Now Gaby Hinsliff, the former political editor of the Observer has ignited the working mothers debate with her insightful book, Half a Wife: The Working Family's Guide to Getting a Life Back. Should we race straight back to work in double-quick time after having children or stay at home to look after them? Or is there a third way? A halfway house, where as Gaby Hinsliff herself has found, you can have both? As she wrote in Grazia this week: "I'm lucky to have picked a career in writing, which turned out to be the little black dress of professions: a versatile standby that can be dressed up or down - Fleet Street or freelance, working from home or the office - to suit. But with a little corporate and political imagination, the same could be true of other careers too."
My theory is that women study what their mothers did and do the opposite. My grandmother worked long hours in a Lancashire wallpaper and paint shop. It was hard graft for not much money and my mother was frequently a latchkey kid, arriving back from school to an empty house. When my mum had children she didn’t want to give up her job so she asked her beloved aunt to move in and help look after us.
My mother adored her career but she sometimes wished she’d been at home more. So when my children were born I attempted to have the best of both worlds by leaving my newspaper job and working from home as a freelance writer.
All good – except now my daughter is 20 and thinking about careers she’s horrified by the very thought of being self-employed. After years of watching me, she hates the precariousness and solitude of freelancing and yearns to work in a busy office – with other people to spark ideas against, proper lunch breaks and (fingers crossed all round) a monthly salary cheque coming in...