Stats: Carer Vs Career

Career, children or both? 55 per cent of mothers with children under 5 now work full or part-time, 70 per cent with 6 to 10-year-olds do likewise, while more than 75 per cent with children over 11 are back in the workplace.
On the face of it, these figures seem to indicate that some women are managing the delicate balancing act between motherhood and career -- but what they don't reveal is the 'other side of the coin' -- how being a full-time mother (even for a short time) can have a very negative result on a career. Many women who have previously been totally work-orientated find themselves taken by surprise at the sheer strength of their feelings for motherhood, and consider being the primary carer for a few years. A combination of prohibitive childcare costs, the 'juggling act' required for any more than one child, and the fulfilment in devoting time and energy to 'the family' lends weight to the idea that it's a break worth taking, with the possibility of making up lost ground in the future. That's the theory, but the reality can be rather more daunting. Since the 1980s, there has been constant encouragement to 'have it all', to get out there and grab the choices our mothers and grandmothers fought for, with the subliminal message that concentrating on caring for your own children is a backward step. Making the decision to give up work to concentrate on being a full-time parent is harder for some people than others, and the levels of satisfaction at making such a decision can vary greatly...
Ms.Cynthia Mcvey, 54, a lecturer in psychology at 'Caledonia University' in Glasgow, is in the interesting position of being able to look clinically at this problem, while also experiencing it. Her four children are now adults, but Ms.Mcvey also made the decision to be a full-time mother while they were growing up.
'I would never change that, but it has shaped my career', says Ms.Mcvey. 'When the children started school I went back to study psychology, and I think -- as a result of having been at home so long -- I was very aware that this was my only chance to do something for me, so just got my head down'.
Since then, Ms.Mcvey's career has been meteoritic, as a psychologist for Channel Four's 'Castaway' TV series, regular appearances on TV and radio as well as contributor to many publications as well as her lecturing post. Asked if she ever wonders where she would be -- had she not stayed at home for so long -- she replies:
'There's no point in thinking "like that" because resentment and regrets can "eat away" at you. 'However, I think "it comes as a shock" to many women -- and I'm not being "sexist" here because if men take time out to be the primary carer it's still unusual enough that they tend to have thought it through till the end -- because although they might always have vaguely thought about going back, they haven't worked out all the details'.
The moment when parenting is no longer full-time -- and by its very nature it will become less and less time demanding -- can be a watershed in terms of identity. Going back to work could fill that void, but it can throw up a whole new set of problems and the surprise one is resentment at realising how far behind your peers you now are. It can be further complicated if you don't know who -- or what -- you resent -- is it your family, your colleagues, or simply recognition that being out of the workplace for any length of time will have a detrimental effect on your career? Furthermore, to what extent you address it or try and catch up will depend very much on the type of work you do. The financial penalties of taking time away from work are immense, as is the inability to focus on work to the same degree. Ms.Catherine Hakim, a sociologist at 'The London School of Economics', touches on the subject in her latest book 'Key Issues in Women's Work' and points out that
'It's nothing to do with sex discrimination, but the recognition that you cannot have two major life projects -- work and family -- and give them both as much attention as they deserve'.
Rearing the next generation is one of the most important jobs in society, and the funds invested in childcare could also be channelled into investing in the parents themselves. Until recently, women who took time out to raise their children were given National Insurance credits towards their state pensions; this has now come to an end and there has never been any serious research into the idea of credits towards private pensions for full-time mothers. It's vital for society to ensure children are being prepared for life, and assuming mothers should make 'martyrs' of themselves to do so is outdated and insulting. Until the economic issues inherent in women acting as primary carer are addressed, the concept of having it all seems as far away as ever. Perhaps it's time to shift the goalposts instead -- of course we can have it all, just not at the same time.
Ms.Jane Muirhead (43) believes that working in the creative industries with their less sharply defined promotion structure provides more leeway for advancement, but emphasis on a youth-driven business results in a different kind of disadvantage. As production manager on the TV series, 'Location, Location, Location' and 'Relocation, Relocation', Ms.Muirhead's first response to her work is that of gratitude. 'I am very aware of how lucky I am to have come into this career later in life', she explains. 'I was originally an art therapist, which I went back to part-time when my son, Max, was born, but when he was 18 months we moved up to Glasgow from Manchester and I gave up work. 'When he started school in 2000, I knew I wanted to do something different, and I felt the IT world had passed me by, so I decided to apply for a computing course at Glasgow University. 'My confidence was at an all-time low and it took me two days to pluck up the courage to phone for an application form'.
The course took the form of six weeks' intensive study, followed by four weeks' practical work in a placement, and Ms.Muirhead organised her own placement with 'Ideal World Productions', which is now IWC Media.
'That was four years ago and I'm still there', she says. 'I basically became one of the oldest runners in the TV world at the age of 39. It was an amazing challenge, and I found "Ideal World" very empowering. 'I'm so pleased that my age hasn't been an issue and I tend not to think too much about what happens to your job if you are the primary carer for a few years. 'However, I would agree that there is resentment at finding yourself in that position. 'I don't know what the answer is for everyone else, but I channelled these feelings into making it work for me. 'There is a real negative in that women are penalised for making the choice to be primary carer'.
When Ms.Lesley Wilkie (45) decided to put her career on hold for a few years she expected some regrets. Fourteen years on, when she returned to her job as an occupational therapist, what she didn't expect was to feel resentment at the impact this has had not just on her future prospects.
'Some of this comes from being in a job with a very defined career pattern', she says.
'I had worked my way steadily up and was managerial with clinical responsibilities. When my husband Roderick and I had our first child Jennifer, who is now 17, I went back to work part-time and then we made a joint decision for me to give up work'.
The Wilkies went on to have Fiona , 13, Sandy, 11, and Hazel, 5.
'All the financial pressure fell on Roderick, but we are convinced that we made the right decision', says Ms.Wilkie. 'I missed work, that sense of definition which comes with a job you love rather than being just someone's mum, but I always intended to go back'.
A year ago Hazel started school and Ms.Wilkie was offered a temporary post in occupational therapy, which has now become permanent.
'It is amazing how quickly everything comes back and I love my work, but it's interesting to see how my contemporaries of 14 years ago have done', she says.
Everyone who has continued working full-time -- and some of them have families -- have moved on to senior management and beyond.
'I don't regret my children, nor the time I've spent with them', explains Ms.Wilkie 'However, I was very career orientated and a very hard worker, so it's difficult not to think "what if?". 'I regret the loss of earnings, status and experience because, realistically, I don't see myself making up that ground. I can't even bear to think about how this will impact on my pension'.
'The perils of having it al', Joan Mcfadden, The Scotsman, 2005-02-01


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've heard enough! You cannot have it all! You women fought for "equality", now you want the balance to favour you.

Of course bearing and rearing a child will have a "negative" effect on your career! But the price is a "positive" effect on your life, as well as that of yourpartner and kids. What do you want? It to have a "positive" effect on your career? You want to be promoted for quitting for years? Get real!

2/07/2005 01:44:00 am  

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