10 August, 2012

Can working parents have it all?


In a recent interview for Radio 4’s “Woman’s Hour”, Edwina Currie commented on MP Louise Mensch’s resignation. The thrust of her comments was that while women can have it all, they can’t do it all.

I’m not sure that I agree with Currie’s definition of having it all.

In the course of the interview Currie talked about how she had managed her personal and family life in order to fulfil her obligations as an MP. This involved always employing others to care for her children—first nannies and later boarding school. She even mentioned a succession of “rent-a-grannies” who taught her children essential life skills such as manners—something she declared that she would have been useless at doing.

This sounds to me like a failure in parenting, rather than a family management technique. After all, what’s the point in having children if you never see them? A large part of the joy of parenthood is spending time with your children, teaching them, passing your values on to them. And that joy, by the way, is gender neutral.

I’m not denying that combining a high-flying career with parenthood is incredibly difficult. I made the decision to step down from a senior, highly-paid post in order to spend more time with my children, and I still occasionally feel the odd twinge of regret. But in fact I love spending more time with my kids, and my family life works much better as a result.

I agree wholeheartedly with Currie that women (or men, for that matter) can’t do it all. But I don’t agree with her that we can have it all. Two partners with high-flying careers and children don’t sit easily together. Something has to give, either career or family life. And a situation in which a working parent rarely sees or interacts with their children does not, in my books, count as having it all.

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