Eileen is an ex-teacher with three children, 8, 10 and 12. Should she be at home with them or go back to work? She had a costly education and wants to give something back to society, but does not want to deprive anyone of a job. Her husband earns enough for the family's needs

SOMETIMES I feel a bit like Enoch Powell, who was capable of holding such diverse views as the legalising of homosexuality and the retention of the death penalty. I hold pretty feminist attitudes and yet when it comes to women working I find myself being remarkably stuffy. Probably because I was the daughter of a career woman, a high-powered professor, albeit of fashion, and despite the fact that she had her holidays free, I just didn't like it. The rushed meals, the latchkey round the neck, the feeling that my mother's mind was always somewhere else, the ruined weekends with extra work always made me feel second best.

And that's why, although I can't see why Eileen can't take a couple of afternoons doing supply teaching if she wants to, the idea of her going back to full-time teaching is an anathema. She seems to see "society" as something "out there" and not "in here". Her duty to society is surely to give her three children a stable, relaxed home, for it is on our children's future that the maintenance of society depends. She sounds like someone who lives in her head and not her heart, more eager not to deprive some mysterious "someone" of a job, someone she has never met, a mere unemployment statistic, than eager not to deprive her children of her own self, a mother. Eileen has her own class already, albeit a class of three.

There is some idea that once children are three or five it's fine to go back to work, but children need their parents long after they're five years old. They need them when, like Eileen's children, they're eight, 10 and 12, and when they're 15, 16 and 17. The expensive education that Eileen has had will never be wasted as long as she has a family at home, for she can use it in so many constructive ways, educating her children in life, manners and social interaction as well as in education.

So many children's mothers absolutely have to work, because otherwise they cannot live, that it seems quite crazy for Eileen, whose husband can support them all comfortably, to go out to work just because she feels some mysterious duty to society. It would another kettle of fish if she just felt overwhelmed with longing to be faced with 50 screaming kids in a fetid classroom.

Eileen perhaps does not value her role as a mother; perhaps she sees it as too easy or perhaps she doesn't enjoy her children with the passion that most mothers have. In which case, dare I ask it, but why on earth did she have three children in the first place? Surely not out of social duty? At least I hope not.

What readers say

I would most strongly urge Eileen to stay at home for the next few years and have the time to enjoy her children's return home from school each day.

With this time she will be able to listen to the events of the day and find the things they need the next day for acting in plays, for making things, for lending to friends for a cookery lesson.

She can go to open days, parents' evenings, school plays and concerts. She can shop carefully and economically and cook ahead.

If she misses companionship in the day, local hospitals need cheerful dependable volunteers - and - she can be free to enjoy evenings and weekends with her husband and children.

It would be such a pity to miss such a lovely time in her new life.

Sonia Supple

Don't feel compelled to go back into teaching. Count your lucky stars that you have a husband able to "support" you and your children and enjoy being a mother and home- maker.

My years at home were the happiest of my life. I managed to avoid returning to teaching until the youngest started school and was only forced back to work by economic necessity. I am now and stressed out and the whole family suffers.

Be there when your kids get back from school and enjoy helping them with their homework instead of resentfully feeling, as I do, that yet another child wants my attention at the end of an exhausting day.

Exhausted mum and teacher

Oh dear!!! If I was confronted with the dilemma of having a partner earning so much dosh s/he could support me and all the family and the agony of not replaying society for my privileged education I would probably commit suicide. How could I live with myself knowing that I was denying a job to one of the needy?

I humbly suggest that Eileen stays at home thus affording a job to a needy person. She could perhaps find some voluntary work using her skills to salve her conscience with respect to her desire to repay society for her education.

Dr C R Clark

Eileen should dismiss teaching. If she qualified before the birth of her children she would need retraining.

My recommendation would be training as a teacher of English as a foreign language . The training period is briefand there is plenty of work for those appropriately located. In addition, the hours can be adjusted to fit family commitments.

John Pelling

Next week's dilemma

Although I work with nice people and have plenty of friends in and out of work, I constantly press the self-destruct button by sulking. What happens is I make a friend, we get on great, then I have a big sulk and hurt them. I miss the intimacy of friends, but as soon as I achieve it I wreck it. I feel so guilty and hate myself for it. Now I sometimes have to reschedule my workload to avoid certain people or not go out to avoid "so and so". This has prevented me from getting promotion; I lose motivation which leads to more sulking; I change my job - another cycle starts. I was spoilt as an only child, but that's no excuse. I've lost my best friends, have no one to confide it. I don't want any new friends, I want to hang out with the people I grew up with. Gill

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