Happy families? Yesterday's Desert Island Discs featured Jackie Kay, the Scots Makar or Poet Laureate. Always aware that she was adopted, she said that when she was a child, whenever her birthday came around her mother would say to her that somewhere there was another "mummy" thinking about that little girl on her birthday. How generous of her adoptive mother to include her birth mother in the celebrations. I suppose you have to be very secure in yourself to be able to have that kind of generosity.
Later I read Katherine Whitehorn writing about families, in a way. Certainly about mothers. She commented on Barbara Judge, first female chair of the Institute of Directors, who was advising new mothers, career-minded new mothers, not to to take a long maternity leave. Bad for their career prospects! What she, Barbara Judge, suggested was that they should hire a nanny. "My mother used to say when a baby is born it needs to be fed, bathed and diapered," Barbara Judge explained, "An 18-year-old girl can do that. Your job is to get the money to pay the 18-year-old girl. When you have to be there is when the child gets smarter than the nanny." She herself, Barbara Judge, took just 12 days off when her son was born!!!!!
Hmmm! Quite a lot of questionable stuff there! Not all new mothers, no matter how career-minded can afford to hire a nanny. It's really only an option for high-flying, high-earning new mothers. And when you start to think about a live-in nanny, this becomes even more the case. But then, Barbara Judge is the chair of the Institute of Directors, not just any old working mum struggling to make ends meet.
Our daughter, herself a career-minded new mother, would question the idea that new babies need no more than feeding, keeping clean and having their nappy changed. She's very much in favour of offering babies intellectual stimulation from the word go. Not quite getting the tiny girl to do quadratic equations just yet, but talking to her properly (i.e. more than just goo-goo, ga-ga) and showing her pictures - black and white is the recommended medium for tiny babies!
Our daughter-in-law is fortunate enough to be able to work from home, keeping a small amount of work ticking over while her daughter was very tiny, and now gradually increasing the number of commissions she accepts as the small person qualifies for some free nursery school time.
No-one has mentioned the daddies in all of this. What impact does taking paternity leave have on THEIR careers? Our son has proved to be a very involved father, trying to get home in time for his small daughter's bedtime almost every day and taking over a lot of childcare at the weekend. I observe him and his group of friends, who have done that thing so many of have done - all started having babies at the same time. While I might criticise them slightly for over-intellectualising the whole process - they are all high achievers and have grown used to being able to research the best way to do everything - I can't fault the shared parenting that goes on.
Katherine Whitehorn had another solution to offer: an organisation called Share and Care which began by matching young people needing somewhere to live with older people who need company. It branched out into matching families with with young children or young adults with special needs with people who live alone and need company. She suggests that the 18-year-old nanny idea might be incorporated into the same or a similar organisation.
It's an idea. Of course, it would need a certain amount of vetting to ensure that the 18-year-old nanny was up to speed on the childcare philosophies of the modern parents, well, modern, high-flying, high-achieving parents.
It's still not really a solution for the young, not so high-flying mum with several children under school age who really needs to earn some money to supplement her young, not so high-achieving husband's income. She probably still has to depend on grandparents for much of her childcare.
And none of it addresses the question of why we have the children on the first place. Does social pressure force people into parenthood? Are babies just another status symbol, like the smart house and fancy car? After all, you can't send them back to the pound, like a puppy that refuses to be housetrained, when they start to be a nuisance. And they can be amusing and even rewarding, if you don't get too stressed about it.
In the end I suppose it depends on how important you feel your place on that career ladder is!