Sunday, 10 January 2010

I agree with Kirsty

This Monday at 9.00pm on BBC2 Kirsty Young will be presenting the first in a four part documentary on The British Family - a State of the Nation retrospective starting with the 1950s.

Her recent interview about the series (in this week's Radio Times) seems to have caused a few stirrings in blogworld and, as a working mum in a British Family in 2010, I thought I should add to the debate with a few musings of my own on Kirsty's words.

The part of the interview that really resonated with me was when she said

One of the reasons I gave up my newsreading job was that, having watched my stepkids grow up from the age of three and five, which was when I first met them and married their father, I saw, at first hand, just how quickly childhood goes by. And I thought, "My two daughters are going to be in their teenage years, not too interested in me or my ideas about the world, and I'm going to wonder, where did the past ten years go?" I realised that I couldn't read the news and do Desert Island Discs and be a mother and a wife. Something was going to have to give and it was going to have to be me.

It's that last sentence "Something was going to have to give and it was going to be me" that I identified with. My ideas of climbing the career ladder have vanished since having my daughter and I am happy with a balance of doing a job I love with having time to spend with her. Promotion would leave me less time to spend with my daughter and right now, that isn't what I want.

So how many other working mums have made that decision? To scale down their careers to spend time with their families? And how many working dads have left it too late? (I know my dad regrets working all hours when my brother and I were small and he's spent the last 30 years trying to organise family get togethers and holidays to make up for it) How many working mums and dads don't have the option of working fewer hours?

This leads to the next part of the interview, which I have seen misrepresented in some blogs, where they have taken one or two sentences only, so I give you the entire paragraph:

Look, I know I speak from a position of considerable privilege, because I had something that could reasonably be called a career. Most women don't have careers. They have jobs that they have to do to pay the electricity bill or buy school shoes. Choosing to work or not to work is the ultimate luxury and it's also a mark of how far women have come. Sure, most women, when they have children, will take a hit in their income - wherever that might be on the scale - but it used to be the case that you had to give up your job when you got married. Unless you were a spinster, for want of a better word, there was no place for you in the workplace. So I absolutely don't agree with the argument that feminism was somehow an own goal - that all we've done is give up one set of constraints for another. There are all kinds of avenues open to Freya and Iona that weren't open to my mother, and which were only partially open to me. I think sometimes you have to go too far in one direction before you settle on a path that actually does free women to be what they deserve to be in life, but I'm confident that we're heading in the right direction.


She isn't saying that women have a choice whether to work or not and that shows how far we've come. She says that most women don't have the luxury of being able to choose whether to work (because of financial reasons), but it is the fact that we are not forced to give up work because we are married that shows the progress we have made so far.

As a whole, Kirsty's thoughts are very close to mine which I have written about in this blog. About how my mother's generation fought for the right to have jobs and careers, that my generation almost feel constrained by having to work to pay the mortgage, but that hopefully, when my daughter has grown up, there will be a balance. For men and for women. A choice for both sexes of how to raise and finance a family.

There is, of course, more to the interview and I urge you to by the Radio Times and read it before making judgements about Kirsty's words, and there will be more in the series, but I shall watch with interest. I will finish with Kirsty's summing up of what she has found in making the series

Most of the people, most of the time, are doing their damnedest to do well by their families and that's something to celebrate

I agree


Kelloggsville said...

me too! I've just set it to record. Being a working mum with Hubby out of the country and the house/life/child to organise etc etc I don't get to sit down in the evening that early!!! Not convinced I consider my lifestyle 'a choice'. My choice would have been to stay at home.

Trish @ Mum's Gone to... said...

Thank you for providing us with the full picture. Amazing how things can be skewed by selective reporting.

rosiero said...

My experience is slightly different again. I had my career first and then my chid (most women probably have the child first and then pursue or continue their careers.) I did not have my daughter until the age of 40. Not a deliberate choice to wait until 40, just the way it turned out. I had alreay had my ideal jobs and experience in the world by then. She was so wanted and longed for, that the thought of going back to work and missing out on her development seemed a betrayal to her and something I was not prepared to hand over to a childminder. I did not want someone else bringing her up and me missing those milestones. I had a good job, but chose to leave it. Also at that time my husband worked highly irregular shifts on random days of the week which meant someone needed to be around to keep continuity at home. I was more than happy to do that. I think you are right, nowadays women have the choice to work if they want,but obviously finances dictate that choice ultimately.

Felinedream said...

So many of my friends have made negative comments about this article. The majority are SAHMs. I wonder if there's a connection there?

Anonymous said...

As a SAHM, albeit one studying part-time, I resent the idea put forward by felinedream that there is a connection to the criticism of Kirty Young's article. Please do not lump all SAHMs in together, it is as insulting to us as is the criticism in the media of working women.

Sometimes a SAHM's choice is economically based, as a mum of three,(I had twins with a 3yr old) childcare would have been too expensive, and wiped out my meagre earnings(I was a midwife). I would also have had to work shifts, and like Roseiro I came late to motherhood (I was 34 & 37) so had had a career prior to children. Anyway, my point about SAHM's decisions to SAH vary as much as mum's decision to work and are just as valid. I happen to agree with Kirsty, I feel lucky, and grateful to those feminists to have had the choice to carry on working after marriage: Nursing & Teaching required women to give up work on their marriage well into the 1950s
I am so glad that my daughters will have far more options that I did waaay back in the late 70s - nursing, although I loved it, was just about the only option offered!
To demonstrate the attitudes even up to the late 80s, I was asked when I applied for midwifery training what my (then)fiance thought about me studying for another qualification!! - the fact I am now a post grad demonstrates what he thought then and thinks now - I get to choose!


I've been away so have missed all this but very interested to catch up now. I agree with you and Kirsty. I took the decision years ago, well before marriage, that I wanted to have the kind of work that would allow me to have children and get to actually see them and be part of their lives as well. I never wanted to have to make a hard choice between giving up a good career I'd worked my socks off for and being there for any children that I might have. So I chose a path that, hopefully, would allow me to work freelance from home when the time came.

Well, as it happens, I haven't really achieved that yet and have been primarily a mother and housewife ever since I had my first child. Somewhere along the line I hope to get a little more 'work' satisfaction for me in a field that I love, but in the meantime the odd bit of blog writing keeps the balance just about ok - just need to get writing that best-seller now!!!

Mom of Three said...

I think there's another component and that is the entire economy adjusting to the two-income home. When there were sufficient numbers of families with two incomes, you saw an adjustment in prices (upward) to reflect that. If you have only one-income families bidding for homes, for instance, then house prices have to be lower or nothing will sell. Yes, socially, we needed to move forward with women in the workplace, but at the same time, the same old vultures who calculated how much car we could afford on one income were out in full force getting us to spend even more with two.

Working Mum said...

Mom of Three - absolutely, and I have written about this in the past; the fact that having two incomes has led to increased prices and the need for two incomes. I'm not sure how we can redress the balance, but I hope it happens for my daughter.