Sunday, 1 November 2009

swamped (in a good way)

What a strange, but fabulous day. My phone has more or less collapsed under the weight of texts since the Observer article came out here and am amazed by how much of a chord it's seemed to strike.
Stupidly I never realised there were so many parents secretly harbouring similar plans, and am cheered by how many there also are (especially reading through those comments here) who are so much further down the road to working it out.
Will blog properly tomorrow once I've worked out what the hell is going on....and respond to the various criticisms about middle class whingeing, people who don't have children but want a life beyond work, and what will happen to political reporting if all the women give it up.
But to all who asked why didn't my husband become a stay at home dad: firstly, my job is easier than his to do flexibly/freelance, and secondly, to be honest I don't think he'd have enjoyed it.
But I know several couples now who do work it this way (plus others where both parents go part time) and agree it's definitely an option that shouldn't be forgotten.


  1. As another reasonably big fish in a pond, contemplating doing exactly what you've just done for exactly the same reasons (and also living in Oxford) I just want to thank you for your article today. I have given it to my husband to try and explain why I'll feel guilty if I quit as well as why I feel I want to. I'm just so scared about not being able to get back in again if it doesn't work out - but I'm certainly sure that here is not where I want to be. Yours will be the first blog I have ever followed - and I am currently building my own escape plans quietly but determinedly. Thanks again.

  2. Thank you so much.

    I'm not yet at your stage in life (fledgeling but very demanding career, no kids yet, only recently married), but this issue is one that has been playing on my mind for some time. I hope to be able to find the balance that allows me to not get to the stage you describe in the Observer article. I am very interested in following your journey.

    And Oxford - good choice! :)

  3. Just wanted to say how much I enjoyed your article in the Observer today. I don't often find the time to read whole articles in the paper - my 2 young children see to that - but I couldn't put it down. As I suspect for many other women, it really struck a chord with me as I struggle to have a part-time career and do a half decent job as a mother. Many days I don't think I am managing either very well!

    I will follow your blog with interest - good luck and congratulations!

  4. Just wanted to say that I really hope it works out for you. An inability to properly reconcile the demands of the mortgage, work, son and social life left my wife and I estranged, and her seeking solace with her boss... The cost of this chaos on my son is, of course, incalculable. I've subsequently given up my job to gain a 50% share in my son's care - and now need to find work more locally that pays well enough to support a mortgage and yet doesn't demand so much time that I cannot fufil my responsibilities to him. This crazy world we now live in where we run harder and harder on the hamster wheel whilst getting further and further from what is meaningful has to stop at some point. But I'd be lieing if I knew how!

    Anyway, good luck.


  5. I enjoyed reading your Observer article very much and I believe you really have to follow your gut instincts on whether this is the right move to make or not. As so many others have already pointed out, your son is still only young and kids at his age are a lot of fun - hard work too, but still fun.
    I hope you adjust to a new routine quickly and don't forget to MAKE TIME for yourself in all of this child rearing/home-making you're doing for the rest of your family.
    Finding the balance to keep your brain stimulated whilst juggling everything else will be trial and error - enjoy your journey of discovery and I look forward to reading what happens next ...

  6. Hedgehog i know the scared feeling very well! The best career advice I've ever been given was from someone who used to work for paddy ashdown, weirdly, and it was that in a career you're usually either bored (stuck in a rut) or scared (thinking you're out of your depth/can't do it). So it's generally best to be scared, because scary stuff usually gets easier with practice, whereas boring stuff just gets more boring. Well, that's the theory anyway....
    amj so sorry about your marriage, so many people have said since the article came out that what really suffers from the craziness is relationships: children seem to be more resilient than partners often...
    Good luck all, keep hatching, and keep me in touch with what happens next

  7. Really enjoyed your article today and wish you all the best with finding a better balance. I've recently gone back to work part time after 4 years at home bringing up my daughter and even though she's no longer tiny and I really want to work it's still sometimes hard to leave her. I'm not sure I will ever be able to work full time again but what that means for my career I don't know.

  8. Finally - Monday lunchtime, two out of three asleep the other one "reading" to her friends (of the soft and stuffed variety) - read your article and was moved to tears. Am feeling that my own blog is now somewhat futile as you have summed up so perfectly all that I am feeling - am a senior solicitor in a well-respected firm, with, I am told, partnership prospects, just gone back part-time for the second time after three children in 18 months (including twins) yet struggling desperately with priorities, decisions and deadlines plus the incessant need to be with my beautiful girls (your article was, perhaps ironically, interrupted by two calls from the office and one poo). Your descriptions of the choices and quandaries we face has stirred me deeply, and possibly, just possibly, shifted me into the decision I needed to make. Thank you so much, and good luck.

  9. It was a very interesting article and I wish you all the best, but I do find it all a little worrying. The majority of young mothers I know in the UK have seemingly been priced out of the workplace, and it seems like there is now a stay at home generation of mothers. I live in Paris, and it seems that there is not this same difficulty of balancing work and family in France.

    Secondly, the one point missing from your article was the effect all this has on your son. I understand all of your arguments, but as you say, there are not really different from anybody who is working. If we won the lottery, we'd all give up working, or do something that made us happier and more contented. You are lucky that you have been able to do this. Will it make a difference in the upbringing of your son though? You'll see a lot more of him and your relationship may change, but is it not also healthy for a child to get to know other people and have some form of separation from parents? It's not the quantity of time that we spend with our children that is important, but the quality.

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  11. Thanks for such an engaging article. As someone who is planning not to have children myself, I confess I often feel a guilty relief that I won't have to negotiate these challenges - although as a feminist I feel as torn as many others seem to. I'm under 30 and I think my generation has grown up without questioning the having-it-all fantasy, but we need to because fitting everything in without detriment in any area of life just isn't possible - at least until men in larger numbers start taking on women's traditional domestic responsibilities, which we know isn't happening yet. I wonder how long it will take...

    I think what a lot of couples end up going without is each other, quite often, and it's hard enough to maintain a strong relationship and a good life (which I'm so lucky to have) without the added burden of fearing that one is neglecting one's children. The world of work needs to catch on that it is not the most important part of most people's lives - then we can start organising our lives for the good rather than for coping.

    Thanks again - I'll follow with interest, and best of luck!

  12. Your article was a fascinating read: thank you for sharing your perspectives with all of us. I am a 31-year-old American woman with no husband or prospect of children in my immediate future. I'm still in the fledgling stages of my career, having recently earned a Master of Arts degree.

    I think all the time, though, about my future and the constellation of family and work issues I know women face.

    Your article brought home to me the fact that we still have the power of choice, albeit to differing degrees depending on level of affluence, employability, health insurance converage (especially in the States), and so on.

    I apprecited your condor; we all learn from those who have "gone before", so thank you for your insights.

  13. Thing is, I'm now feeling bad for only working part time. I thought it was the answer, but I realise now: there is no answer.

  14. Hi Gaby, from Emma Ward. You may have wondered, "Whatever happened to her?" Yes, you guessed it. Three children later I'm just about coming up for air again. They are all wonderful and utterly rewarding to be with.(They also all, of course, have their share of "this carrot is too chopped up" moments). However, one of the many parts of your article which rang true for me,is the question, "Was this what all that education, training and experience was for?". No.
    Job-sharing is one possibility for those who wish to combine a challenging job with quality time at home. It's very tough to find a job-share partner, which is why I'm in the process of setting up a job-share web site, to help working parents, and others, who want to try to have the best of both worlds.
    Your article was, typically, brilliant at expressing the many frustrations and eternal difficulties of the working mum. I will miss your articles in the Observer (you always seemed to write at least half the paper, they will have to replace you with at least two people!) and I am saddened that you, one of the last women journalists I know holding a senior position, has had to give it up. But I completely understand. I hadn't realised until your article on Sunday that you had a child. Now I wonder how on earth you did it for so long.
    All the best for the next few weeks, looking forward to keeping up with how it goes.
    Emma xxx

  15. Hello, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your piece in the Observer at the weekend.

    I'm now a stay-at-home dad with my first child, but I spent several years working for a well-known national news company. When I first left London (because of my wife's career) and started freelancing in the local media, I really missed it. Even though I didn't have to do the same crazy shifts and didn't face anything like the same pressure, it was like going from the Premier League to the Vauxhall Conference, and I hated having to tell people that "I used to work for..."

    But I found that the feeling fades over time. I still miss it when there's a big story, but those days are very rare now, especially now I've got a little one to occupy my time. I'll go back to working full-time one day I'm sure, I love journalism too much to forget about it forever (and besides, my wife wants to be at home for baby number two, whenever that is), but when I do go back I think I'll be prouder of the time I spent away from work than the years I spent in work.

    I hope you enjoy your 'new' life as much as I've enjoyed mine so far!

  16. Oh and by the way, thank you for being the impetus to me finally setting up my own job-sharing blog.
    Emma xxx

  17. Gaby, thank you for your article in the Observer, which truly struck a chord in me. Three years ago, I left a successful journalism career - and a hectic, manic life - in Asia, to move to the UK (my husband got a scholarship to do his PhD here). It was a conscious decision to downshift to become a full-time mother to my then 3 year old son. Three years on, I have absolutely no regrets quitting to be with my son and to have a life; being directly involved in my son's growing up years has been the most rewarding aspect of that decision. I do miss journalism though, and am now trying to make a go at a freelance career as it best suits my need for fulfilling work that fits around my son's schedule. It's still an emotional rollercoaster for me, but reading your thoughts and experiences makes me feel less alone in this situation, and more motivated to try and make it work.

    I wish you all the very best in the next chapter of your life - enjoy every moment of it!

  18. Thanks for writing so well about everything, all the choices and dilemmas that are facing you. I hope you enjoy the new role that you are starting out upon (and Oxford is a great place to be!). I'm looking forward to reading how you adapt to your new life with interest. I'm sure you'll love bits of it, loathe bits of it, and love and loathe the same bits of it depending on your mood. This motherhood lark, it isn't easy, but if it was then it wouldn't be so worth it. x

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  20. Although you probably weren't expecting a comment quoting Princess Di on your blog does the one re 'there being three of us in our marriage' has some currency here ?

    Does the modern family have 3 of us in it - the partner role, the parent role and the independent adult role - that being the role that seems best met through work/career ?

    So possibly up to 6 before even counting in children ?

    Then add in the presence of the employer/company often demanding loyalty/ priority and it's no wonder it doesn't all fit into something designed for two ?

    The fact these crowding conflicts impact parents, regardless of salary, regardless of seniority of role says the nub can't lie in money or status.
    For adults with outwardly different situations to have similar personal,internal feelings seems to make it a connected universal issue .

  21. Hi Gaby, thanks for the article, you echo a lot of my own sentiments. Hope it all goes well in your new phase of life and I'll follow the blog to see how you get on.... In my experience, it feels a little like jumping off a cliff at first, strange but exhilarating and liberating at the same time.

    I stopped work in July after 12 years of juggling part time and full time work and every combination of childcare going. A wise friend counselled me while we were away one weekend, recognising that I hadn't been happy for some time. Difficult to resign though, rather than be made redundant. It wasn't a huge job like yours, but I had achieved an awful lot in my career to date and it was an incredibly rewarding job. I miss my little team, but not much else, especially the desperately stressful commute.

    I think I will definitely miss the intellectual stimulation of work in time, but for now I'm happy to be a homemaker.

  22. Have never contributed to a blog, but was so struck by your article I felt I had to add something. I am a 'used to be' Headteacher! I am trying to get back into it but there seems to be no such thing as a part time senior role in education. My girls are toddlers and I made a conscience decision to give up full time work. I am constantly told that I can apply for posts part time under equal opps but come on I know you don't get a look in as soon as you put part time. We are the same age and my mother was like yours but I would add my mother says 'Women's Liberation is the biggest con of the 20th Century.' My Mother had a bit of a life crisis when my sister and I hit teenage years never having achieved her full potential. I think that whatever way round we do it career or baby we as women living in this time will always feel torn guilty and and confused as to what we should ultimately be.
    Your article was the best I've read in a while. Best of luck with the new ventures. Oh bave new world!

  23. Great article Gaby. I work almost full time (in Oxford!,) have a four year old, and am constantly juggling demanding job and demanding childcare priorities. I often wonder what it would be like to give it all up and stay at home, but financially it's not currently possible. So I'll be reading your blog with interest, thinking 'what if.......'

  24. I too have a secret thing for Bruce Springsteen! Oh my god I can't believe how secretly similar we are. Though of course my career dilemmas are somewhat different - or are they though? Am struggling somewhat these last few weeks with being back, haven't read through all the comments but really relate to the person who said there just wasn't enough of her to go round. oddly enough the kids are out of my head the minute I'm at work, maybe because I'm so busy, maybe because they're with their dad. My struggle is in feeling guilty for being away from them at all v. wanting to get away v. a strong feeling especially for my daughter that all women need a foot in the outside world, and that our girls (and boys) need to see us doing that. Plus fantasising about ever getting a full might's sleep.