12 November 2015
We had been out shopping for the day and my daughter was happily clutching a bag filled with sparkly tops and a pair of impossibly high black heels; we had just got our eyebrows and our nails done. These are not things I would normally rush to do, but it’s an excuse to spend time with my twenty year old daughter who loves it! Instead of being a chore, which it would have been if I did it alone, it became a really great afternoon.
Half the time we’ll disagree about countless things – my clothes are always too loose while hers are too tight, depending on who is looking in the mirror of course.
But there are calmer, less frenetic moments, usually while driving, when we get to really talk.
This day was one of those times and I suddenly found myself asking: ‘Did you have a happy childhood?’
She was bemused by the question and laughed out loud. I suppose it came out of the blue for her. For me however, it’s a question that has played on my mind since the day I returned to full-time work when she was 13 weeks old.
I think the question I was really getting at was: ‘Would you have preferred me to stay at home and not to work?’
As career people who have made choices to return to work and leave their children in the care of others, I’m not sure the guilt ever goes away. But now she is grown, I really wanted to know whether any of my worst fears held weight. Had the time in nursery or with various nannies or au pairs scarred her irrevocably? I also wondered how she would handle her own career and what choices she might make if she has children of her own.
Over the years, I’ve encouraged her to think about carving out a career which could function part-time – not something I felt able to do. I’ve seen smart women creating niches for themselves so that their skills are highly valued and they can demand more flexibility at the times they really need it. Certain professions can be done part-time, so that work can be eased back at these critical moments in life, without sacrificing the opportunity to have a satisfying career.
As it happens, my daughter says that she can’t imagine not working. My immediate reaction was a pang of guilt – I want her to have choices, not for her to feel she has to work. But on reflection, and seeing how she throws herself into her part time jobs at Uni, I don’t think she feels she has to work – she wants to.
Recently at a family party she made a speech talking about what it was like to have a working mum. She brought tremendous humour into the stories and had the whole room in hysterics. But in her humour she had also managed to get across that not only had my working made our life interesting, it had caused her to question the role of women in the workplace and to form positive views about her own equality in the working world. She also reflected on what having a working mum adds to family life: we did things that perhaps other families didn’t and she quite liked the fact I was different from many of the other mums she came across.
As a working mum I try hard to make time with my family count. In the time we do spend together it’s always been important to me that we enjoy each other and that my children know they are loved and that family is central to our lives.
At least for now, my daughter is probably at a place where she would like to have both a career and a family. I know that she and other future parents will need a lot of support and help from their families when they make this choice, but there is also a need for more support from employers alongside this, ensuring the necessary care and guidance to help future parents manage both a family and a career.
I’m not sure that combining family with career will ever be a guilt-free decision, but I want my daughter to be able to make an informed choice, and to feel confident and supported in this choice.
Helen Sachdev is one of the Founders of WOMBA as well as a senior executive and Trustee with both the CIMA UK Board and Leicester University Student’s Union, and an Executive Coach. She is a mother of two who is also committed to making the world a better place for working women.