-home mothers, I had lost confidence and truly believed that no one would ever pay me again. It hasn't always been easy and in some ways I have never worked harder. But, 18 months later, I am a more content person with renewed confidence. My marriage feels more like an equal partnership and I am proud that I am setting a good example to my children.
But, I also acknowledge that certain factors were on my side. Realising that a long commute would rule out a return to my old career as an in-house PR, I set up as a freelancer. While I miss the companionship and banter of colleagues, I appreciate that I am fortunate to be able to work remotely and only have to juggle childcare in the holidays. I am also lucky that the redundancy occurred when our youngest child was in reception and not at a more demanding stage. Thankfully, things have worked out well. My husband has a new job and we are now enjoying two incomes for the first time in a very long time.
Returning to Mr X. While initially sympathetic of his plight, a second read of the letter made me wonder whether the husband has really considered his wife's feelings? He writes that he has "pleaded" with Mrs X to get a job but has he just ranted about his own predicament as opposed to supporting his wife and talking through viable employment options that might work for them both? Now that their children are older, it may well be that Mrs X finds her lifestyle of coffee mornings and exercise classes as unfulfilling as her husband finds his City career but perhaps she has no idea how to go about changing things?