I'm a lawyer working in the City for a major law-firm. I have a husband, and a two-year-old daughter. Last month, my first novel was published by Random House. The question I was asked by everyone? "How on earth did you find the time?"
The truth is I am lucky enough to have what many people would consider to be the perfect work-life balance. I work as one half of a job-share alongside a brilliant lawyer who manages to juggle her side of the job with three children while also working as a trustee for an international human rights organisation. I work from Monday to Wednesday, leaving my daughter Freya with a nanny on those days, whilst my job-share partner works from Wednesday to Friday. In our shared day in the middle of the week clients get two lawyers for the price of one.
I know just how fortunate I am to be working this way. My job-share partner and I are pretty much unique in being able to work on high-profile cases with important clients, and both colleagues and clients find the set-up intriguing. Very few employers would be so accommodating, but the firm is big enough to be able to build a handful of senior level job-share arrangements into its corporate structure, and the powers that be are openly keen to encourage women to stay in the job after they have had children.
So, is my life really as perfect as it sounds? Well, ask me when I've finished hanging up the washing, going to the dry-cleaner's, picking up a parcel from the Post Office and buying the new plimsolls that Freya needs for her new pre-school. Almost inevitably, it is women who move into part-time work after having children, and almost inevitably that usually leaves them carrying the burden of what my boss calls the 'home infrastructure'. And there is a lot of that, as anyone with children, a partner and a property that needs maintaining will know. So don't get me started on the bigger feminist debate, or at least not until I've put together Freya's new Ikea book-shelves.
As for the work, I love my job and, much though I love my daughter, I would never have wanted to stay at home with her full-time. It is wonderful only being in the office three days a week (especially when the sun is shining and the ice-cream van is parked outside) - but as anyone who takes their job seriously knows, out of sight is not out of mind and during my non-working days I am often thinking about the office. Come Sunday, I will be giving up some of my weekend time to make sure I really know what has been going on while I've been away.
I have thought a lot about the work-life balance debate over the past two years. I have complete respect for any woman who is happy to go back into full-time work after children (my own mother worked full-time) and for any woman who is happy to stay at home. But no course of action is guilt-free, not even the course I have taken, and the true difficulty arises for the many women (perhaps the majority, perhaps all?) who fall somewhere in between - who want to work, but who also want to help their children with their homework or watch their Christmas plays; or who want to stay at home but not every day and who find that openings for part-timers are thin on the ground; or who are only marginally better off (or even worse of) returning to work once they have paid for child-care; or whose husbands would secretly or not-so-secretly prefer them to stay at home when they themselves would rather be back behind a desk. Work-life balance is not just about job satisfaction and parenting, it is about keeping all the other plates spinning - maintaining relationships with partners and family, keeping out of the overdraft as much as possible and making sure that someone still remembers to pay the gas bill and the TV licence. Throw one extra plate into the mix and you might feel like you're going to drop the whole lot.
So if you're still wondering how I wrote that novel, this is my secret: I took an unpaid sabbatical from work to do so - and it was before I had a baby!
Camilla Macpherson's debut novel, Pictures at an Exhibition, is published by Arrow Books £7.99
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