HOME THOUGHTS

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The Independent Culture
LIKE ME, you might have read the findings of a study published this week which showed that women employed by television companies work such hellishly long hours that they are too busy to have children; or if they do have families, they spend very little time with them. I'm sure that it is not just women who work in television who face these problems: I know plenty of mothers - journalists, advertising executives, computer programmers - who have given up work because it proved impossible to combine a career with seeing their small children. And I know others who have continued to work long hours, and are constantly exhausted and racked with guilt.

I'm beginning to think that we've all been conned: these days you're supposed to be able to have a great career at the same time as being a good mother and a cheerfully beaming wife. Maybe there are a few superwomen out there who can manage the juggling act, but I can't. The problem is that it is not until you actually have a baby that you realise what you've let yourself in for. I was 27 when I was pregnant with my first child, and I had no idea how my life would change: I was working long hours, five days a week for the Independent, and I imagined that when the baby was born, I'd be back at my desk in a couple of months. I seem to remember thinking that babies were a bit like kittens: you'd feed them some milk occasionally, stroke them and then they'd fall asleep.

It was a terrible shock to have a real live baby who had needs more enormous than I'd ever contemplated. I went back to work when he was 14 weeks old, because my maternity leave had run out and there seemed to be no alternative. We needed the money to pay a mortgage that was based on two wage-earners, and anyway, would I be a real person if I didn't work?

But I hated leaving him, and he hated being left. I spent the first week at work feeling tearful, and expressing milk down the lavatory; then my extremely kind boss - a man, to whom I will be forever grateful - allowed me to work three days a week. When Jamie was three I started working four days a week, and after my second child was born earlier this year, I thought I'd be able to carry on in this way. But just as you forget the pain of childbirth, you also forget how hard it is to leave a small baby. I could just about manage to do my job when I returned in September, but as soon as there were a few complications - a nanny with flu; family problems; my husband working in America for two months - everything started to fall apart. (And as for "quality time" at the end of a working day when the kids were tired and so was I - forget it.) So, for the time being, I'm only working two mornings a week, and that's at home. Life is suddenly much more calm, for all of us.

When I was a child, none of my friends had mothers who worked. Mine did, but she was a teacher, and usually home by 4pm. Were we happier than if we'd been brought up by a series of nannies and childminders? I don't know. What I do know is that I'd be miserable if I never had a job again. Still, I keep reminding myself that babies become children very fast: and I'm seeing this one grow up, for a little while at least. Sometimes you just can't have it all. !

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