Free at last] Shall we go to the beach?: A couple would be crazy to give up full-time jobs in a recession. Or would they? Nicola Jones finds that there is life if you leap off the merry-go-round

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Indy Lifestyle Online
AT THE height of our careers, despite having a mortgage and two young children, my husband and I left full-time jobs as teachers in favour of freelance and part-time work. Although they were too polite to say so, I suspect many of our colleagues thought this was the height of foolishness in a recession, although some said they would love to do the same thing, had their mortgages not enslaved them.

We enjoyed our jobs and had both reached middle management positions. Because of the promotions, we had both decided to continue working while having our children. However, five years of putting all our energies into both job and family was a strain. Life was a perpetual merry-go-round, with all of the horses running into each other. We would get up at six o'clock to get the children and ourselves ready. Briefcase contents were often muddled with breakfast as we prepared and packed children's lunches and the clothes and toys they would need for the day. The day I lost my diary and found it in the microwave, forgot to go to a meeting I had convened at school and absent- mindedly put a forkful of catfood in my mouth, thinking it was cake, I decided enough was enough.

We considered the options. We had always shared responsibility for making money and caring for the family and didn't want to upset this balance. I suggested moving from London to a rural idyll to keep pigs. My husband, who doesn't even like getting his shoes dirty, let alone his hands, swiftly rejected this idea. I nearly applied for a teaching job on a remote tropical island, but the image of one of our children suffering appendicitis hundreds of miles from a hospital deterred me. Neither of us wanted to be at home full time. We decided we would both resign and look for part-time jobs in education. This would give us time to consider the future.

While people found it depressingly easy to accept my explanation of family commitments as my reason for leaving my job, my husband received a mixed reaction. When a successful man leaves a career to make more time for his family life, he is viewed with suspicion. A colleague, while being sympathetic, pointed out that working part time carries low status and the risk of being marginalised - a fact of life for many women who return to work after a break to look after a young family, but unfamiliar to most men.

My father remarked wryly that we must have more money than sense to give up our secure jobs, but my mother, concerned for the health and sanity of us all, encouraged our decision.

I felt guilty about leaving the school and the pupils. How would anyone else understand the quirks of the unruly and lovable form I had tutored for three years? Most of all, I would miss my colleagues. Leaving them behind was the hardest part.

It is now three years since we took our decision. We both have part-time teaching jobs for half the week, leaving us two days a week at home together.

At first we felt both elation and guilt. Were we on holiday, or should we be trying to make money? We felt restless and insecure. Our routine had been disrupted and we needed to establish a new one. We did the housework and sat around drinking cups of coffee and making endless plans.

After a while, we constructed a framework for our spare days. We bought a computer each and began to write. My husband has produced one textbook and started another. I have started a teenage novel, based on the pupils I taught. We have developed computer skills, which when combined with our teaching experience make it possible for us to work as freelance trainers.

There is time to do our part- time jobs well, without the stress that management responsibility brings. I found some work as a teacher trainer, which should improve my career prospects rather than diminish them. Most importantly, we have time to talk to each other, to pick our children up from school together. When they get home, we are not too tired to play with them.

The most obvious disadvantage is that our income has been halved, and although we survive financially, the constant careful calculations are tedious. I can't drive past my old school without getting a lump in my throat and sometimes we miss the cut and thrust of decision-making and planning at work. But we would find it hard to give up our new freedom.

Occasionally we steal a day out and visit a museum or drive to the coast. Walking on Brighton promenade, we feel like truants, bunking off from real life.

Unfortunately, days like these are becoming rarer. Trips to the museum now have to be written into our diaries. As our new life takes shape it takes on a momentum of its own. There is a creeping feeling of annoyance as we realise that we've been here before.

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