Tuesday, 10 November 2009

what to tell your children

WHEN I decided to be honest about why I was quitting my job, my one big worry was not becoming a gory old head on a pike. I didn't want to scare young women off careers in journalism and/or politics, making them think it was impossible to combine such jobs with families and therefore pointless trying.
One or two of you commenting on this blog and the Twitter feed have now made me worry about that again.
It's similar to the endless hysteria about late motherhood. Warnings from some IVF specialists that women underestimate how difficult it may be to get pregnant in their late 30s were well meant, and reflect their experience of seeing an awful lot of women desperate to conceive.
But the resulting media furore over "career women" delaying motherhood (why always "career women"? do men have nothing to do with it?) risks unnecessarily panicking women into thinking that if they're not pregnant by 30 they are doomed, when for a sizeable proportion it all works out fine.
So to canopenergirl (with your amazing sounding life among the gun-crazed generals - are you a journalist, or a mercenary?) and others , I just want to say: it's always, always worth a try. Better a few years of a fabulously exciting career than a lifetime of boredom, even if the exciting bit has to change after children (and it doesn't always: it didn't stop CNN's Christiane Annanpour, or the war reporter Christina Lamb).
Wing it for a bit and see what happens: if it doesn't work out, you can always do something more manageable, but if you don't try then you'll always wonder. Work culture is still changing, and by the time current graduates hit the childbearing years things could look very different.
But (and this is a point another poster, Louise, made rather well) I do wonder what my generation of women could tell their teenage daughters - and indeed sons - that would make it easier for them to do the work/family thing.
I can't pretend I planned either of these, but with hindsight two things that accidentally helped me were picking a career that's adaptable (writing can be done in a newsroom/at home/fulltime/parttime/ and is useful in a lot of different jobs); and marrying someone who didn't have fixed ideas about what I "should" be doing.
But I now wish I'd blown less money on vodka and cabs in my childless 20s, and put more aside for financially lean years now. (Not sure how I would have convinced my twentysomething self of this, but anyway).
So what do you wish you'd known at 18?


  1. I don't know about 18, but in my pre-kid 20's I wish I'd realized how much discretionary time I had and valued it a bit more!

    I became a stay-at-home mom when my first child was born. (My career was not even remotely exciting enough to entice me back.) I'm happy with my choice, but I do wonder what to tell my daughter sometimes. I like the perspective that you offer. Unlike myself (so far*), I hope that she has an opportunity to do work that is fascinating and invigorating and get paid for it. I hope above all else that she stays in contact with her deepest self and finds a way to be joyful in her life, whatever decisions that leads her to make.

    *I hope to find invigorating paid work for myself one day too. For me, it will just be a later chapter of life instead of an earlier one. There's no rule that says all great things must come in the first half of one's life!

  2. Wish I had had more guts to say stuff what you think, I'm doing it anyway! And the confidence to see that everyone else who looked so cool and confident and like they knew what they were doing, were bluffing just as much as me. Then I might have gone for the really exciting career then, rather than trying to transfer into it in my early 30s just as babies came onto my horizon. Ah well, you live and learn.

  3. Hi Gaby,

    Just to say I read about your incouraging story just a few weeks after I published my book (only in Italian, sorry), to say the same things you now repeat here in such a convincing way. Hope sooner or later my book ("Contro gli asili nido", which sounds more or less like "Down with day nurseries") will be translated in English, and we will manage in discovering how close our ideas actually are.

    Paola Liberace

  4. Go girl and do not ever, ever, feel guilty that you made a big decision and as you said this is about not wanting to “work like this” This is the main point as far as I am concerned. Having gone through the same pain when my first daughter, your 2nd cousin, was 18 months old, juggling working full time and more besides because it was seen that I could cope! I collapsed one evening in sobs of tears telling my then husband I just can't do it, I am not superwomen, I want to see my daughter and not count how many hours until I can get down to some work, this is not what I had a child for.

    However, this is not about turning full circle to when we had very few choices, both educationally and career wise but using our skills more productively in either part time work or work that can be done without missing time with the children. I am not privileged, I know some comments about Gaby have alluded to this, but a single Mum who left school at 16 and had to make her own decisions and life choices.
    love your older cousin who is very happy and fullfilled with her life choices x

  5. Hi Gaby,

    I love your blog! Thank you for sharing your courageous decision and your process of transition to a more sane existence with us.

    I delayed having kids until almost 40 because of the demands of my work. However, once they came on the scene it became 100% obvious that there wasn't enough of me to do a full-time professional job in the sciences and be a mom of young kids. I couldn't do both jobs well at the same time.

    Still, the transition to full time home and intermittent part-time work has been very challenging. It has also been incredibly rewarding. I am a full participant in my kids lives and I get to see their joy every day, this is a priceless gift.

  6. blimey this is turning into a family reunion1 lovely to hear from you ttkho (as i shall now get used to calling you), wish we had talked about this stuff more at the time when she was small...glad everything's working out now.
    both naturalmom and britinbosnia have an interesting point about the second wind a lot of parents get in their 40s/once small kids stage is over that surely could be put to better use by employers. politics used to be weirdly good for this - i know several senior women who had v part time jobs around kids, then went into westminster in their 40s/50s and political careers then took off - but that is now changing, women being selected now are usually in their 30s and even 20s. anyone know other careers like this, that allow you to take off fairly late in life?

  7. The question of balancing life and work is a difficult one for most of us, I imagine, and each of us has to decide the best path to take.

    That's fine; and it changes from year to year (or even faster sometimes) and as long as one leaves a particular occupation leaving a good legacy then that is all any of us can or should expect.

    Too many people try to do too many things (I know: I've been there, done that) and eventually reach the point where a decision has to be made.

    I think the best way is to promise oneself never to have regrets and just go for it. A chnage is as good as a rest, and many of us end up feeling recharged as a result of slimming down our range of significant activities.

    Well, it worked for me anyway!

  8. I just got home to find my eldest son (it is 0.50 am in Madrid), 6 year-old, half frozen and bent over his drawings, supposed to be sent to my office Xmas contest. I am exhausted after a 14-hour job but now, I can only feel shame and guilt. This afternoon, I took my yearly (and compulsory) English test with a kind English lady who has just stepped down from this crazy rollercoaster, as you have, and moved to a village where she can raise her child, slow down, live her life. She said I could do it, she said I have the chances and sure I will be able to also find the guts but, as a lawyer, what I find is the extreme difficulty in becoming a freelancer or runing a "portfolio" as you call it, that does not become so absorbing as my current job. In summary, I cannot find my own way out but, at least, your testimony made me stop and think so I am endlessly grateful for this.



  9. Carmen, you have identified one problem about a portfolio career -- that you have to choose which jobs you accept. It is hard to turn away work, but you could otherwise end up working all hours. One method is to line up "time with the children" alongside the other projects -- it is then pretty obvious which one is highest priority!

    (Don't forget the other side of freelancing, that you may need to invest one day's worth of searching/networking/following up for each day's paid work.)

  10. Haha, it is true what you say about the "collections and payment" part of it! The thing is, now, as a partner to a law firm, I also have to deal with it (not on a full-time basis but still it is a part of my duties...).

    I agree with the "to do list" approach (although I feel a bit odd about including the kids in it), will think about it!

  11. Hi Gaby,

    I don't wish I'd known anything at 18 that I know now. My mum never bothered to lecture me, she probably knew I wouldn't listen. Life itself is a learning journey. No regrets is a good tenet to live by. No regrets I had a great time and worked hard in my 20s. No regrets I had my children in my 30s, and still worked hard. No regrets I've jacked it all in now they're growing and more interesting to be with. One thing I wish I could throw off is my work ethic, think I inherited that from my very hard working mother. Made it very hard to become a "homemaker".