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Monday, 30 July, 2001, 11:04 GMT 12:04 UK
Can modern women have it all?
mothers
Many mums are taken aback by the amount of work
The BBC's new current affairs programme 4x4 sets out to examine whether the popular image of the working mum in the media - glamorous, in control and yet maternal - is anywhere near accurate.

Is the combination of relationship, work, and motherhood satisfying for women?
Or is the juggling act of raising children, holding down a job and sustaining a relationship, simply too stressful for the 5.5 million British women who do it?

The BBC's Denise Mahoney investigates.

Sue Edmundson, from Manchester, is an educational psychologist and mum to Nadia, four, and Lauren, eight.

She and her partner, Mario, a full-time lecturer, allowed the BBC's 4x4 programme to put discreetly-placed cameras in her house to glimpse her life and the normal daily strains involved.

She is typical of many working mums, working nine to five, five days a week.

She has no live-in nanny or au pair - 95% of British families cannot afford them - and has to rely on day care in a nursery a few miles from home.

washing up
Working mums can find they have to juggle it all

Although Sue manages her family and job equally well, she admits she feels stressed much of the time.

She also says that, like a lot of modern mums, she has been taken aback by the amount of hard work and the hours she needs to put in to all aspects of her life - and how there is virtually no free time left over for her.

4x4 asked Dr Diana Houston from the University of Kent to review Sue's video diary.

Dr Houston is heading a major study of the experiences of Britain's working mums, backed by the Economic and Social Research Council.

She believes that Sue's statements in the programme are typical of mothers she has spoken to during her research.

mother and baby
A second child pushes many to breaking point

She told 4x4 that it was the birth of a second child that pushed many women to breaking point.

Dr Houston revealed that after she had talked to 400 first-time mothers, initially only 20% of them had said they intended to stop working after the birth of their first child.

Half of the original study group went on to have another child.

But, during their second pregnancy, 45% of them said they would be giving up work altogether because they did not feel they could manage to juggle work and take care of two children.

Sue Edmundson, who wore a stress monitor during filming, said she was not surprised by this.

The levels of stress peak when she fights the rush hour traffic to collect her youngest daughter from nursery.

What Sue believes would encourage many of these women to stick with work, is greater provision of good quality and affordable childcare and more flexible working hours, to ease the frantic rushing around most mothers experience.

Major difference

Workplace creches, flexi-time and school holiday leave would also make a major difference.

The government said recently that it believed urging employers to change the way work hours were planned was the answer.

But because bosses will not be forced to do so, critics say the burden on parents - especially women like Sue Edmundson - will remain.

Maybe that is why Sue concluded on 4x4 that, no, women definitely cannot have it all.

You can put your questions to Diana Holland from the TGWU. She'll be joining us for a live forum on Tuesday and will answer a selection of your questions on any of the issues raised above.


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4x4 is being broadcast on BBC1 on Monday at 1930BST.

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