Outspoken Tory MP Louise Mensch may go down in history as the woman who had it all, then let it go.
The mother-of-three had written 14 chick-lit novels while still in her 20s before going on to become one of the most prominent candidates for the Conservative Party.
In 2010 she was elected as MP for Corby, which had previously been a safe Labour seat. She played a key role in the questioning of James and Rupert Murdoch during the Commons Select Committee inquiry into the phone hacking scandal and was hotly tipped to become one of David Cameron's ministers.
All that has changed however. The woman tipped as the future of Conservative politics resigned her seat earlier this month to spend more time with her children and husband Peter Mensch, manager of bands, Metallica and Red Hot Chili Peppers, in New York, and predictably opened herself up to a backlash.
Critics attacked her for giving up the seat where she had been selected to stand at the expense of local candidates.
They also claimed that she would have more time with her children — from her first marriage to property developer, Anthony LoCicero — if she cut back on her high profile television appearances and abandoned her launch of a social networking site.
While Mensch (42) is well able to afford to abandon her career, that’s not as easy an option for many mums in these days of austerity. Yet it is a decision that many continue to make. Despite having to give up exotic holidays and designer wardrobes many women are making the decision to step off the career ladder and stay at home. To them, being there during the formative years of their children's lives is more important than any seat at the boardroom table. We talked to several local women about why they decided to give up careers to be full-time mums.
I was a communications manager
Avril Keyes (39) lives in Belfast with husband Brian, a banker, and their children Callum (8), Kate and Gemma (3). She says:
I worked as a communications manager for a large bank for 15 years. I had gone in straight from university and worked my way up. I was always enthusiastic about my career and it never once occurred to me to be a stay-at-home mum.
When Callum was born I was still very career focused. I took five months maternity leave and really looked forward to getting back to work. When I took my maternity leave with the twins it was the same and I can even remember putting my return date of nine months later into my-out-of-office message before I left.
While I was off though, the industry changed. Northern Rock went bust and the recession hit. I knew that my role would change significantly when I went back to work. It would be a lot more demanding and involve a lot more travel.
My mindset changed, too. I took to being at home with the twins much more than the first time around. I knew that working with three children would be a challenge, not least because the childcare would cost a fortune and it simply wasn't worth it to go part-time. If they got sick as well it would mean days off work and they tend to fall ill in succession rather than all at once.
When the bank started offering a redundancy package then I felt that giving up work was destiny. My priorities had changed from my career to my family. I knew that if I stepped off the career ladder then I wouldn't achieve a similar level in the future but I wanted to enjoy motherhood more.
The timing actually worked very well. When Callum was born I was the first of my friends to become a mum but when the twins came along there were a lot of friends on maternity leave or who changed to part-time after they had kids so there was more of a social life for me outside of work.
It was also good for Callum. It was at the time he was starting school so he would know I would be at home after classes which I think has really helped him. The twins were babies and wouldn’t really have known who was looking after them so it probably made less difference to them.
Since staying at home I've made a real effort to get out and socialise, so now I help organise the local mums and toddlers group. It's helped open up a whole new group of friends who are mums at home just like me. I've also started a blog about fashion for busy women on a budget — it's called School Gate Style.
The girls will be starting nursery soon so I might start thinking about looking for something part-time but it won't be at the level I used to work at.
I don't believe you can have it all — I've been a working mum and a stay-at-home mum-of-three.
You have to sacrifice something and for me it was my career.
I won't be on my deathbed regretting not having seen my children grow up. This is a privilege.”
You can follow Avril's blog at www.schoolgatestyle.com
I was a lecturer in business studies
Paula Mulgrew-Quinn (32) lives in Crossgar with husband Pascal, who runs the family business, and their children Jude (5), Oliver (2) and Holly (8 months). She says:
I used to lecture in business studies at Belfast Metropolitan College and I was very passionate about my career. I was there for nearly five years before I became pregnant with Jude and took three months maternity leave. The college asked me to come back part-time because they were short-staffed.
It was quite tough though, working and being a mum at the same time. In order to get Jude to the creche we had to be out of the house before 7am so I could commute to Belfast. I would get home at about four in the afternoon and that would be all the time I had with Jude before he went to bed. Then my evenings would be full of marking.
When Oliver came along I felt that something had to give. I felt guilty and impatient that I was missing out on my children growing up. Giving up work isn't going to be feasible for everyone but my husband works in the family business, Quinn Piling, which means he sometimes works very long hours.
There were also things like childcare costs to take into consideration. It didn't feel like my salary was worth it because it would go into that. While I was on maternity leave with Oliver I had a chat with my head of department. We decided it was a good time for me to leave. That was three years ago and I'm very happy with my decision. I'm watching my children grow up. I don't think my career was a waste, either. I've been able to use my teaching skills to educate my children before they've even gone to school.
Being a full-time mum is a very rewarding job and no two days are ever the same in my house. There's getting them ready for school, housework, homework, taking the children to the park and so on.
I do the occasional day's work for my sister who owns Skin Medi Spa in Belfast but otherwise it will be a while until I start looking for any kind of job, at least until Holly is at school and the children don't rely on me as much.
I might want to run some kind of business as my sisters do. However, for now I feel fortunate that I have the opportunity to be there for the crucial stages in my children's educational and personal development.”
I was a mobile phone executive
Tammy Thompson (39) is originally from Toronto and lives in Lurgan with husband Nigel, a telecoms engineer, and their children Nicole (9) and Haley (7). She says:
It was always the plan for me to stay at home with the children. My mother stayed at home with me and Nigel's family was the same.
I worked with mobile phone companies both in Canada and then when I moved over here. I did think about becoming a surgeon but I would have had to complete eight years of college and then work off all the debt which I didn't want to have to do with children.
When I married Nigel we started to save. For almost six years everything I earned went into paying the mortgage. It meant we were used to just living off Nigel's salary and the mortgage was paid off very quickly.
Now the girls have come along we don't have particularly big holidays to the States or Canada like we used to have, but that's fine.
The benefits by far outweigh the downsides. I really know my children and I've raised them with my morals instead of other people educating them with their morals.
People react to me in very different ways. Some clearly wish they could do the same thing and others think it's a bit nuts. Some working mums envy me for having so much time on my hands, although having two girls there's not that much time on my hands!
Although I don't work at the moment I have been playing the flute for most of my life.
It's a different ranking system over here so at one point I put myself through the system. It means that when I want to I can start to give flute lessons from home.
It means I will be able to choose when I work and still be in the house for the girls.”
I was a doctor who worked in anaesthetics
Karyn Corry (32) lives in Belfast with husband Gareth, a business manager. They have two children Eryn (4) and Luke (3). She says:
I met my husband when I was 17 and after studying medicine in Glasgow, I moved home to start my career as doctor in anaesthetics. After a few years we decided to try for children. We were not sure if it was the right time, but then thought we'll never know for sure when would be the right time. When Eryn was born I was working in Daisy Hill hospital in Newry and after my maternity time was over I went back to work part-time.
Looking back I was naive and thought the issue of childcare would be solved magically.
With the nature of my work, no two weeks are ever the same and it became hard to pin down a regular weekly shift pattern. My husband works at home most of the time, but he has regular trips to London and China so childcare became a real problem. I would work nights and if Gareth was away I couldn't keep asking my parents to babysit and I didn't feel comfortable leaving Eryn with a child minder overnight. When Eryn was 11-months-old I became pregnant again and initially I just started to bury my head in the sand about what I was going to do.
Going into medicine you have to be focussed and single-minded to get ahead, but my children became my focus.
My decision to take a sidestep from my career really wasn't made overnight, I internalised this battle and it took me a good seven months for it to become clear in my mind.
I think as a parent you are always going to have an element of guilt and feel like you aren't being the best parent, so making my decision was really important for me.
There was also the financial implications of it. When I went off on maternity leave to have Luke I intended to go back and was therefore entitled to maternity pay. So not only would Gareth and I have to adjust to one salary if I left work, but we would also have to repay my maternity wages.
While I made my decision I decided not to talk to my immediate family about it, because I knew it was something for me to decide on my own. Gareth turned into my counsellor. We talked about it every day and he let me come to my own decision.
I remember struggling with the fact I'd seen other doctors go off on maternity, come back and seem to cope with it all perfectly.
But I felt that if I went back to work after Luke was born I would not be able to be a good mother and a good doctor. Something had to give so I made my decision to leave medicine.
Three years on, people always ask me if I'm planning to go back in the future and I don't understand why. I am not even sure of the process I would have to go through if I wanted to go back to work, but I do know there would be some retraining.
I enjoy spending time with my
children, learning about childhood psychology and getting to spend all my time with them in their early years. Saying that, there are days the thought of going to a quiet office is quite appealing.
Gareth and I are in a privileged position to be able to afford for me to stay home and I have no regrets about leaving my career.
When it boiled down to it, my decision to stay at home with my children really did my mental health a wonder of good. Gareth is always telling me I am a new woman and how happy I seem now.”
How celeb mums do it
- Actress Rosario Dawson recently revealed in an interview on Australia’s Sky News that she planned to give up acting once she had a baby to “concentrate on making the world a better place for my baby’’.
- Singing star Adele is due to have her baby in September and has claimed to be taking five years away from singing to concentrate on her family.
- Fiona Phillips quit halfway through her £1.5m three- year contract as a presenter on GMTV to spend more time with her sons, Nathaniel and Mackenzie, in 2009.”
- TV presenter| Claudia Winkleman gave up one of fave shows, Strictly Take Two, to spend more time with her family. The mum-of-three said: “I want to be there to make them dinner and help them with their homework and obviously they have to come first.”
So, what’s the story on Louise?
- The 39-year-old mum-of-three was born Louise Bagshawe in London.
- She joined the Conservative Party at the age of 14 and rejoined again in 1997 after a brief flirtation with the Labour Party.
- Her first novel Career Girls, published under her maiden name of Louise Bagshawe, came out in 1996. She has written 14 novels.
- She won the Corby seat for the Tories in 2010. It had previously been considered a safe seat for Labour.
- In 2011 she married her second husband, Peter Mensch, who manages Metallica and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.
- In June 2010 she was elected by other Conservative MPs to serve on the Select Committee for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport which led Parliamentary probing into the tabloid phone hacking scandal
- In June a man was given a 26 week sentence suspended for two years for sending Mensch an offensive and threatening email including threats against her children.