Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Why full-time mums have a job getting back to work

Michelle Obama opened a whole can of worms when she chose to put her own impressive career as a lawyer on hold during her husband’s presidential campaign.

And since he became American President and she the First Lady, it’s been announced that she is to shelve it indefinitely for the sake of her husband, her kids and her family as a whole.

This has angered many feminists who believe that by doing so she is undermining the role of modern career women who have fought for generations for the freedom, the right and the chance to ‘have it all’ while not being forced to sacrifice one element in favour of another.

But now the whole debate has been stirred up even further with the launch of a new book by a leading American ‘lifestyle guru’ Megan Basham, who suggests that the greatest service a wife can do for herself and her family is to follow Michelle Obama’s example by relinquishing personal ambitions for the greater good of her nearest and dearest.

She describes her book, Beside Every Successful Man, as a guide book for wives which “offers principles and examples that can benefit any woman who wants to help her husband earn more and achieve more ... whether that means working fewer hours, taking a couple of years out of the rat race, or not working at all”.

Having made a similar decision myself — albeit a number of years ago — when I was a working married mother, I have a word of advice of my own to throw into the arena.

To any woman thinking of staying at home full-time, I would say think very carefully before turning your back on your career completely. You just never know what your future holds.

When my kids were small my then-husband and I agreed that it would benefit all of us if I was at home full-time.

The kids would have me there round the clock, and in doing so we would avoid the expense and the upheaval of having to draft in a childminder, au-pair or nanny. With the added complication of us living in Northern Ireland but both being from England and therefore having no family members on hand ready, willing and able to help out with school runs, babysitting and holidays well, the choice was really no choice at all. It was a no-brainer.

And for many years it worked perfectly. The kids were growing up with stability and security. My husband could pursue his career and personal goals without restriction while I took care of the home and the well-being of all four family members within it.

Of course, I missed the social aspect of a work environment and the extra income, but other than that it was a pleasure and instead of looking on it as a sacrifice I viewed it as a privilege ...

Sadly my circumstances didn’t stay that way. Fast forward 10 years — my husband and I had split up and I went from privileged to panic-stricken. I found myself at age 40 without a husband, without a job and without a clue what to do next.

I realised then, and too late, that if only I had kept myself abreast of work in some way, for example, working from home part-time, then at least that would have been something and my foot would have still been in the door. But instead I had to start again completely from scratch.

And, despite having a university degree, an impressive CV and all the determination and zeal of a mother fighting for her family’s future I couldn’t even get interviews for a part-time office assistant.

I had simply been out of action for too long and had missed the proverbial boat.

That was six years ago and as you can see I’m finally up and running again, but with the benefit of hindsight I know now that I should have thought more about my own future before making such a life-changing decision. ‘To thine own self be true’, as the saying goes.

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