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Monday, 31 January, 2000, 15:02 GMT
Back to the kitchen sink. 24.1.00. Your comments

Many thanks for your excellent programme which highlighted the problems that working mothers face. Another problem linked to this matter is the high cost of childcare which in my case has led to me being forced to leave my promising career and take a job nearer home with less prospects, just because my childcare costs will be less. As once half of a married couple, I get no help whatsoever with the cost of childcare. With the cost of a full time nursery place currently running at £500-£600 this is a huge chunk of my take home pay. Isn't it about time we working parents were given more help-tax relief on childcare costs or subsidised care? Working Parents Tax Credit seems only to help very low income families. What about those of us who just fall outside this bracket? Again, thanks for highlighting this matter.
Julie Moores

In my case crunch time came when I did not even know my 3 year olds favourite food. As I was expecting a second child by then soul searching was in order. The outcome was that we did not want to have to pay someone else to raise our children whereby we, both working full-time, did not have a major input into their lives and were in effect raising strangers as we did not know what went on in their daily lives. The difference between the children is remarkable. Our eldest has taken 8 years to develop a self confidence has brothers have at 5 and 3. I am no longer torn between schools, work, doctors etc, but more relaxed and available for them. We do not have 2 cars or go on holidays, neither do we spend a lot on outings and frequently are overdrawn. But are children always have someone to talk to and listen to them. they do not get spoilt by guilt spending on toys. What the program proves to me is something I said when I resigned 6 years ago: that women's liberation is a lie. We will never be like men as they are not willing to give up their rigid work structure. It is still the 9 - 5 hours and the woman working or not to look after the children, the nanny and the dog. Someone has to suffer if everyone has a right to work and it will be the children, supposedly our future. Women suffer too as only they and not the men are expected to make sacrifices. Perhaps the equal opportunities legislation could work if fathers were forced to work part-time as well over the first 4 years to complement their wives. Of course this would lead to inequalities as childless couples have then the higher income but this could be adjusted for by taxation and tax allowances. Why should we have the hard work, lower living standards and low pensions, when we are raising the next generation that will pay the high pensions of the childless. If child benefit were high then they could complain, but given the rate of child benefit in the UK you are punished for having children and staying at home. Perhaps after all there should be an incentive to have children: tax allowances, higher benefits. Think of the advantages: more work places for the unemployed, more demand for consumer goods, more workers for the future and therefore higher pensions for us later.
Constanze Guthiet-Brown

What the program proves to me is something I said when I resigned 6 years ago: that women's liberation is a lie. We will never be like men as they are not willing to give up their rigid work structure

Constanze Guthiet-Brown

It makes me cringe listening to some of the narrow minds who were on this programme. I have two young children and given the choice would love to devote my entire day to them, however due to changes in my partners job I HAVE TO WORK. My heart bled for the poor mom who drops her little girl off at nursery and doesn't always get back before her bedtime. As for working in a supermarket, I have various training and experience in my field which I don't wish to waste. The main problem is definitely the lack of Home Work available. I have searched long and hard and know I could be an asset to someone for half the cost of an office space.
C Savage

Didn't print my e-mail, scared that people might challenge your half-baked theories on women returning to work and so decided to exercise censorship. did the Government persuade you to make this programme so that gullible viewers might return to a more traditional society -the one Thatcher espoused? Man at work, the woman at the kitchen sink. Our style of living, ie. full time career dad and mum at work does work. Take off the blinkers and give women a break, attack the society not the women. Why let dads off the hook when it comes to bringing up children and making a home?
Ian Palmer

The programme was in some ways a repeat of Panorama Feb 1997 "Missing Mum". That programme was criticised in many of the same ways that this one has been. I'm in favour of recycling in principle, but not in journalism - there is more interesting stuff for an original journalist to look at on work-life balance. A shame that Panorama could not look at the newer story - how SOME firms are trying to introduce better working practices; how bosses/ other employees felt; how some women are enjoying their motherhood while looking forward to returning to a career later, etc. I am currently conducting research on mothers who change their minds (decide to return and then don't, or v v,) after a first child, and am happy to be contacted on it on email
Caroline Kay
Bradford on Avon

We represent the Work Life Balance Employment Project Team and are based within the Childcare Unit at the Department for Education and Employment. Several team members watched the programme. We noted that it focused on professional women who were having great difficulty achieving any flexibility at work and whose relationships with their children and partners were suffering as a result. That seemed to us rather a narrow perspective. Many people are successfully balancing the demands of paid work with their caring responsibilities. And many employers have found that helping people to do so can actually benefit the business. We are preparing a campaign to promote work life balance employment policies, working closely with business and other organisations. As part of this campaign, the Government intend shortly to issue a consultation document outlining its plans. If you would like to receive a copy of the consultation document, please let us know by e-mailing:
Jan Miller. Work life balance project team

Why can't employers see that mothers are really worth having in the workplace? Someone who has given birth has physical and mental tenacity. A mother is incredibly well-equipped to do jobs which entail organisation and task-juggling. Why can't motherhood be seen as valuable 'in service training'? If the system can't fit mothers in properly, then it is time it changed both its structure and its philosophy. Mothers are vital and skilled people and it's time the workplace woke up to that. I see a lot more 'family-friendly' practice here in Belgium, where attitudes are much healthier - work is not all there is to life, and we should stop thinking that 60 hour weeks are normal. Employers should wake up - why can't a mum work flexible hours? How difficult is it to set up a crèche in the workplace anyway? A lot of work can be handled at home with electronic connections to the office. We have technology, so why aren't we using it to improve people's lives?
L Fryer
Namur, Belgium

The overwhelming response from viewers of your Back to the Kitchen Sink programme is that you did not represent a balanced view of what is on offer for working parents. The Opportunity Now campaign has been working with hundreds of UK employers for eight years and has a wealth of evidence to prove that many of them are making impressive efforts to recognise that alienating parents is tantamount to throwing profits, morale and reputation out of the window. The women who work for these employers and are managing to juggle work and family life would vouch for this. There is a clear business case for attracting and retaining the best staff, including women and mothers. Investing time and money in employees does not make financial sense if employers continue to take offence at human nature. It should not come as surprise in the year 2000 that the vast majority of any organisation's workforce will at some point become parents. The majority of viewers, many of whom are decision makers in business themselves, would now undoubtedly welcome a follow up Panorama programme to look at where progress is being made. Visit for further evidence. Norma Jarboe, Director
Zena James

When I was a toddler I never saw my Father and my Mother never collected me from school. In fact whilst all the other children went home with their Mother's at lunchtime I went to spend the rest of the day at a local convent. According to the research in the programme that should make me an underachiever with reading and communication difficulties. In actual fact I absolutely loved it. I was the centre of attention and it was all fun. The end result is that I've got a law degree, have worked in the US and have never felt a need to follow the normal route taken by my family. I am also extremely close to my Father. Meanwhile some children in my year who's Mother stayed at home have ended up as confused adults who underachieved. It's all well and good being there for your child when they are young, but it's during the teenage years and beyond when quality time really counts. At the end of the day there is no best way to do anything. It depends totally on the child concerned. Finally having a child is a major decision. It means a loss of lifestyle, freedom and money. If women realised this then perhaps there would be less moans about having it all.

Let's hear from Professor Heather Joshi! Can her research really be used to legitimate traditions and legislation which make it difficult for women to be mothers who take their career seriously? What do we need to do justice to children as well as fathers/mothers? And what about single mothers? Do they simply have to pay for their 'choices'? I'm pleased to read that some of your correspondents also talk about the childless in society who will depend on other women's children one day.
Martha Wörsching

I live at home with my parents and my two sisters... one is older than me at 18, the other is younger than me at the tender age of 7. I am 16 years old. My parents both work and they both work extremely hard. My mother is the Chief Executive of the British Association of Medical Managers and my father is an anaesthetist at Manchester Royal Infirmary. I saw this programme as it was aired and can comment only that it was extremely biased. It only showed one side of the story, almost telling off working mothers. I did not see one single success story, only stories from women who couldn't handle it in the big leagues. If it is impossible for women to have such high flying careers and to raise their children at the same time, then why might I ask does my mother have an OBE for her work, two teenage children and a 7 year old daughter with diabetes. I would have liked to have seen something more balanced coming from the BBC, but it is obviously the case that whoever created this programme did not do anything like enough research on the topic.
Chris Thoms

I watched the Panorama programme last night, and I run a research group at a University. My experience of women who combine children with a PhD or Post Doc appointment is that in general they are more productive, conscientious and harder working than single males. The short hours they work in between dropping the child off at the nursery/school and picking up from school/child minder can be inconvenient because they are not there at the beginning or end of the working day, nor can they stay late in the evenings or work weekends when needed, but generally they do get the lab work done and are willing to write reports and papers from home. In contrast, the single male researcher may waste time by surfing and playing computer games, setting up laser displays, building websites and other unnecessary distractions in stead of getting on with his research.

After seeing this programme - which I have selected as the focus of degree dissertation, I am astounded by the research which was cited - it did not detail the nature of the sample in any detail. It is also interesting to see such a response from the viewers. Having not entered this arena before - is this an above average commentary on a programme? Where exactly are we to get a copy of this research which you herald as showing such significant differences in children's abilities depending upon whether the main caregiver works full or part time ? I am fascinated by the comments made and would be interested to see the response rates to follow ups - of both companies and the views expressed about working women. Nevertheless thank you for such a valuable programme - much needed to further the debate and discussions of where our mothers should be. What about where the children should be?
Elizabeth Payne

Do you not think that the statistics should have read.... ( I cannot remember the exact quote) If one parent does not stay at home the child will suffer developmental problems rather than If the mother does not stay at home.....
Rachel Parkes

This programme brought me to exhausted tears. Having spent the previous 24hours in a sea of guilt and anxiety attempting to satisfy work and care for my sick ten year old. As a clever, hardworking, self-motivated, liberated enthusiastic, ambitious woman of the seventies I was led to believe my abilities were important and valued and I could contribute these skills to society not just my family. This hasn't worked because society only values profit and efficiency and children render parents neither profitable nor efficient. Until we re-evaluate societies goals women have those three choices: work OR children OR fail at both. I feel betrayed. Like many I have worked very hard for 35 years aspiring to professional progress that I was assured would be available for all able women. Society has taken all my effort willingly and returned me none of the reward. My pension will be pitiful, my pay is pathetic, my status low, my health deteriorating.
Lynn Winspear

From the other side of the fence"- trying to staff a small business with only five people covering 8.30am to 7.00pm six days a week in a support role which requires two and sometimes three people to be at work at any one time, and then having one employee on maternity related leave, and others wishing to have holidays at the same time, as well as the occasional time off for sickness, is becoming very difficult.To add to this, the trend to force employers down the road of having to "create" part time employment for staff returning from maternity leave, where no such job would fit the employer's needs, will simply become the "last straw" for many. If such businesses are to cope, they will have to look either to annual contracts, or to employing staff who are unlikely to be able to become pregnant in the 1st place.
P. Clifford

I have just watched Panorama and am feeling really angry. Why on earth does the issue of how we manage family and work have to be seen as a "women's" issue? Why should it be women that have to do all the demanding juggling and make all the difficult choices? Don't fathers have a role to play in this? If this were seen as a problem that needs to be resolved by all working parents and if fathers were to accept their fair share of childcare responsibilities, employers would be forced to take family-friendly working policies more seriously.
Nicola Fletcher

I love my job, I love my baby. I always thought I could have it all but now I know I can't. No way, no employer would touch me once they knew I had a baby. To demonstrate how employers view this, I could potentially have earned £80,000pa if I had forgotten I had a child and employed a nanny etc...however if I wanted to pick my child up from nursery at six the next step down for full time employment with child is £30,000pa...this is mad.
Lucy Cripps

My wife and I (aged 54) were both appalled by the attitude of the parents in this programme. When a couple decide to have children they should do so have considered fully the manner in which they would be able to care for them. Having children is not a right, it is a privilege. In the same way that couples have to decide whether they can afford to have a one bedroom flat or a 10 bedroom mansion, so they must decide whether they have the resources to care for their children. We strongly believe that one parent should be at home to raise the children, whether it be the mother or father and society should in the interests if children accept this as the norm. With the current levels of unemployment, society should also demand that no family has both partners in employment whilst any family has neither partner in employment. To this end it should be legal for employers to positively discriminate so that preference be given to job applicants who are the sole income earner. With the natural laws of supply and demand, once it became the norm for families to exist on the income of one income earner prices of houses etc would have to fall to the level at which they could be afforded. We ourselves followed this course, I worked hard to get a high income job so that we could afford a family. My wife did work as a childminder to earn a small amount of extra income, but was always at home for the children. Now that the children are adult I have been able to give up high stress and high income employment and now enjoy working as the Custodian of an historic house in Suffolk for £11,000 a year. I am very happy and my previous job as Finance Director is now available to the younger generation.
Graham Chapman

Society should also demand that no family has both partners in employment whilst any family has neither partner in employment.It should be legal for employers to positively discriminate so that preference be given to job applicants who are the sole income earner.

Graham Chapman, Lowestoft

Although I have reached a senior position in my chosen career - to enable me to continue to develop - I need to spend considerable time (evenings, weekends and holiday) working at home. I experience great conflict between my desire to care 'well' for my children and to achieve my full potential at work. I have felt guilty most of my working life and have suffered two major periods of depression. At the age of forty years, I feel burnt out and of little use at home or at work! I am frightened to think about the effect my working life has had on my children. However, I do think that government initiatives can do much to change attitudes towards working parents -
Elizabeth Jury
Headcorn, Kent

I would like to counteract Helen Patterson's patronising and negative view of working in a library. I work in a resource centre or library if you want to be old fashioned, I may not be high powered career woman like her but I am a professional (a chartered librarian, a graduate with a post graduate qualification) I am also a mother with two children. My low flying career gives me a balance - a stimulating job I enjoy - a chance to keep my skills up to date and time as a mother in the playground, time at home, time to do some voluntary work.

Women need to face a stark and unpalatable fact that does not need a horde of academic data. A child needs a mother. Their dependency is total, their demand for love insatiable and their reasoning unable to comprehend the denial of either. The question is do women want to partly influence the desires or attitudes of the many or do they want to become unforgettable to one. Such unhelpful epithets as kitchen sink do not help either. Is it unfair, God gave women the gift of "life-giver", use it or lose it.

First of all I have invested a lot of time, energy and money in my career and secondly when I have a child I don't think I should automatically be relegated to the kitchen sink, so to speak. I'm not going to lose my skills or intelligence on giving birth and I don't see why I should be expected to converse with a child only for the best part of each day. I am working for a large commercial law firm, where we have access to the offices 24 hrs, 7 days a week. I am working at something that interests me a great deal and why should my life have to change beyond recognition whe! I have a child. If I choose to stay at home then that's my choice but I refuse to be dictated to. It was claimed that working mothers are a burden on their colleagues - What about someone with an illness or an ill spouse? Should they too automatically not be allowed to continue their career in case the illness interfered with it, for fear they would have an interest in something other than their job?
Anita O'Sullivan

A child needs a mother. Their dependency is total, their demand for love insatiable and their reasoning unable to comprehend the denial of either. The question is do women want to partly influence the desires or attitudes of the many or do they want to become unforgettable to one

A Coleman, Liverpool.

One of the anonymous posters to this forum has commented, "Employers aren't stupid; if part-time working or job-sharing were beneficial they would offer it". I currently work for a company which is experiencing growth in both staff numbers and profits of approximately 15-20% ABOVE MARKET RATE. This is despite offering flexitime as standard, part-time contracts and job shares for some employees, and teleworking by arrangement (and many make that arrangement). The company employs a large number of women, a significant proportion of whom are also working mothers, and shows no inclination to stop employing - or recruiting - them. 'Back to the kitchen sink' reveals that the attitudes of employers and of colleagues, such as Helen, the business analyst featured in the programme, can have an enormous impact on working mothers. Penny and Cathy both expressed their commitment to and enjoyment of their jobs, but were never given a chance to prove that flexibility in working conditions does not necessarily mean reduction in productivity or company profitability. Rather than bow to the prejudicial pressures of hostile employers working mothers should vote with their feet and seek out alternative employers who value their skills ¿ and whose sympathetic approaches to their situation do not necessarily have an impact on the bottom line. Such an exodus of skilled workers is the only way that employers will recognise they have to face up to reality.
Rachael Beale

Penny and Cathy both expressed their commitment to and enjoyment of their jobs, but were never given a chance to prove that flexibility in working conditions does not necessarily mean reduction in productivity or company profitability

Rachael Beale, Cambridge.

As a part time worker studying for a degree in business studies and psychology, I totally agree with the young career woman. Motherhood should be seen as a career, not something that you can fit in around work. I work in an organisation where the Chief Personnel Officer who was just turned 40 has decided to take a career break to be at home with her 3 daughters. Other women I work with who combine a career and work are not very good mothers and rely heavily on the support of grandparents.
Mrs Stephanie McGill

The spokeswomen for the Institute of Directors needs to be educated in how detrimental attitudes like hers can be to women. Would she expect male directors to stay at home after their partner has given birth and "give up" his position that he has worked so hard for? Women are striving for a good education and career and see themselves as equals to men. Does childbirth take away this right? our society is still entrenched in the belief that women should be the main child carers. Isn't it about time that some direction is given to the various institutions who consistently castigate working mothers?
Jill Emery

The skills shortage of the 21st century means that organisations can no longer afford to exclude women, or indeed other individuals, simply because they cannot subscribe to old ways of working. Business success in the 21st century requires collaboration, not competition - this is clear from the number of strategic alliances being developed. Softer management skills are also in demand, so why do we seek to exclude these from the workforce? It is not in organisations, or society¿s interest to do this. Perhaps a future programme could focus on some practical ways of enabling balance, thus helping to move us forward. Christina Evans Independent Consultant specialising in New Ways of Working and career Development E-mail:
Christina Evans

Business success in the 21st century requires collaboration, not competition ...Softer management skills are also in demand, so why do we seek to exclude these from the workforce?

Christina Evans, consultant in new ways of working
The Government is supposed to be looking into the possibilities of paying grandparents to look after their grandchildren. Assuming that many mothers work, not from choice but because they have to, why not pay them (or fathers) to stay at home to look after their own children as, pretty obviously, many would prefer to do?

It is right and proper that women with young children should expect from their employers reasonable treatment that takes account ot their domestic circumstances - and much of what they can expect is enshrined in legislation.However, it must also be recognised that whatever arrangements emerge in terms of flexible hours, reduced hours, reduced workload etc. affects both their employers and their colleagues - AND THEIR COLLEAGUES ALSO HAVE RIGHTS. In each of the cases reviewed, arrangements WERE offered to the mother or her partner, but these fell short of what each expected. J.L. Belfast

Assuming that many mothers work, not from choice but because they have to, why not pay them (or fathers) to stay at home to look after their own children as, pretty obviously, many would prefer to do?

Keith, Cambridge

I am currently in the last year of a BA Hons degree in Organisation Studies and for my dissertation, I am researching this very topic - flexible working patterns for women in the Bradford area, with particular emphasis on the true cost behind the apparent flexibility offered by companies, such as childcare, support systems, financial factors. If anyone in the local area would like to let me have their comments, my email address is:

The general tone of the programme seemed to be that this was a betrayal of working mothers rather than a reflection of market reality. Contrary to the views of some women, most men do not willingly see their children grow up without them but have always understood that there is a trade-off between work and family life. To assume that the demands of competition are part and parcel of the evils of patriarchy rather than an integral part of any modern economy is naive as the experience of Sweden shows. After many years of below average economic performance they have only recently achieved steady growth and are still faced with the prospect of companies moving their headquarters abroad, often to London, to attract employees who are simply not prepared to pay punitive Swedish taxes. To expect companies to foot the bill for working mothers convenience is to invite Continental levels of structural unemployment and bureaucracy on our heads. The United States has even less legislative support for working mothers than our own. Whose economy is the more successful?
J. Gould

I find this situation incredibly upsetting, and would like to point out that: 1. We live in a capitalist world which expects humans to behave like machines, come into work on time, and give maximum input. 2. Careers are moulded on white, heterosexual males (prefferably with a wife at home cooking and cleaning for them and raising their children). How can a mother compete with that? 3. Why should only the mums feel guilty about wanting to pursue a career? Why not the dads? I felt you were being strangely sexist in this matter. I know a couple where the dad stayed at home with the baby, while the mother pursued her career.
Jeanette Tenggren

Although I note and understand the problems and frustrations of the mothers shown in the program, absolutely no mention whatsoever was made about the plight of the staff left behind to cover for the many months that these people are away on maternity leave - individuals who are long serving and experienced staff cannot be replaced temporarily - at least not very successfully even by very good temp - a major problem is left behind by them for existing staff. I personally had an extremely difficult 1999 working all hours and most weekends because we lost three senior staff to maternity leave in that year and was put under severe stress and frankly came close to a breakdown and considered leaving my company because of this- to ensure work was done I had to forego a large chunk of my personal life just to satisfy their needs - I do not blame the individuals but the government who as usual are so far removed from reality and look merely to win votes. A business has to be competitive to survive and to make profits to protect the interests of it's employees and creditors - let's get real folks.
Mr. A.C.G. Winton

This programme, while making some interesting points, was a good example of how egocentric our postwar generation is. There is no perfect way to bring up children, no holy grail of parenting. The way we do it at the end of the twentieth century may indeed be different from how it was done a few decades ago. So what? Did Victorians indulge in such orgies of self-flagellation over whether working if you had babies interfered with their educational prospects? I bet they didn't. Did Renaissance parents fill books full of daft vogueish theories on how to get your children to be decent adults? I think not. And yet, society has prospered and developed, and will continue to do so. What I object to about this programme, is the effect that it, and many similar programmes, has on the poor parents who are just trying to do their best at a hard job. They're probably doing just fine. The truth is that children turn into adults as a result of thousands of diverse influences, and precisely the same upbringing can produce children who are vastly different in terms of achievement, personality and 'happiness'. As a parent, all you can do is your best.
Christine Glen

Just watched "Back to the kitchen sink". What would happen if all working mothers getting a bad deal went out on strike for one day? Maybe then employers would realise what valuable members of the work force thay are!
Alison Rea

I was highly incensed by the comments made by the young analyst who said that it would be easy for a woman to work part time and have a family if she worked in a supermarket or a library. I am a professionally qualified Librarian and feel totally horrified that I should be vilified in such a manner. I have a BA Hons degree, an MA, plus assessor qualifications as well. I regard my profession as a worthwhile contribution to society, I also have 3 small children who are very well cared for and do not prevent me from doing my job to the best of my abilities. I totally resent the implication that working mothers do not give their best. Since having my family I feel more confident about my abilities and have taken on more responsibilities.
Karen Erskine
Newport, Isle of Wight

On a positive note (to counter the exceptionally negative tenor of last night's programme), I would like to highlight an encouraging trend that I notice even in my own circle of friends - that of parents who, finding their traditional workplaces too restrictive, develop their own businesses and ensure that they fit around their family duties. Perhaps we can look forward to a new group of entrepreneurs who will help to bring about more realistic types of employment patterns.
Una O'Sullivan
Milton Keynes

Good old panorama yet another stick with which to beat already downtrodden women. Cant you think of anything positive to say and do for those of us who dont have the luxury of choice in our lives. shame on you.
A smith

I sat there last night listening to the interviewees and getting more and more angry. Why is it that all studies on working mothers concentrate on the feelings of guilt. I am a solicitor with a 3 year old child and I love going to work and seeing her happily go off to school with her au pair. I know that while I am fulfilling my potential at work, my daughter is having a fun day at school and then being cared for in the home by a wonderfully cheerful au pair girl. I wouldn't give it up for anything AND I DON'T FEEL GUILTY. I have breakfast with my daughter every day, get home in time to talk to her and read her a story and spend the whole weekend with her doing fun and educational things. What could possibly be upsetting about that, where could guilt come into it. Those people who think that women should EITHER have a career OR children are manifestly under-ambitious. Life is full of challenges and combining children with a job is one of them. It is fun, varied and fulfilling.

It may sound harsh, but Helen Patterson made some very good points on last night's programme. Some women are trying to do too many jobs at once and not succeeding in any of them.

The child's need are paramount and they need one parent (be it mother or father) most of the time.

Claire, London
The emphasis on the programme was all wrong: it's not the mothers we should be feeling sorry for, but the children. Having children is a major life change and you cannot just continue your life as before. Sacrifices have to be made. I can sympathise with those women who HAVE to work simply to make ends meet. BUT I do not have sympathy with those women who choose to continue with high-flying careers for the extra money and satisfaction. They say they feel guilty for not spending enough time with their children; they can't feel that guilty or they would do something to change things, even if this means taking a demotion. You cannot have everything in life and if women want to continue in successful careers, they should think twice before having children. The child's need are paramount and they need one parent (be it mother or father) most of the time.

When is our society going to start valuing the role of the mother again? As long as the media and the government continue to push the myth that we can have it all, our children are going to continue to be the losers

Cathy Highton, Leicester

Do we really have to go back to the Maternal Deprivation Hypothesis as propsed by Bowlby in the 1960's? Is it not more true to say that children whose 'primary care-giver' is absent for long periods before the age of 1 may go on to be less successful academically than those children who do have their primary care-giver present? The programme-makers could have given more thought to the fact that it is not the absense of the 'mother' than may result in the long-term problems specified but the prolonged absense of the child's main carer. It is not the responsibility of women (solely) to be there for children, the whole work culture and ethos is worthy of study as it causes many of the problems that working parents face.

What I felt was not covered very well in your programme is the fact that there are lots of mothers who have no choice but to return to work full-time for financial reasons and these mothers are not high-flying professional women (I am not classed as a professional). I am back at work because I have no alternative. The other point I feel was not covered was the fact that men are having to take responsibility for children as well now and that can affect their careers. My husband has always dropped-off and collected my son and because he is now working nearer to home he is the person who gets the call from nursery if there is a problem. The childcare responsibility is a shared responsibility. The past 4 years have put a huge strain on us financially and emotionally and stress levels can sometimes be unbearable. I have spoken to a counsellor on several occasions. I quite often sit down and think is all this juggling really the answer - but what alternative do we have - unless we decide to live off state benefits. I am sure there are lost of parents who have similar stories to tell. Life would be just a little bit easier financially if there was more help for working parents - tax relief on childcare, more afterschool clubs, holiday clubs which provide good quality care at a reasonable price. Working parents are responsible - they are parents after all!

I think the women shown in the programme tonight are representative of the selfish nature that has permeated this society. If these so-called mothers want to have so-called high power jobs, they should sacrifice motherhood. To counter the argument regarding "having" to work (to make ends meet) the couples in question should re-prioritise their spending! In summary: You Can't Burn The Candle At Both Ends!
Marc Maclennan
Lowestoft, Suffolk

Come on , Panorama, do the follow-up. Unless you now show that combining work and a family IS possible, we'll never see a change, and you'll still be making programmes like this in ten, twenty years. When are you going to interview fathers about THEIR struggles with combining work and childcare? It's not just a woman's issue. Encourage parents and employers alike by showing the fathers who -like my husband - sometimes work from home, insist on being flexible, and put their children first. AND their careers haven't suffered for it. If the children are our future, don't just show working parents in difficult circumstances, feeling inadequate, and that resigning or demotion might be the only way out. Show that alternatives can and do work, and do your bit to re-educate the nation. PS. My children are fine academically, confident, independent and socially well-adjusted. Not like some of their peers, who have never been left without Mummy or Daddy until school age!
Marion Catling

I know many fathers who feel similarly stressed that they cannot spend more time with their children, but they are not expected to even have this kind of quandary. One of the main problems, not even looked at in the programme, seems to be that people nowadays are often expected to work tremendous hours so there is no room to juggle - it's hard enough even without a child - and that the cost of living now means both partners often have to work.
Mandy Garner

As a full time working mother who"has it all", I was deeply disappointed in your programme which gave very much a one sided view. I am a Consultant Obstetrician & Gynaecologist at Manor Hospital, Walsall and have a very successful career & family life. While agree that women need more choice , your programme only serves to the majority to uphold their view that career women are not good mothers. Your programme only serves to drive women more into kitchen sink. Successful 'career mothers' face opposition from all sides - men, housewives,and 'single' career women. They cannot (or don't want to) believe that some women can and do "have it all". My husband is a consultant Anaesthetist,and my daughter is doing medicine. My two sons are in one of the top schools in the country and they got in through competitive exam. All our three children are very bright and well blanched and we are extremely proud of them and of our achievement. We have every right to be so. I assure you that it has not been a 'bed of roses' and nothing was given to us 'in a silver platter'. I Challenge you to come and see how we do it and be assured that there are many more like us. By the way have you asked how Mrs Thatcher managed to 'have it all'?
Mrs.Chandrika Balachandar
Little Aston,Sutton Colfield

The issues this program raised did not seem to go anywhere. What was its purpose? My wife and myself both have long term careers and have managed to get our act together. So have many other couples with young children. Why did you not show this?? - A valid problem caused by modern life but unfortunately not balanced. Any young women watching this programme could easily feel worried that all they may be working for could be pointless if they ever want to have a career and Children. This can be done but some career paths make it easier than others.
Mark Jennings

This documentary was like a carbon copy of my life. I felt so sorry for the girl who cried when her little girl was yet again asleep when she got home. I am a 30 year old mother of one son, I am in a senior administrative position at University of Limerick and while I get incredible support from my employers when in need, I simply cannot live with the GUILT. It is with you every minute of the day. Although I have a brilliant Husband, the guilt will always lie in the mothers mind. My second child in due in June and I have started my own business which I can run from home and therefore intend to take a career break from the rat race. All I can say is thank God I now have a choice! Most people don't. It really must be said, no matter how many inroads females have made on equality, mother nature will always win! And oh boy are they worth every minute of the work you put in. The rewards far outweigh any of the mental and physical torture!
Eavan Drysdale

No matter how many inroads females have made on equality, mother nature will always win

Eavam Drysdale

I enjoyed yesterday's programme because it was all so familiar. However, it appears that you focused a) on couples, i.e. two parents families and b) on families where one or both the parents had professional occupations. I think that you missed having at least one single parent represented in this documentary. For the professional single parent, work is not really a question of CHOICE. It is either POVERTY (i.e. life on income support) or work. With a salary of 20,000 a year as a Research Fellow I can barely make ends meet. I am struggling to get a mortgage to get out of 6 months assured shorthold tenancies to provide a stable home for my daughter. You also missed having parents whose combined salaries barely takes them above the poverty trap. We live in a low wage economy for the majority of the population. For these women life is a real struggle. Is this the 21st Century?
Dr. Michele Javary
Lewes (East Sussex)

I watched with interest the Panorama Programme tonight. I am a Solicitor of seven years and Manager of a Department with 55 reporting to me on a daily basis. The issues covered by the programme are ones that I will hopefully have to grapple with myself one day but at present I have to make the decisions regarding my own staff and their requests upon returning from maternity leave. It is very difficult when I have to balance the needs of the business against requests for reduced or part-time working. I fully understand the issues and sentiments supporting the requests made by the mothers but have to ensure that service levels are maintained and Company objectives achieved within certain budgets, whilst bearing in mind the current Employment legislation. I feel that the title of the programme did nothing to enhance the status of the mother who chooses to bring-up her child and give up work for a period of time. Abigail Colchester
Abigail Daykin

I was deeply traumatised by your reporting this evening. Not only did it continually cross socio economic boundaries in a way constructed to minimise the potential positive effects that being a working mother could bring, but it also took no account of the increasing role that working fathers play within the home and family. Having constantly fought and struggled against the male chauvinism rife throughout engineering, telecommunications, social services, education and information technology. I am distressed by the lack of balance and low standard of reporting this programme portrayed. Please put the balance back and do or commission a proper survey which does not mix socio economic groupings in the erroneous manner undertaken in this (supposed) documentary thereby drawing erroneous results. Kind regards Elaine
Elaine Eldridge
Milton Keynes

A very disappointing, limited in scope kind of a programme - no joined-up thinking here. I wonder what would happen if the mother driving her child for 3/4 of an hour considered that she might knock down someone else's child on the way? (See next week's Panorama programme). Or cause them to have asthma due to polluted air? And of course, children belong to men too - there were only a few nods in this direction. And could there not have been some mention of some of the many solutions we could now be considering to the problems faced? Like job-sharing, for men and women, reduction of working hours for all, so that more people could have jobs in the first place?
Vivienne Rowett

I am a full time working mum of two children, in a management level job with an international insurance company. Had very strong feelings about the issues raised in the programme (was shouting at the TV), especially towards the 'woman' from the Institute of Directors (who if statistics are correct are likely to be mostly male!). Have never commented on a programme before, would be interested to know if you have had a lot of feedback. Please, please do a follow up and get the employers point of view. Why are there so many barriers? What are the problems they face in being more flexible? Do they not realise the skills that they loose after spending money & time training young women?
Mrs Julie McNeill

I was extremely impressed with your programme tonight on working mothers. I myself am a working mother - full time - and I am constantly fighting a battle with my employers and my colleges as to how hard it is for a 'parent' to juggle both work and home life. Like one of the women on your programme I only see my son for 1 hour in the morning, and 1 hour in the evening, and if I have to work late he will be in bed and asleep well before I get home . I have taped your programme and will be taking it to work with me tomorrow, to give to my boss to watch - hopefully he will understand a bit more (though I doubt it greatly as he is a 36yr old single man with no children who lives with his mother) what it is like when my son is ill and I have to take time off work. If you are doing any follow up programmes I would like to contribute my feelings/stories on the whole 'working mother' issue. Finally both my husband and myself would like to know if the Lady from the 'Institute of Directors' has any children of her own as she seemed to be very Anti-family? Once again Thanks for a very interesting programme, and I hope that I/we can be of help to you in the future. Wendy Bird
Wendy Bird

Panorama tonight I'm sure touched raw nerves all over the country. As a full-time working mother and main breadwinner, I can empathise completely with the mothers in your programme. To my mind many employers simply pay lip service to the idea of equal opps, and this is reflected in their narrow-minded attitudes of many to part-time working. It's not as the city investment person commented a case of working mothers being unreasonable in expecting to have it all. We simply want to be valued for the contribution we can make. Sure, it may be in less hours but that makes it not less valuable. Has Ruth Lea not heard of generation x and y and the challenges employers face in managing diversity and not by the same old rules that have applied for the last 20 years. I believe we can do several things to aid everyone involved in this (primarily the children). Make this not just a mother issue - can we not make it more acceptable for fathers to work part-time as well? 2. Give increased rights to all to balance their home and work -life commitments (irrespective of whether they have children or not) 3. Start to blur the distinction between work and home life - surely given all the technology and connectivity we have at hand (e mail/mobiles/video conferencing etc_) "presenteeism" can start to become a thing of the past Regards
Elaine Stroud
Brentwood, Essex
Tracy Newport

I am sitting here fuming at your programme You've totally missed the point. Men have been having it all ways for years, no guilt has been placed on them for having a family and a high-flying job. In your programme you focused on a father that was nearing disciplinary proceedings because he was having to come in to work late. Why was no mention made of this government's short-sighted policy of forcing single parents out to work. I would have thought this would be relevant to your programme, as I know from personal experience how damaging it can be to both the child and the parent. When a partner in a two family comes home from work, the other partner can help with the domestic side. Single parents don't have this option and are usually too exhausted for the 'quality time' one of your mothers spoke of - thus damaging the child's development and the relationship between parent and child further.

What a classic piece of anti-female clap-trap. Women portrayed in adversarial opposition to each other. What a scene! Just what the men want, women attacking each other instead of the system that perpetuates female oppression. In that way men get of the hook, men take no responsibility for giving up anything, are they? Women can make the loss never mind all their hard work and education or future career prospects. How low we have sunk as a society when we see career women who choose not to have children ganging up on women who have children who still want to be treated like 'thinking people' and continue their careers. The fact is women have always had to work, always have done always will, with or without the support of male dominated work environments, with or without the support of men or the government. Women work because men can't provide it all. Most couples work together and get on with it and women take lower paid jobs lower expectations because they have no choice in the matter. What women don't need is to constantly hear that child care is 'Their job' That child -hood failures manifested in later life are 'Mums fault' this is old stuff and not worthy of the discussion. Give women something new, talk about success instead of failure, talk about women's enduring commitment to family life not 'guilt trips' Lets hear some 'father blame' for a change!!!!!! After all they have children as well or did this escape the attention of the programme makers!!! Lets get a new take on an ancient and worn out paradigm. As for the research, pull the other one it has bells on it. Not convincing at all!

The fact is women have always had to work, always have done always will, with or without the support of male dominated work environments, with or without the support of men or the government.

Laix, Watford

Working parents - This programme was extremely biased and the conclusion stated was unfounded. From what I have read the research undertaken actually stated that the type and quality of care that the child received was as likely / more likely to have influenced their academic achievement than whether or not their mother worked (note mother, not parent!). The examples presented on the programme were hardly typical of working parents - but using typical parents as examples wouldn't have made "good" television, would it? I could go on, but who would want to here about two parents who (fairly) successfully manage to combine full time work with raising four children / young people(who all happen to be intelligent, self-sufficient, confident and happy - or are they only pretending!)
Anne Gibson

What a brilliant programme! I am the mother of an 11-year old who went back to work full-time when he was 5 months old. I am a head of department in a state secondary school. I am now finding that he is under-performing and that I blame myself because when I get home from work which can sometimes be as late as 9.00 pm, or even when I am home for 6.00 pm, I still have work to do and do not have enough time for him. I would give anything to turn the clock back. I would love to work part-time but it is very true that a part-time worker is almost a second-class citizen. For high powered jobs, I believe the way forward is to break that job down into "high powered" tasks and "routine" tasks. In this way the career person could deal with the more demanding aspects of the job albeit on a part-time basis whilst someone who would be lower paid could deal with the routine aspects.
Denise Bannister-Gee

Excellent programme and oh so true. Being a mother of a 2year-old myself I just spent over 6 months finding a suitable p/t job that would suit the hours I want to work/nursery hours here and the money that you need to earn to afford child care - absolutely impossible. I was offered several jobs which I then had to turn down either out of hour reasons or because of lousy pay. I have now finally accepted a p/t position which is paid peanuts in comparison to what I did and could earn, by making the conscious decision of not trying to ask for it all (i.e. right times and right money!!!). Anyway, thanks for tonight's programme, I most enjoyed it and can't say how close to home the whole thing was Mrs Hughes
Mrs S Hughes

Contributor comment Having had much to say during the making of the programme - some of which wasn't screened - a couple of points we feel are due. As a working mother and senior professional in my industry (IT) I am happy to say that we achieve balance 95% of the time due to my (featured) supportive employer. My husband is the most active, supportive, involved father who takes a good 50% of the caring role - without whom I couldn't achieve the balance I do - who has also suffered the same amount of bigotry as I have regarding his family commitments. The subject is emotive and do remember that over emotional responses can only be expected when probing into your deepest feelings regarding the circumstances surrounding these dilemmas. The families in this program had to agree not only to be interviewed but also to deeply examine their personal feelings for your edification. It is over simplistic to generalise that all children are planned, ergo you should plan for the aftermath. Also to assume that it will never happen to you. The only solution is to provide policies for all working parents and for all employers to consider the need on individual case basis as each family's need differs. To all those who enjoyed and gained something for the program our participation and trauma was worthwhile. For those who think themselves above it or it will never happen to you - please remember that once, not so long ago - so did I.
Penny & Stuart Gillison-Tyler

To all those who enjoyed and gained something for the program our participation and trauma was worthwhile.

Penny & Stuart Gillison-Tyler, Programme contributors

I would like to say the point of view on the programme that if you have a part time job in a supermarket, as I do fits in great ! On another point, - It is funny how everything mentioned on the programme surrounds the younger children. The problems actually I believe get harder as the children get older! Another issue I suppose but another reason to wonder if the struggle these mothers are having is worth it if they knew what is ahead!
T Huish
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