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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 October, 2003, 11:46 GMT 12:46 UK
Mothers, work and the guilt factor
Many working mothers long for fulltime motherhood, new research from Mother & Baby magazine suggests. Here, Karen Pasquali-Jones, editor of the magazine and mother of one, speaks from experience about the childcare challenge.

Karen Pasquali-Jones and baby son, editor of Mother & Baby
Guilt is the biggest thing every working mother has to contend with.

Once you're a mother every person has an opinion about what you should be doing, even the woman on the bus will be tutting at you, telling you how to do things.

When I went back to work some of my colleagues kept asking me how I coped and offered sympathy.

It was like they were talking to someone whose grandmonther had just died.

But I like being at work, I like the juggling act, I like the best of both worlds.

But I also know mothers who have decided not to work who feel embarrassed about saying that they're just a Mum or just a housewife.

Both camps think they're stigmatised.

It's really stupid, everybody should feel happy doing what they want to do, but it's not like that.

'Torn in half'

The hardest thing is days like today.

It's days when you've planned your diary, your appointments, you've worked 18 years to be in the postion you're in. Then the baby is sick.

Baby just wants mummy - even daddy won't do. But I'm not here 100%, I give him Calpol and hope he'll go back to sleep. Then I feel guilty about that.

Cleaning baby's teeth, cleaning my teeth, changing the nappy - twice, running to the nursery, running to the tube - every minute of every day is timed
I have a commitment and loyalty to my job, I want to do my job well.

It tears you in half and you think: "Oh my God, something has to give."

I can't do either thing to the best of my ability. Every way you feel guilty and torn.

I'm one of the privileged ones - I chose to go back to work.

Most women don't have a choice - they have to go back for financial reasons.

Many of those women will say the hardest thing is the financial dilemmas or trying to keep their husbands happy too and finding their sex life has gone to pot.

It's getting so stressed that they're shouting at the husband and children all the time because there's just too much on their plate.

No creche

I'm one of the privileged ones because my husband is happy to share everything.

But it's still really hard.

Every moment is planned for both me and my husband from the moment we wake up.

One in 10 mothers work for nothing, spending all their money on childcare, running just to stand still
Cleaning baby's teeth, cleaning my teeth, changing the nappy - twice, changing my suit because it's got vomit on it, running to the nursery, running to the tube. Every minute of every day is timed.

It's hard financially, emotionally, practically. And we've only got one.

The government says workplaces need to be more flexible and provide for working mums.

But there's no creche at my work and I have to go to private nusery and pay half my salary.

One in 10 mothers work for nothing, spending all their money on childcare, running just to stand still.

But at a certain point in your career - when you're just one promotion away from your dream job - then it seems crazy to give up.

It's so hard. But it is worth it.

Having a baby is the best thing I've ever done in my life.

Some of your comments:

Been there, done that! If anyone asks what my greatest achievement has been I always say my two lovely children - never managing a team of 20, succeeding as a lone woman in a department of men, bringing in the impossible project on time. No, always my kids. I got out of the rat-race and now work part-time in a (non-stressful) job that's flexible enough to cope with unexpected illnesses etc. I only earn a third of what I could be earning, but we're all happier for it. Only wish I could have done it sooner.
Bev Leahy, UK

I am lucky enough to be able to work from home and employ a qualified Nanny to look after my kids. I get to work and see loads of the children. They understand not to disturb Mummy when she is working and it works really well for us. Our Nanny (who doesn't live in and is a saint!) is a big part of our family. Both my husand and I have well paid jobs, but we had to choose between a flashy car and lots of holidays or the best quality childcare for our girls. No competition! A day does not go by when I don't appreciate how lucky I am. I really think I am having my cake and eating it, too!
Amanda Friend, UK

I can totally relate to Karen and I'm glad to know that I'm not the only one. I too am a working Mum to a beautifull girl who is going to be 3 in a couple of weeks. When she was 5 months old, I had to return to work as my partner's salary was not covering the bills and we needed the extra income to survive. I now also have to pay half my monthly pay to a private nursery to look after my daughter and yes I feel extemely guilty all the time, especially when she is upset or hurts herself and the nursery calls me and asks me to collect her. I start to doubt and get upset and wonder if I am doing the right thing, will she suffer as a result, will she hate me even for not being there for her??? The worst time is in the mornings when she grabs my leg and says "mummy I don't want you to go to work today", my heart sinks and I look at her sad face and the only thing I can say is but "mummy has to". Having her was the best thing I have ever done in my life too and yes it is hard, but now I wouldn't change a thing.
Shauna, UK

Yes, this is reality but two other reality factors not mentioned. Rushing - constant, forever, rush rush rush. Rushing to nursery/school/train/work, rushing at lunchtime to buy food, clothes, birthday card etc, rushing from work/home all the time. Factor two is the 18+/- hour day ... up at 0630, home by 1830, two boys who've missed their mummy being away all day in bed by 2100, 20 minutes of TV before preparing dinner for husband who's late but who's timing for dinner is perfect at 2230, time to sit down and relax by 2300, in bed by 0045, full of cold but first all year amazingly. Have done better timing wise but this is very typical and this is my reality. I enjoy the juggling because it's a challenge and ever the optimist, it'll go better tomorrow!
Jenny Bean, UK

I wonder if the way forward is to alter more working situations so that a woman can take her baby into work. It would save on childcare and women would worry less about their children, as they would know that they were in good hands.
Graeme Phillips, Germany, normally UK

I do have to ask ... why does no-one ever consider what working fathers go through? I am fortunate enough to have a husband who shares everything equally with me. If our daughter is unwell, we take turns staying off work. We share the jobs at home. Some fathers simply cannot, due to working hours or commuting. No-one ever questions a man about how he will balance his job and his family. Most folks automatically assume that it will be the mother who has to compromise. Why should this be in this age of supposed equality?
Lisa (working mother of one, with another on the way!), UK

Balancing commitments becomes every working parents main issue. We are expecting our 3rd child, and have to cover the prospects of 1 at school and one at a childminder. What do we do with number 3. Fortunately we have a good childminder, but the additional cost will wipe out most of my wife's income. Why do we do it then? Because my wife's sanity is also important. After our 2nd child, she chose not to go back to work, but this just restricted her. When she went back to work (part time), we could afford to get her a car, so she can now get to the library, a 'local' park etc. so our children also benefit, and my wife has adult contact. The recent changes to maternity allowances will make it easier whilst she is off. With number 2, all our savings went, but the changes will allow her to take 9 months off and still be no worse financially. But as the article says, there will be the guilt of using a childminder and not looking after baby ourselves. It's a no-win situation.
Graham Robinson, UK

I went back to work before my baby was 2 months old. It wasn't because I wanted to but because otherwise my partner and I couldn't have coped financially. A new baby is expensive enough but we moved into our new home at the same time and had a mortgage to start paying. I felt guilty about going back to work and felt even worse when I had to give up breastfeeding after just a week back at work because I was just too tired and my baby began struggling on the breast after having had a bottle all day. Luckily for me my parents are helping with childcare otherwise it would have been a struggle having child care costs to pay for on top of everything else. The costs are just too much and even though there are facilities at work they don't take babies under 6 months and have limited places. Also things at work are different for me. I feel like I am letting work down when I need time off at short notice. Also I don't want it to compromise my position at work, but my baby comes first and that will always be the case. Whatever else is going on he is the most important thing to me and his needs will come before mine.
Alison , England

totally agree - I am the main breadwinner in my house, we couldn't afford for me to give up work. Childcare fees are hideous. It's all planned to the last half second, but all it takes is for the baby to be off colour and it all goes to pot. Guilt is now my middle name. I am no longer a woman or a wife and mother, I am just permanently guilty.
Maria Bothwell, London, UK

I work becauase I have to. I don't want to but thankfully I'm able to work part time. Good childcare is the key to dealing with the guilt. My 2 year old daughter has been at nursery since she was 11 months and she thrives there. She loves it and most days runs in without a second glance. It's just days like this morning when she wouldn't let go of me that my heart breaks. I need to work for the money and also for some of my friends and family to see that I actually do something. Why is it like this? My mum didn't work until I was 11 and she was praised for it. Not fair.
Frances, UK

It was nice to read this article as it reflects completely my stresses and guilt at trying to hold down a full time job, run a house and somewhere in between be a loving mum to my 8 month old baby. Half of my salary goes on childcare too. I know it was my choice to have a child and I should expect the stress. But nothing really prepares you for it. Luckily, I work flexitime and have a very understanding boss so I should count my blessings. In an ideal world I would love to work part time and look after my daughter part time, but financially it doesn't make sense as the cost of child care is exactly the same as my wage. I guess at the end of the day you have to choose whether you want to be a full time mum who doesn't get "grown up" interaction everyday or a full time worker and part time mum and face the guilt. There doesn't seem to be an in between.
Sarah, UK

I agree with the comments but as a "lone parent" with two junior school age children I hate to say this but it gets harder. I think just being a working parent is relentless. I am one of the lucky ones - I work in paid employment part time and am a full time mother. You run to stand still both at work and at home and having to remember what the children need to take into school every day can be very hard when you are stressed about the approaching working day. I feel that somewhere along the line all women have lost out - we are the inheritors of the feminist movement of the 60's and 70's and yet where have we got? We work harder than our mothers just to stay in the same place. It now takes two decent incomes to provide what is perceived to be a "normal" standard of living -holidays abroad, cars, computers, etc. I feel that we are conned into having to have x y or z and we are all, men and women, paying the price.
Claire Campbell-Andrews, England

Yes, it's hard work but yes it's worth it! I love the fact that I have the choice to go out to work and that's all thanks to the new tax credits which help me to pay for the very expensive childcare (as a single parent without them I would be at home claiming every benefit available). It's a juggling act, a logistical nightmare, guilt-ridden and full of people questioning your "life-style choice" but it is also highly rewarding and I do feel like I have the best of both worlds.
Heidi, London, UK

Since having my first child 7 years ago, both myself and my partner have yo-yo'd between jobs, sharing childcare duties and trying to work full time. I gave up my well paid admin job last year because I was fed up of having to feel guilty about having to 'beg' time off took look after the children when they were ill, parents consultations etc. I look after my children full time and now work 6-10pm every weekday. This is exhausting but fits in well. How much easier life would be if employers would realise how important children are and had in house creche facilities as in other countries. I would be happy to take a drop in salary to cover some of the costs just to make life easier!
Heidi Docherty, Scotland

Why is it always assumed that it is only working Mothers that have problems juggling their career with being a parent? I am a single dad and as such have no other option but to work. My career has suffered greatly because I have chosen to put my son before my job. My son will be going to school next year and, for the moment, the only way I can see being able to manage is that I give up some hours at work, go part time and try to shoulder the financial implications. But I suppose this is all part of being a parent?
David Glossop, England

Yes this describes the juggling act very well but it is worth it in the long run. My girls are 23 & 19 now, both are lovely, independent, gorgeous daughters who I love to bits. I feel my job has kept me in touch & kept my outlook young. I don't think my girls would say they have missed out on anything due to my work commitments.
Lesley, York, UK

I am a mum of an 8 year old and an 11 year old. I work full time not through choice but because I have to for financial reasons. I do enjoy working as it gives me a bit of individuality away from being a mum all the time. However, I do feel incredibly guilty at times, particularly at the moment. My 11 year old has just started senior school and is finding it difficult. I would really love to be there when he gets home from school, but 'school hour' jobs are very few and don't pay enough. My youngest has a few learning problems and I would love to spend more time with her after school before she gets too tired. I do think that some people who have grown up children very quickly forget how difficult it is to be a working mum. Thank you for listening!
Jo Thornley, England


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