Working mums and latchkey kids – the debate goes on

Published by Emma Lee-Potter in on Sunday 15th January 2012

My jaw drops with astonishment when I see pictures of high-profile women just a few days after they’ve had their babies. Svelte in designer outfits and killer heels, they look like they’ve come straight from the health spa rather than the maternity unit. When my daughter was born it took weeks for me to have the oomph to leave the house, let alone contemplate getting dressed up to the nines and going to the office. By the time she was six weeks old I was still grey-faced and jabbering through lack of sleep – barely able to put her complicated, fold-up pram together and walk to the shops in Camberwell for a loaf of bread.

Now Gaby Hinsliff, the former political editor of the Observer has ignited the working mothers debate with her insightful book, Half a Wife: The Working Family’s Guide to Getting a Life Back. Should we race straight back to work in double-quick time after having children or stay at home to look after them? Or is there a third way? A halfway house, where as Gaby Hinsliff herself has found, you can have both? As she wrote in Grazia this week: “I’m lucky to have picked a career in writing, which turned out to be the little black dress of professions: a versatile standby that can be dressed up or down – Fleet Street or freelance, working from home or the office – to suit. But with a little corporate and political imagination, the same could be true of other careers too.”

My theory is that women study what their mothers did and do the opposite. My grandmother worked long hours in a Lancashire wallpaper and paint shop. It was hard graft for not much money and my mother was frequently a latchkey kid, arriving back from school to an empty house. When my mum had children she didn’t want to give up her job so she asked her beloved aunt to move in and help look after us.

My mother adored her career but she sometimes wished she’d been at home more. So when my children were born I attempted to have the best of both worlds by leaving my newspaper job and working from home as a freelance writer.

All good – except now my daughter is 20 and thinking about careers she’s horrified by the very thought of being self-employed.  After years of watching me, she hates the precariousness and solitude of freelancing and yearns to work in a busy office – with other people to spark ideas against, proper lunch breaks and (fingers crossed all round) a monthly salary cheque coming in…

6 comments so far

  • It will be interesting to see how the next generation of women cope with this issue. I don’t think there are easy answers to it.

  • Interesting. I don’t have children yet, but do want to be home more during the first few years… my mother worked more through my siblings’ childhoods. But I think that if I am not financial/occupationally able to stay at home, I won’t mind working. Not sure if I want this because it is opposite my mother, or because, as a teacher, I can tell the difference that good starts have on children. I want to make sure that my youngster learns as much as possible before school-age.

  • You’re so right, Barbara. I don’t think anyone has found the perfect way to combine careers and parenthood. I live in hope, though.

  • Thank you very much for commenting, A.Eye. It’s a tricky balancing act but I’m glad I was lucky enough to be at home a lot before my children went to school.

  • My mum was a nurse and a teacher. She worked nights when I was small and then moved to teaching when I was school age…she always wanted to be the one that collected me from school because in the first few minutes you hear everything and then nothing afterwards. I have found this to be true with my kids.

    Because we have been continuously moving I haven’t ‘worked’ which has been a gift and it’s only now that they are all teens that I am focusing on my ‘writing career’…. I have no idea what my daughter will do or what choices will be available to her…it’s such a tough call.


  • Hi Liz. You are so right. I love it when my children get back and tell me about their days. It’s so good that you are concentrating on your writing career now – and it’s going to be a brilliant one! xx

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