What do women want?

March 6, 2011

BRITAIN-FORESTS/

Vicki Hazelden is the managing partner of international law firm Walkers’ Dublin and London offices. The opinions expressed are her own. Thomson Reuters will host an International Women’s Day follow-the-sun live blog on March 8, 2011.

Men have been asking themselves this question for generations. Are women happier when we stay at home with our children or does fulfilment lie with a nanny, a grown-up career and our own earning power?  To my surprise I’ve turned out to be one of those “career women” the news media talk about and I’m not sure I know the answer. I don’t think I am alone.

My generation were the first to launch themselves in a wholesale way into the traditionally male dominated careers – banking, law, accountancy and to make it to the top. We grew up with expectations of full time rewarding careers, equal pay and hordes of children, you CAN have it all!

I think many women have now experienced what that means in practice and recognise the wider implications of combining children and a full time job.

So what do I mean by combining children and a full time job? I was reading recently about the concept of the working mother and the one child “pet”. This single child is low impact, easy to transport and precociously sophisticated. She sits quietly with no protest with her parents in smart restaurants until 11 p.m. Mum and Dad take it in turns to get home and see the little one before bed.

There is also the working mum who — guilt-free — delegates the early years to her team of nannies and dives in at the deep end on a Monday morning to surface late on a Saturday morning for some “quality time”.

That’s not the scenario I am talking about. “Children” mean exactly that – more than one, in my case three. They are school age with frenetic social calendars of after-school clubs, home work, play dates, piano practice. They are Full On.

These are children that view their mother as the central figure in their lives. They expect, and receive, attention and organisation from her on a daily basis.   And what do I mean about  a “full time job”? This isn’t working from home half the week or a regime of flexi-hours. This means getting out every day, saying goodbye 5 days a week. It involves missing all the school mums’ “after drop off” coffees and slightly suspicious looks from them on the rare occasion when you can swing by the school at home time.

A full time job means organising your life to leave for the airport at 4 a.m. so you can complete a trip to a European city while not spending a night away. It is making special arrangements with your children’s class teachers when yet again the school schedules the parent/teacher consultations for mid-afternoon on a Wednesday. It is conference calls in the car on the way home and sneaky looks at the BlackBerry hand-held device day and night.

So what is the cost to “having it all” and is it worth it?

In my family I like to think that the cost is borne by me and that is the fact of zero leisure time or time to myself – no time for hobbies that don’t involve children, no time to read a paper at the weekend, have a coffee with a friend that doesn’t involve children.

Forget about “me time” – it’s not happening for another 10 years.  Many women don’t have a choice other than to work, but putting that issue aside, will I be recommending “having it all” to my daughters?

Now that’s a good question, leave it with me – I’ll get back to you when I have a moment . . .

Picture Credit: A mother and her children walk in Alice Holt Forest southern England February 17, 2011. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh

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