jhonnyt @ sxc.hu

jhonnyt @ sxc.hu

My daughter is four and a half. It seems to be expected that at some point I’ll have to give her The Talk. No, not That Talk. The Other Talk, aka ‘Can women have it all?’, ‘Babies or career?’, ‘High flyer or muddling alonger?’

Yup, somewhere along the way I am expected to tell her whether she should go for careers or babies, or maybe even give her an inspirational pep talk about ‘having it all’. Yes, ‘tell’ her seems to be the way it’s reported. Not discuss, not suggest. Of course we mums are all going to tell our daughters what they must do. And if she gets it wrong, woe betide me, because then I’ll be blamed for telling her to go for the wrong thing, or deluding her into thinking she could do both at the drop of a hat. Grazia magazine was in on the act last week, asking whether girls ought to be ‘taught’ to put career ahead of having babies.

So what side do I take with my daughter? Neither – I think that unless something changes radically between her generation and mine, my approach has to be ‘When you finish your education, think about what you want family-wise, and plan for it’.

Because when planning his future, if he does at all, a man generally does not have to factor in children and having a family. He can expect his career to be relatively unaffected by his having a family or wanting one.

The same is not true for women. If we have any specific ideas relating to having a family, it’s my opinion that we are much better off planning, given the obstacles that we face. We don’t have to, no, but if we have children in mind, I feel some thinking about our priorities  for our lives and careers is a seriously good idea, and men who want families don’t really face this consideration. And that’s what I’ll be advising my daughter – that by the time she leaves education, whenever that is, I’d recommend having in mind whether she wants kids at some point or not, and, if she does, that she sets the groundwork for it from then on.

It doesn’t mean creating creepy timelines and being obsessed with having children or finding eligible fathers, but it does mean considering your choices and bearing in mind their impact on your future ability to get the outcome that you want:

Do I want to be at home with my kids and for how long?

Should I leave this role that I’m finding a bit unfulfilling and start at square one with something else, or should I stick with this field and be more likely to be financially secure and maybe find it more rewarding in five years time?

Would I want to be the main breadwinner in the household? (Which will probably necessitate you going back to work, unless you’re both seriously Alpha types)

And the overarching questions of how family-friendly your chosen field might be:

Am I likely to find part-time/flexible work in it?

Would I have serious difficulty returning due to losing up-to-date skills if I took years out to raise a family?

Obviously, many of these shouldn’t be a woman’s problem – workplaces mustn’t take less seriously those women who take time off to have family, they shouldn’t be putting barriers in the way of returners. Sadly, the #standingup hashtag on Twitter in the last week, spread by the excellent @EverydaySexism produced numerous tales of gross discrimination – women asked at interview about whether they were going to have children or more children, colleagues dismayed by a mother being passed over for a richly-deserved promotion and so forth.

Both men and women should continue to fight barriers and discrimination, and to be forthright about claiming what rights they can for flexibility, and demonstrating how well these alternative approaches can work.

And on another constructive note, I think we actually ought to encourage boys and young men to ask themselves the questions about family and work, the better to forge strong relationships and to build empathy and maybe, just maybe, alter expectations and gender roles that little bit. Or maybe a great deal.

I know there is way more in this topic than I can reasonably cover in a blog post, all kinds of stuff about why things have come to be this way; hey, blokes sometimes do have to change their expectations too; why people conform to these ideas and roles; why does everyone expect women to be desperate for babies anyway? etc. So perhaps I’ll get back to you on some of that stuff when I can get my head around it.

I would love for my daughter to be able to go out into the working world knowing that things would fall into place for her, that her needs would be met, rather than her meeting with compromise and steps backwards. I suppose I don’t feel that optimistic so far, so for the foreseeable, women who want to combine family and a career are going to have to think ahead to get what they want. And if the guys will join in, all the better for everyone.