The truth about ‘Having it all’

Today we are back with the wonderful Esme’s mum (or Julie if you prefer), who is giving us her take on being a working mother. It might be an uncomfortable post to read for some, and some of you may disagree, and believe that we CAN have it all. I have to say though, I completely understand Julie’s point of view – as someone who isn’t even working, just trying to make a success of this blog,  and only has the one child, I feel like I am constantly compromising, between being a ‘good mother’ and putting everything I want to into my ‘business’. It’s a constant tug of war, and whatever I do, I feel like I’m not giving 100% to anything. It’s frustrating, and I would love to hear from others of you who HAVE made it work, and feel like they’ve done a great job at both being a mother, and forging ahead with their career. But before that…let me pass you over to Julie…

Is it really possible to have a career (and not just a ‘job’) and a family?  Well as someone who has tried I don’t think that it is and let me tell you why.

I had my first baby at 25, way back in the olden days of the mid 80’s.  In those days you had to have worked for a company for 2 years before maternity pay and leave was offered.  I know! How archaic is that?  I had only been in my new job for 10 days when I found that I was pregnant.  So I worked up to the very last minute and had to leave the job that could have been the start of a career.  Daughter no. 1 was duly born and I became a stay at home mother and then the thinking went – well I’m at home anyway so why not have my family now and return to work later?  So 19 months later daughter no. 2 arrived,  10 days early and she has been late for everything ever since.  Another 19 months after that the very unplanned son no. 1 arrived on our doorstep.  So 3 children in just over 3 years, how very Dickensian I hear you modern women shout.  Well it did feel a little like a workhouse for a while there.  Of course all of this time the children’s father worked his socks off to keep us all in a manner just above the breadline but as they say we were poor but happy.  Life was hectic, full of nappies and sticky furniture but it wasn’t intellectually stimulating for me.  I wish I was an earth mother full of the joy that I was doing just what nature intended, letting my body do what women’s bodies are supposed to do and revelling in my nurturing role.  Well I am very sorry to say that, as my children will attest, I was not that mother.  I wanted more, something for myself.

The father (we are now divorced so please allow me a little leeway here) worked in education so had long summer holidays so my escape route was open.  I would work during the summer and let the father/child bonding begin.  So started a long series of casual, part-time and poorly paid jobs fitted in around school holidays and children.

Then a tragedy occurred.  In 1990 our second son arrived at 29 weeks.  He lived for 16 and half hours.  His name is Sam.  To say that we were devastated is as large as understatements go but in order to pull myself out of the large black hole that was threatening to engulf me I decided I needed to be more.  More than a wife, more than a mother and really really more than the mother of a dead child.  But as you can imagine my self-confidence was at an all-time low, so I started at the bottom again and I got an evening  job working in a supermarket.  By now daughters 1 and 2 were at school, son 1 was in nursery and I wanted my foreshortened career to start again.  3 years after moving from part time admin job to slightly better part time admin job we had another surprise – daughter no. 3 (child number 5, if you’re keeping score) arrived, again at 29 weeks, but otherwise hale and hearty and just stubborn enough to keep going.

Then I did what I suppose most mothers have to do and I sent the youngest to a child minder and carried on working until I secured a full time managers role.  I was older than every other applicant and definitely had the most piecemeal CV.  But I’d done it.  At the age of 36 I was finally able to start my career.  This of course had its problems – what great situation doesn’t?  The new job was in another town and we had to move.  Forget the fact that we had already moved a few times for the father’s career, now all hell broke loose because I asked the recently early retired father to move for mine.  After much ‘discussion’ we did finally do it and he became the main carer for the children and I left the house every morning with my lap top and mobile phone to my place of work.  I continued to get promoted and then came the emasculating moment – I was now earning more than the father ever had.  He was stuck at home being less of a man because all he did was cook, clean and ferry the children around while I was out ‘enjoying’ myself.  What???  Well dear reader I did tell you we are now divorced.

I know that this is a very long winded way of getting to my point but please bear with me.  As a working parent, or rather as a working mother because I don’t think that this necessarily applies to the fathers, I have always felt that I have never done either role to my full capability.  When at home I thought about either getting a job or what needed doing at that job and when I was at work I worried that I wasn’t ‘there’ enough for my children.  I felt frustrated at home and selfish for wanting and liking being at work.  Maybe, I hear you say, I shouldn’t have had children?  But what would my life be like now without those 4 amazing adults?  Less bright that’s what.  For me it was worth the years of struggle and sacrifice to be where we are today.  If that’s what if took to get me here then, yes it was worth it.  Was it worth it from my children’s perspective?  I hope so but then you will have to ask them.

So please young thinking women go forth and multiply, have your children and enjoy them.  Have your career and work hard to get where you want to be but please heed the warning.  Be prepared.  Don’t believe all the celebrity twaddle – remember they have enough money to pay someone else to do the worrying – about family and career going hand in hand.  As a working mother you will have to sacrifice part of each role in your life to wondering whether you should be doing the other one better.  It will be virtually impossible to keep everyone happy and you will have to become a black belt in organisation and back-up planning.  You will have no time for yourself and it will take the Olympic organising team to arrange a romantic, sans enfant, weekend away with your partner.  But when you have done it and your family is grown you will be able to look back and say ‘I did that’.

Do it but be prepared…


Categories: Becoming a Mother, Becoming A Wife, Family, Friends and Relationships, Life Experience, Politics and Feminism
71 interesting thoughts on this


  1. Vivienne
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    We love Esme’s Mum, we do.

    My own mum had 4 of us, and suffered baby loss in between as well, so it was a long time before she was able to return to doing something for her. With my dad taking on a v traditional role (and farming doesn’t leave much time to do anything else, it’s probably the only other 24/7 job that exists alongside parenting), she had to rely on the support of her mum and mil to be able to return to education and slog for ten years before emerging with a well deserved PhD. Now that we have all flowln the nest, she has the opportunity to sit back and be proud of her achievements, but she will be the first to tell you it seemed impossible at times that it would ever happen.

    For me – a return to full time work before bump and his unconceived siblings go to school will be impossible – we are in the position where we earn too much to claim any sort of tax credit or benefit, but placing one chlld in full time nursery in our expensive city would render my return to work pointless as I’d earn very little on top of the fees. So, I will be embracing the time to be a stay at home parent and grwowing my doula business, and trying to contribute as much as I can to our family, and the outside world, without busting a ball over having it all. Because I don’t think I want it all – I’m quite happy with what I’ve got – a husband I love with all my heart, a place to call home, a wonderful family and a baby on the way. Right now, what more do I need?

  2. Becca
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    I love how you think two years for mat leave is prehistoric! Because whilst we get statutory mat (ooooh £127.40 a WEEK) for six months, living in London, that will just about cover the bills if we sit in the dark and don’t have a TV licence. We still need to have worked at the firm for two years before we get any decent-above-statutory pay.

    Whatever the mat leave is at full pay, I know I’ll have to go back to work straight afterwards because it’s my salary that would pay the mortgage. Its possible now (and I know people that have done it) that where the mother earns more, they transfer the maternity entitlement to him so she can go back to work and he gets the £127.40 statutory once the enhanced benefit has expired.

    On a non financial note, I really worry how it’s possible to have a career and a family. I know which I’d pick if it was a choice but it’s not about choice, you have to pay the bills. I have seen a lot of friends who are having children move back to their parents towns so its possible to share childcare with grandparents. That’s a solution I’d be happy with (and my parents suggested). So it’s not possible to have it all if you have to depend on your parents!!

    Congrats on having the courage to stand up for what you wanted to do and for getting where you wanted to be x

  3. Posted November 1, 2012 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    I think this is a wonderful post, genuinely laying out your story and the facts. I think that working and bringing up children simultaneously is bound to be a struggle, and I hope I’m fully prepared for that if my husband and I embark down that road.

    I was brought up by my father, who had no choice but to pursue a career at the same time as bringing up his three daughters. I guess I’ve always associated parenthood with struggle and compromise.

  4. Posted November 1, 2012 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    I’m really interested in the responses to this. If we were to have a child I wouldn’t be able to afford to go back to work due to childcare costs being greater than my wage. As somebody who puts great stock in their independence and ability to go out and earn a wage and has been prone to depression in periods of unemployment, I find this frankly scary. Would it be silly to go and have a family knowing all this, regardless of how much I may want a child?

    Great post. I think a hefty dose of realism is badly needed for everyone. These false ideas of a fantasy family life perpetuated by the media and society are damaging and unrealistic.


    • Lara Blue
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 9:34 am | Permalink

      Penny, I guess it depends on what brings on the depression during periods of unemployment- I know for me, being unemployed and struggling with it at the moment, it’s mostly the feeling of aimlessness in my daily life but there is also loneliness and a sense of the relentlessness of the task I am faced with. So, being home with a child would probably negate the first reason as I would have a definite purpose but might acerbate the other feelings.
      I think with these things it is to do with compromise and uncertainty but you need to look at worst case scenarios and decide which is ultimately worse for you and whoever else the decision impacts.
      Personally, having discussed it with my husband, we decided that whoever enjoyed their job most would go back to work, as long as it was financially viable as well. This is the problem though, isn’t it? As well as it probably being an idealistic decision by people who are clearly not considering having children in the near future, I’m pretty sure he will always earn more than me although if I’m earning enough to support us then it would be fine. However, then I wonder if, seeing as I would already had to have taken a career break to have the child, it makes logical sense for him to take a break as well and then I usually get a bit angry at the unfairness of it (not at him, in general). Sigh.

      • Posted November 1, 2012 at 11:20 am | Permalink

        Yep, exactly…. Life is unpredictable at the best of times, the spanner in the works will probably come where we least expect. The best we can hope is to crack on andhope to do the best we can!

  5. Katielase
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    This post is so timely for me. That’s not a secret announcement team, just it’s something I’ve been thinkin about. I am in a very lucky position, in one way, my husband earns so much more than me that he can pay our rent/mortgage and bills comfortably without me working. This means when I have children, I am free from financial constraint about what I do (unless G decides to be a stay-at-home Dad, in which case we shall be very poor but happy as my earning potential in my career is a bit peanuts!)

    The problem is, without financial consideration, if I work while I have children, it will be for no other reason than that I want to, if I do want to. That thought ALREADY makes me feel guilty and I don’t even HAVE a baby. This post is great though, because it confirms what I’ve been suspecting, there is no right answer, there’s a lot of compromise whatever you do, so if you can then you should do what you want to do and work as hard as possible to make it work. I find it very relaxing to think that having it all is a bit impossible, it means there’s less pressure to try for it, and more freedom just to go for what you want.

    K x

    • Roz
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 10:06 am | Permalink

      Katie I nearly jumped out my seat when I read the first sentence of your comment! No secret announcement :(

      This post is brilliant, it is something we have been giving a lot of thought to over the years and I’m still confused. My husband earns way more than me and always has and something about that really bugs me. I know it’s my competative side coming out but I look at how hard I have worked to get where I am and I just hoped that after a career lasting nearly 10 years now that I could at least say I earned the same a him – but that’s a whole other post! We are lucky in that I could give up work if / when we have kids but what if I don’t want to give up work? How do you make that decision in the first place?

      I think the comments on this post will make for a very good read! xx

    • Posted November 1, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

      It was really timely for me too – we’ve been having this discussion for a few months now, and while any action in that direction is likely to be a few years off, it’s definitely something I think about a lot.

      I’m the career-focussed one in our relationship, and will likely (once I finish my PhD) have greater earnings potential than my husband, who’s never been driven to pursue a career and is happy with just a “job”. If we have kids, I don’t think I could give up work – I’m simply not wired that way – so do we not have a child? Lots of thinking to be done!

  6. Fee
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    Julie, I love to see you on here. Your words of comfort to me via Esme earlier this year have stayed with me every day. 

    I always thought I would be able to ‘have it all’ but am now in the rather peculiar situation of knowing that in all probability I will be physically unable to work in any future pregnancy. I’m not working at the moment and it would be hugely unfair on an employer to start working knowing that I would have to suddenly stop and leave with no notice. Throw into that the cost of childcare if we are lucky enough to have children and it a becomes a confusing mess.

    I’m very lucky that my husband can pay our mortgage etc from his salary but I do miss my career – I feel very much adrift sometimes.

    However, I’m trying to fall back on the old ‘one day at a time’ strategy that’s got me through the last 3 months. Who knows where I might be in a year or five years time.

    And not working at the moment will hopefully give me time to finish the 5 half written AOW posts on my computer! 

    • Pickle
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

      Lovely to see you back on here Fee, I hope you’re feeling a bit better and look forward to the posts you’ve got up your sleeve!

  7. Posted November 1, 2012 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    So much stuff I want t say regarding this topic.
    First of all I really really want to be a stay-at-home mum if/when I have kids. I personally want to do that and do not like the idea of letting other people do childcare.
    And that’s all well and good if, as some of you say, you can afford it.
    But then what? I don’t want to have abandoned a career and end up 10 years behind anyone else my age and completely out-of-it and less qualified than a random 18 year old. Should I be planning a child-friendly/working from home/possible to go part time career already?
    Or should I just screw it now and open a cupcakery?

  8. Posted November 1, 2012 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    Financially I have no choice but to return to work for at least a year after my maternity leave had ended due to the fact that, in my struggle to get anything above statutory out of a company who have otherwise been very generous to me, I had to promise to repay anything above statutory should I decide not to return to work. If I return full time I’ll be working pretty much solely to cover childcare costs… but it will give us a bit better financial freedom while I’m on mat leave. It’s a sucky situation but we are where we are, it’s only a year and, thankfully, nowhere in the agreement did it say I had to return full time.

    Mentally I’m on a fence and switch sides on a daily basis as to whether my career is important to me or not, I studied for 7 years to become a software engineer, I won the class medal and a national award for my final year project… am I ready to just throw that all away after 2 years in the industry just because I’m having children? At the same time though, I’ve wanted to have kids for such a long time and I can quite happily see myself as a housewife but often wonder if it will be enough stimulation for me intellectually.

    Guess I’ll just have to wait and see!

    • Posted November 1, 2012 at 9:40 am | Permalink

      Fab post by the way Esme’s mum :) very timely for a lot of us! x

    • Posted November 1, 2012 at 9:43 am | Permalink

      Exactly! I feel bad that women nowadays can have these amazing educations, that I’ve been to a brilliant uni and invested in myself and my own intelligence… But then I “just” want to be a housewife.
      Feminist guilt. That’s what it is.

      • Posted November 1, 2012 at 10:27 am | Permalink

        There’s ‘just’ and then there’s making sure you bring up children with morals and ethics who ask intelligent questions and take care of the people around them.

        There’s no ‘just’ about that.

        Your education and intelligence are what help you do that.

        • Clare
          Posted November 1, 2012 at 11:28 am | Permalink

          I saw on ‘Child of our Time’ (so therefore it must be true), that the single most important factor in how well your child does at school is…the mother’s level of education. Above all other factors. Above the father’s education. Above the family income. Above whether the child goes to public or state school. Above everything.

          I found that fascinating. And heartening.

          • Posted November 1, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

            Oooh that is interesting!! I’m mainly concerned that I’ll turn our babies into computer nerds churning out code before they’ve even hit school :P x

  9. Posted November 1, 2012 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    We want children one day.
    I am the bigger earner at the moment.
    We don’t want to live near our families (long story)
    M would not feel comfortable as a stay at home dad.

    I will almost certainly need to look at returning to work.
    We have options, not the ones I’d like but we have them.

    As my mum always says: it is about making a choice, not necessarily making a sacrifice. I think it is how you look at the situation you are in.

    FWIW she stopped working as they could not afford childcare, when I was five dad had a massive heart attack and she returned to work part time while Dad took a break and decided what to do next. Part of her loved it, part of her felt torn but it was the best choice at the time. Once I was older (I am the youngest) she returned to work full time. She loves her job and is a bit of a perfectionist workaholic but has gone part time again to allow her time to do other things. All the time she sees it that her and Dad looked at the situation and made a choice that worked for them, not a compromise or sacrifice but a choice. I really like that way of looking at things.

  10. Posted November 1, 2012 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Food for thought. I’ve been thinking about this a lot just now, like Katielase not because I’m expecting, just because I’m 30 and you start to think about these things I suppose!
    I’m the bigger earner in my household, but my job is not permanent and I like it but it’s not my dream job (don’t think I have one of them!). My husband gets paid less but his job is permanent and he does what he wanted to do since he was old enough to read! If in a hypothetical world where I had a job that entitled me to maternity leave… then we would probably think about moving and having kids in the next year or 2. But we don’t. And it makes my head hurt thinking all the different permutations if we did have kids. I still don’t know but I’m pretty sure if we did I’d still like to work in some capacity, like Esme’s mum, I’m not sure I’d like being at home all the time.

  11. Posted November 1, 2012 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    This is a really really wonderful post Esme’s Mum. Probably my favourite AOW post of all time in fact. Just so thoughtful, honest, heartfelt and giving us a ‘real’ insight into parenting, not a false one, like famous people and blogs sometimes promote.

    The point I wanted to make is – and this has happened before on here when we’ve discussed parenting – 95% of the comments are about career, money, women’s feelings, women’s self esteem etc etc… Hardly anyone is mentioning the children themselves and what is best for THEM. Not us but them.

    I do take Anna’s point that intelligent, hardworking parents make for good role models for their children (I think that’s what you were saying). But seriously I think it’s important that the tiny people are considered in all of this and not just us, our careers etc. making a decision to have children is, essentially, in my opinion, giving your life mostly over to them for a few years.

    This is from someone raised by a single mum who had to work so hard that I never got to see her…

    • Posted November 1, 2012 at 10:59 am | Permalink

      I’m so glad you’ve said this! I’ve just deleted about a million comments because they weren’t coming out right but you’ve helped me focus.

      OK… so, I know mums (and dads) who leave their children at childcare at 7am and pick them up at 7pm. I know another little boy who is starting to get a Scouser accent on certain words,despite having two southern parents, because he spends every day with a Scoouse nanny.
      When I look at George that is not what I want. I don’t want him to have ten minutes with me in the morning where I’m basically hurling clothing at him and getting him in the car and then a short window in the evening for bath and bed time.

      Sometimes, I am bored and frustrated, I feel unappreciated and I seethe about how much my student loan is and how it’s going to take an eternity to pay it off. But then, I read all these comments and I know that George being happy and feeling safe, confident and looked after are far more important to me.

      I also know I am very fortunate to make that choice. It’s a choice made through having a husband who earns enough to pay the bills and also that any part time work I did would only cover the cost of childcare so isn’t enough for me. I know women that get so much more than the money from it though and do it for those reasons- purpose/adult company/little bit of extra money/routine etc etc I think that’s particularly true of teaching and medical jobs where you have to stay up to date and maternity pay is worked around certain amount of time spent working after the baby?

      Anyway, The other thing that blows my mind some days is that there just isn’t a perfect answer. Julie is completely right on that. If you want to see your children but you need the money what do you do? If you want to get part time work but still do the school run and go to the nativity play- what jobs are there that are what you’d like to be doing after a degree and other better jobs?

      I spend a lot of time with other parents these days and I can hand on heart say there isn’t one set where I could say ‘That! That is how it works perfectly’ everyone is just getting on with it as best they can. Some are working, some aren’t. Some are meeting me on a Friday morning and crying in to their cake but it’s not the same person every week – sometimes it’s the stay at home dads with exactly the same concerns as the mums and we all have a little vent every now and then and ponder about what the hell we should be doing. It can be ridiculously frustrating!

      • Posted November 1, 2012 at 11:12 am | Permalink

        Anna it’s so good to get an actual parent perspective in the comments… I guess it’s hard for those of us without children to imagine exactly how enormously life would change, and there’s certainly no predicting how we might react, or how our children would be. Do the best you can and expect to unexpected…guess thats what Julie’s point is too.


        • Posted November 1, 2012 at 11:24 am | Permalink

          Exactly. Amongst our little group there are people who had well established careers (in some seriously impressive jobs too I might add) who vowed they’d go back but just couldn’t physically commit to both so now they’re at home full time.

          The one thing I would say to all pregnant people, in fact I was tweeting with Aisling about this the other day, is that you really do need to find some other mums. Whether it’s through NCT or hospital antenatal classes or pregancy yoga or someone your mums cousin knows… whoever it is, and it can just be one person if you’re not into groups.

          You need someone else saying ‘holy shit!’ with you. Someone with older children is going to tell you not to worry so much or give you too much advice, your friends without children will be very helpful but they won’t know what it’s like to have no sleep and not be able to leave the house not covered in sick. So, I really would encourage, with all my heart, to get out and find a little support network for yourself. When your baby’s here it’s even easier to find a friend- go to play groups or coffee mornings or those weird dance/music class things and just find another mum.

          She might be completely different to your usual friends and you might not be friends forever but for that first period of time where you are at home and all the change is new and you don’t know what the hell you’re doing you are going to need that person.

          Personally, I HATE PLAYGROUPS! I do not go to them anymore and I only actually went a handful of times when George was little, I joke that I treated them like a fishing trip. I went, I spotted the most likely candidate for a friend and I invited her for teacakes and coffee down the road and we are still amazing friends. {The crazy woman’s had another baby since but I’ve stuck by her :) }

          And bam! There’s your person you’re going to obscebely overshare with and cry into cake with and muddle through all these issues in the comments in real time with. (Jack Bauer style)

          • Clare
            Posted November 1, 2012 at 11:39 am | Permalink

            I cannot say enough how true this comment is. As empathetic, and genuine, and kind other people might be, if they’ve not had a child, they CANNOT understand what you’re experiencing, and you will just feel like you’re complaining to them all of the time. Because being a mother is HARD. Like, really hard. And whilst you’re eternally grateful for your beautiful child, and the fact that they’re perfect, you’re also struggling, and figuring things out, and wading through a whole new load of emotions that you’ve never ever experienced. As well as being sleep deprived to a whole new level.

            I say all that, not to put you off, but to persuade all of your pregnant ladies to go forth and make friends with other pregnant people of similar due dates. That’s key too. Whilst it’s lovely to have friends with kids a year or two older, they are going through their own trials and tribulations, and cannot remember for the life of them what it was like to have a 6 week old, and what they did to cope. You need someone who is going through what you’re going through THEN.

            From experience, it’s also utterly lovely to see your child developing a bond with other children of the same age as them. That’s a huge huge bonus.

            Julie, thank you so much for bringing up this subject – it’s really interesting seeing how everyone’s feeling about all of this.

          • Posted November 1, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

            Anna, your posts have made me cry at work, darn it!

      • Vivienne
        Posted November 1, 2012 at 11:15 am | Permalink

        Thank you Frankie, for being brave enough to say it. I agree that as much as it is noble and right to show your children the way in life by leading by example, when they are very young, they aren’t going to be caring a fig whether Mummy or Daddy was ‘out there’ earning money. What they will remember is their parents being there, and sometimes we need to make the choice between our own levels of fulfilment on a professional/feminist level for a certain amount of time and hand ourselves over to a new way of life. It is entirely possible to build or rebuild a career after children – it might be harder, take longer and feel like more of a slog, but it isn’t beyond our reach

        • Posted November 1, 2012 at 11:27 am | Permalink

          Love this.

          • Frankie
            Posted November 2, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

            Love this too.

        • Posted November 1, 2012 at 11:54 am | Permalink

          I’m not sure. I remember from a really early age what my mom did (advocating for salvadoran refugees, which admittedly is a pretty awesome/unusual thing to do) and feeling super duper proud of her. And I’m still really proud of her as she awesomely consults and is generally fabulous in her 60s. She worked 3/5ths time so was around a lot for us as well, it’s a model that I’d love to follow though I’m not sure how possible it will be now that I’ve found out we’re having twins (!!)

          • Vivienne
            Posted November 1, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

            Twins – wow, wonderful news! I was about 7 when my mum started her HNC, followed by another year for her HND, before starting at university – and remember her studying long and hard for her MA (and pulling the plug of the computer out to put in my hairdryer when she was typing her dissertation – that was not a good day!!) I am immensely proud of her, but having her at home the majority of time made me happier than the fact that she was going to have a degree, and subsequent PhD which I can only really now appreciate now that I am a ‘grown up’ too

          • Clare
            Posted November 1, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

            Congrats! TWO BABIES!!! Eeeeeee!! xx

          • Posted November 1, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

            Woohoo more twinbles!!! When are you due? Ours are due to arrive early Feb :) x

      • Frankie
        Posted November 1, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

        SO good to hear your thoughts Anna. *prints it all out for future reference*

  12. Cheri
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    Its so hard isnt it? My husband and I are trying to conceive at the moment, but I will have to go back to work, probably full time, as I earn 3 times what my husband does. If anyone stays at home full time with our child(ren) it will be him. Having said that, I dont think I could I be at home all of the time, I dont think I’ll be a mumsy mum and I think I’d get bored (possibly controversial!). Ideally I’d like to work 4 days, but maybe doing long days to get the full time hours in? If and when we concieve there will a lot of thinking and planning to do!

    • Posted November 1, 2012 at 11:25 am | Permalink

      Bored doesn’t even come close some days!!

      • Cheri
        Posted November 1, 2012 at 11:55 am | Permalink

        Ha! I’m not sure I meant bored because I’d having nothing to do, but needing to have something else outside of family and home, is you see what I mean?

  13. Clare
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    This is fascinating reading ladies – I’m loving reading everyone’s thoughts.

    The one thing I would say is it’s a really good idea to have ideas about what you want to do if/when you have children. But, much like birth, you need to keep an open mind. What you believe NOW you will want, may completely go out of the window when you’re sat at home with your baby. Die hard career women may find that they can’t bear the thought of going back to work and leaving their tiny baby with a load of other babies for someone else to look after, whereas people who are convinced that they want to stay at home and look after their child full time, may find that actually, they need something more, and really want to get out of the house and go back to work. Either way, the guilt will get you one way or another.

    At the moment I’m a real mixture. I struggle with letting anyone else look after Emmi for a couple of hours at a time, let alone the thought of going out to work all day and leaving her – but equally, my goodness would it do my sanity levels a world of good to go out of the house sometimes and do something constructive and work-like with my time. It’s a juggling act.

  14. Katie
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for this post Esme’s mum. It has been very thought provoking.

    I’m self-employed, and intending to try and work around baby, with the help of family and perhaps a nursery, when deadlines approach. I really want to be around for the baby, and not stuck in an office all day, with someone else raising my baby. I think this is the best compromise.

    I’ve been looking at our finances, and do think that we could just about cope with me not working. I have recently been on a big frugal drive, and everything I’ve bought for baby so far has been second hand. My husband on the other hand, thinks I need to work. It’s not the day to day living costs, but life’s contingencies, and maintenance costs for house and car, which he says we need the money for.

    My husband’s a farmer. His sister’s both have very well paid jobs, and are also married to farmers. They both work part-time, with children, and earn more than their husband working fulltime, and this is after childcare. His family (parents live next door,) tend to compare me to husband’s high achieving sisters. I’m very different to them. I don’t think it would go down so well, with them, if I’m not working, and my husband’s drawings from the farm have to increase, resulting in less money for reinvestment. My husband’s family prefer to keep drawings to a minimum and build up their farming empire.

    Life is never straightforward. I think we just have to muddle through as best we can.

    I agree with Frankie’s sentiments about putting the child first. My unborn baby never chose to come into this world, as wonderful as it is, the world can be very trying at times, and I want to give baby the best possible start.

    I also agree with the comments about education, never being a waste. It reminds me of the quote – If you educate a man you educate a person, but if you educate a woman, you educate a family.

    Sorry for waffled post.


    • Frankie
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

      Really lovely points Katie.

  15. Crysta
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know for certain what I would do when I have children. Finances will probably dictate the answer, I suspect. What strikes me about this is the slight unfairness about it. When I speak to my boyfriend about the issue, it’s not something he thinks about. Yet here I am, already planning my career according to whether it would have a good work/life balance, even though it’s likely to be a while before I have children. I look at their maternaty leave policies, and whether or not they have flexible working hours when thinking about whether I want to work somewhere. I know that if it came down to it and I had to make a choice, I would give up my job. Family would come first.

    My mother has never had a career. She started off as a pre-school teacher (probably the equivalent of a teacher teaching Reception in the UK), but as her qualifications and 10 years experience meant nothing when my parents emigrated to England, she’s always done work that meant she was there in the afternoons when we got back from school. She’s spent far too long working for an employer that treats her badly, because the work ended before we got home from school. My father has only had to think about whether his salary will be enough to support us. It was my mother’s choice to do this, my father would have been happy for her to leave that job years ago and find something she actually enjoyed

    I cannot speak from a mother’s perspective, but I can speak from a child’s perspective. I wish my mother had a career of sorts. She never resents tailoring her employment around what we needed, but I know she would have been a happier person if she had a job that made her happy. Something that gave her satisfaction and a life outside of the home. If anything, I wish she’d had more of a career and my father had been home a bit more with us. I sometimes feel guilty for what I, as a child, took away from her. Both of my parents worked full time for most of my childhood (beyond 2 years my mother took out when my youngest brother was born). Perhaps it’s because they never had “high flying” careers, and so they were there every morning and home from 4 or 5 onwards, but I never felt they were absent in any way. They ensured they were there for us when we needed them and when they were with us, they made sure we got enough of their attention and love.

  16. Katielase
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    I do completely agree with all the comments above that say that having children, if you want to be there to raise them for a significant amount of their young lives, requires you to shift and reassess your own professional development and ambitions for a time, and make sacrifices. I completely agree that that can be important for your children. I think the thing that bothers me is that it is still the woman who, most of the time, has to do that. My husband, because he is older than me and earns MUCH more than I can earn, doesn’t have to worry about how having children will affect his career. It’s a given that he’ll work full-time and be there as much as he can. There is no such given for me, I have to battle my way through expectation, through what is right for my children, and what is right for my own mental health, and make sacrifices along the way. I’m sure when I have kids that I will love them more than enough to do that, but I do find the differing levels of expectation hard to come to terms with.

    K x

    • Roz
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

      Brilliantly put! x

      • Posted November 1, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

        Guilt, expectation, sacrifice…why is nothing ever easy?! We have the opposite problem. I don’t want my husband to give up the career he has built up, he’s brilliant at his job and loves it (most of the time!). But mine pays more. And therein lies the dilemma. He’d gladly be a house husband but I would feel guilty.
        And all this is assuming we can have kids, another post altogether…

    • Posted November 1, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

      Yep it’s a total pain in the arse. We argue about this a lot.

      Interestingly, the stay at home dads I know have all the same issues. Exactly the same and so it really does come with the territory. It’s just that most of the time it’s the woman who takes that on I guess.

      We certainly haven’t got to the stage in society where it’s an equal division yet.

      Similarly, I know that my husband struggles with not seeing George too, with having to stay away, miss dinner some nights, not be here when he wakes up some days etc etc so it’s not all one sided.

      • Katielase
        Posted November 1, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

        I definitely think its a universal issue, although it does affect women more. The reason I’ll have to be the stay-at-home parent isn’t my gender though, in our case it’s my age. I’m 9 years younger than G, therefore he is 9 years further up a career ladder and that is reflected in his salary. There really isn’t an easy answer, for either of us. If he wanted to be a stay-at-home Dad, it’s highly unlikely we could afford that option, and in its way that is equally difficult for him to come to terms with. My Dad worked long hours for much of my childhood to support us all, and I know he felt he missed out on things. As a result, actually, he wants to work part-time when I have children and look after my kids part-time. Now he’s older he has a freedom he didn’t have before, so there’s definitely always two sides! The reason I love this post, and the comments, is that it reflects that life isn’t easy, no choice is the right choice, you have to do the best you can.

        K x

    • Crysta
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

      All I can say is: I agree!

    • Frankie
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

      I’m really hoping Ben and I can share care of our children as I think it’s important for both parents to be around as much as poss for their children. That said, when baby is tiny, it will be me more because from a practical point of view, breastfeeding etc, the mother’s role is bigger.

      • Posted November 1, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

        We’d love to do that but financially, it’s just not possible.

        They have daddy dates though- swimming and random stuff on the weekends. They’re ridiculously cute together.

        • Frankie
          Posted November 1, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

          I can imagine – so hard. It’s tough on us financially and may not work out the way I want it to – worth a shot while we can take the risk (no mortgage etc). It means I won’t be climbing the career ladder over the next few years and some days it makes me feel worried and nervous that I’m not putting my all into that – but then I figure I can go back to it properly later down the line, like others have mentioned.

          • Posted November 1, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Permalink


            Mum did her degree with four of us under ten to be a Physio’.

            • Posted November 1, 2012 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

              Um – can I just say wow to Anna’s mum?? I’m not sure I’d be able to wipe my arse with four children under ten.


          • Posted November 1, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

            But can you?

            Can a woman really hope to progress as far in her career/start back where she left off if she’s had 5-10 years off?

            • Frankie
              Posted November 1, 2012 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

              I guess it depends on the career…

            • Posted November 1, 2012 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

              Probably not so much but you can start a new one!

              • Lottie
                Posted November 3, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

                Of course you can! If you want it enough you will!!! I’ve given up my career for my husband to take expat postings. It’s the right move for us. I fully intend to pick my career up when we finally return. I won’t be able to walk into the job I left, but I will do retraining courses, voluntary work back in my sector and search for the right job on my return.

                It is possible! Most things are!

  17. Frankie
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    Ps we’re lucky as freelancing/running own business can mean more flexibility in terms of when and how you work.

  18. Pickle
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    This is a brilliant post – thank you Julie!

    Both my husband and I are trying to get our careers off the ground abroad at the moment and I have absolutely no idea how childcare/careers would work if kids came along any time soon.

    I can’t remember a time when my mum (single parent) didn’t work and although she worked from home a lot there were times when I remember being really cross about how much she was away with work/busy etc. I’m sure it was a massive struggle for her to raise two kids more or less without support but as a kid you totally don’t see that so I agree with the comments that it’s important to think about things from the child’s perspective.

    • Pickle
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

      Oh also (having re-read all the comments) – those of you living in the UK please don’t complain too much about UK maternity leave rights – I know the UK’s an expensive place to live but compare to maternity/paternity rights elsewhere in the world the UK is lightyears ahead.

      Moving abroad round about the age we start discussing children = brilliant move then. Not.

      • Clare
        Posted November 2, 2012 at 6:42 am | Permalink

        It’s two months here in Malaysia. Which leads to an awful lot of mums working right up until the day the baby arrives to maximise time off afterwards. I just can’t imagine having had to have gone back to work when Emmi was 8 weeks old. I had still barely recovered from the birth, and Emmi was still so tiny and dependent.

  19. Anon
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    Such a good post. The differences having kids has on mens and womens careers and the need to plan careers accordingly is something that has caused tension for us. Can you imagine a forum of men online discussing issues relating to childcare and careers long before they even had kids? I think not.

    I spent several frustrating years trying to explain the need to plan careers to potentially allow us to get to a stage where we’re ready to have kids in the not too distant future without really properly understanding what I was saying or when I wanted children or what stage I wanted my career to get to myself. I think the message has (sort of) got through now but it took me years of trying to explain why I was always in a rush to get my career going somewhere for him to understand.

  20. ClaireH
    Posted November 1, 2012 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    From a purely selfish perspective, it has been so good to hear that everyone else struggles with this whole thing. Although all your great points have made me well up slightly!

    I think I’ve always known it wouldn’t be easy, but I’ve realised over the last year that I don’t necessarily want a high flying career, especially if we have kids, but then feeling guilty because surely I *should* want to be successful…but what is success…?

    We have talked about it but are years off having kids and haven’t even got close to working out the finances – although that doesn’t stop me stewing away about everything in my own head. I think ultimately if anyone gives up work/goes part time it will be me rather than my boyfriend but I do wonder what’s best in the end for the future child re whether it would be best for me to be there and have less of a career or would it be better in the end if I was more of a ‘role model’ and had a career. I know my Mum now thinks she should have done more when she went back to work after ten years off than ‘just’ work in schools (she’s about halfway between a teacher and a classroom assistant) and maybe should have got over her lack of confidence (she said that, not me!) and retrained as a teacher or something, but as a child I did appreciate her being there and not having to work in the evenings/at weekends like my Dad did at times. But now, getting to the same point myself, I do feel a bit guilty that she perhaps didn’t do what she wanted/would have been good at because of us.

    p.s. on a separate note, this is my first ever comment so I’d just like to say that you’re all amazing and finding this place where I can identify with what’s being posted and commented almost every day has been so heartwarming. Thanks Team AOW for all your fabulous work x

    • ClaireH
      Posted November 1, 2012 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

      Sorry – slightly epic comment that went a bit waffly in the middle…

      • Posted November 1, 2012 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

        Welcome Claire H!

        epic comments always welcome xx

        • ClaireH
          Posted November 1, 2012 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

          Thank you :-) xx

        • Clare
          Posted November 2, 2012 at 6:44 am | Permalink

          What Anna said. Welcome Claire – more epic comments please!

  21. Katy W
    Posted November 2, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    This article, and all the comments, have made really interesting (and topical) reading (and no that is not an announcement! but it is something that has been on our minds). It’s likely I will go back to work when/if we have children, but will hopefully work a 4 day week and Mr W will work a 3 or 4 day week so that we can share. I don’t think either of us would give up work altogether – although you never know how things will work out.

    Something that is related, slightly, is the expectation and pressure that workplaces put on people. Blackberries, webmail, laptops, are all supposed to make life easier and mean that you can work from home more readily – which you would think would make being a working mum more flexible. But they also have the effect of being constantly on call and available. I also think that the expectations in the workplace have changed in the last 15-20 years – so that for example when my parents had young children, there was never any expectation that my dad would work later than about 6pm or over weekends – he worked hard but because once you were home you weren’t contactable, the working day finished when you got home. That may just have been his workplace but I think there has been a definite shift in whether people are expected to switch off or be on call. (I’m an in house lawyer – I’m not a surgeon on a shift. A lot of things can wait until the morning)

    My boss (who is a very wise working mum of two) told me a while ago not to respond to emails in the evenings or at weekends – because if people start to expect that you will always answer whatever the hour, and then you have children and stop doing so, they will think that you are doing your job less well because you are a mum. If you never let them get that expectation then they won’t notice that change when you go back to work. However that is easier said than done, and in fact much easier now that I am in house and not in private practice.

    Bit of a ramble, sorry, but I do think it’s important to think about what work will be like when/if you go back after maternity leave/a career break – for both parents.

    • Katy W
      Posted November 2, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

      PS excellent post Julie!

      K x

  22. Caroline
    Posted November 2, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    Brilliant post, and incredible conversation through the comments. I’m not sure if this is with the flow of the conversation, but thought I’d throw a thought in there anyway….

    I love and am completely committed to my career, and am amzingly lucky to have a husband who is prepared to put my career first (as it involves stints of working overseas) before his, even though he earns a lot more than me. Contrasting with that, I’ve never felt particualrly driven to have children, even when my sister and friends have started having babies. I sometimes feel like it is something I would like to do, but when I weigh it up against other ambitions for my life, it doesn’t quite win out. I also don’t honestly think I, personally, would be satsified with not being able to give 100% to my children or 100% to my career, I’d find the constant compromises that I’m sure are necessary hugely frustrating.

    So, for now, I’ve decided that I don’t want to have children. Sometimes I feel the pressure of “but you will one day and then it will be too late”, and I’m aware this might be true, but I’m not convinced that, for me, that’s a good enough reason to have a child. I am full of complete and utter admiration for all parents – stay at home parents, those juggling careers and babies, and everyone in between. But I don’t think that’s for me.

    I do sometimes feel like I’m in the minority on this one – that doesn’t really worry me, but it is interesting the reaction of either knowing looks (“you’ll change your mind”) or surprise that this could possibly be the choice I’d make….

    Like I said, not sure if this adds much to teh conversation, but thought I’d throw it in there as an alternative view…

  23. Esme's Mum
    Posted November 2, 2012 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

    Well what can I say but WOW. I really didn’t realise that I would start such a rush of comments.

    I am truly overwhelmed with what you are all saying about this issue and it seems that your generation is no nearer the answer than those before you. In fact I don’t think that there is or can be a right answer to this conundrum. Every family is different and will come up with a different solution. You will come up with the best one for you.

    I just felt impelled to write this article to pass on something I wish someone had told me when I was a young mother. In the 80′s there were a rash of press articles about driven career women who returned to work within days of having a baby. Women who ‘had it all’, beautiful babies, fantastic well paid high profile careers and who made the rest of us feel inadequate if we couldn’t run a board meeting while breast feeding triplets. If is wasn’t them then it was articles about ‘earth’ mothers who knitted their own muesli and breast fed their babies until they left for university. We were surrounded by impossible role models – and I’m sure you are too – and I just wanted to tell you how a real, flawed and inadequate woman managed the pit falls of life and came out the other side. In fact, as a good friend of mine once said, ‘I’m remarkably well adjusted. Considering.’ I wonder now if those women went home after the photo shoot for that article in The Observer and cried into their cocoa because they hadn’t seen their child awake for over a week or really wished that they could wear a nice pair of high heels instead of Birkenstocks to milk the goat.

    You will find the best way for your family to navigate through life and you will make mistakes as well as have amazing triumphs. You will do the very best that you can do and you will do it better because you know that Wonder Woman is a myth, life is too short to stuff a mushroom and you know that you won’t get a medal from your children for being at home at the end of the school day to make them do their homework. Learn to juggle and be prepared.

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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