Mum was so angry with me for going back to work she moved in to look after the children: Mother and daughter lock horns over their VERY different views on parenting
02:53 GMT, 18 December 2012
Fiona Wright, 44, is married to Neil, 48, a police inspector. She has two children, Gregory, nine, and Isobel, seven, and lives in North London. She says:
There was a grim silence on the other end of the phone. I’d just broken the news to my mother that I was going back to work a year after giving birth to her first grandchild. She was aghast. ‘Oh, Fiona, really, whatever for
‘You’ve had your career, that’s over now. It’s time to concentrate on your lovely son. A mother’s place is in the home.’
Working mother: Fiona Wright with her children Gregory, 10, and Isabelle, 8. When Gregory turned 1, she decided to go back to work
She actually said those words.
I’d taken a year’s maternity leave from my (much-loved) job as a glossy magazine editor, and I’d enjoyed it. Well, most of it. Having coffee and lunches with other mummies was fun, but I was tired of the inane conversations about breast-feeding, weaning, vaccinations and teething.
Gregory was an adorable baby, but I found childcare to be mind-numbing drudgery. I was itching to get back to my computer and career as a writer — back to being me again.
The idea of going back to work after having children was anathema to my mother. She just didn’t get it. To this day, she still refers to my children as ‘poor Gregory and Isobel’, and we’ve had furious rows about it.
She had been a typical stay-at-home mum. Married at 21, she gave birth to me when she was 26.
Maternity leave didn’t exist back then and there was no option but for her to give up her job as a legal secretary and become a full-time mother to me and my brother Daniel, who is four years younger.
Career woman: Fiona's mother encouraged her to have a career
As she keeps telling me, it’s what everyone did back then. Not that she minded. She was glad to leave work.
She has always said that being a mother to us when we were small were the best years of her life. She dedicated herself to us and never doubted that we were her world.
She spent hours playing with us, painting, sticking, making Play-Doh, teaching us our letters and numbers, reading to us and making sure we were fully prepared for primary school.
Every meal was cooked from scratch, and she took us to school and collected us without fail every single day.
My favourite time of the afternoon was 4pm, when she’d make us tea or hot chocolate and we would unload our day to her, recounting who had fallen out with whom in the playground and what games we’d played.
Mum’s nurturing ways ensured I grew up feeling secure, confident and utterly certain I could achieve whatever I wanted in life as long as I worked hard.
She encouraged me to have a career and I was the first in my family to go to university and get a degree (to this day, Mum still addresses her letters to me as ‘Fiona Wright, BA Hons’ because she’s so proud of me).
I went on to do a post-graduate qualification in journalism and worked my way up to becoming the editor of a glossy magazine.
Then, when I was 25, I met Neil. We married and for ten years had an amazing lifestyle, building a lovely home, going on fantastic holidays, eating out and doing what we liked.
When I became pregnant with Gregory at 35, it never occurred to me not to go back to work. There was no way we could afford our lifestyle on Neil’s salary alone. Besides which, I wanted to continue with my career, just like Neil could.
I found a lovely live-in au pair through an agency. She was just about to fly over from Romania to live with us when I got a phone call from Mum.
‘I can’t let a complete stranger look after my grandson,’ she sobbed. ‘I’ve talked to your father and I’m going to come and look after him. I won’t take no for an answer.’
All that would have been fine if she had lived around the corner. However, I live in North London and she was hundreds of miles away in West Yorkshire.
Family values: Fiona and her husband Neil, a police inspector, are pictured with their children. Fiona had always thought of going back to work if only to afford the lifestyle that she wanted
But every week for nearly three years she got on the train and stayed with us for three days so Gregory would have his doting grandmother to spoil him rotten instead of some stranger.
I was hugely grateful to her. She was providing free childcare and no one could have cared for Gregory the way she did. I honestly didn’t resent her closeness with him or feel usurped in any way. To my son, we were interchangeable.
My husband, Neil, however, was not so impressed.
Having his mother-in-law in the house was a strain for both of them. But we sort of rubbed along. In the meantime, I became pregnant again and this time took an even shorter maternity leave — six months — after being offered a super new job working full-time on a women’s magazine.
Once again, Mum was bewildered. She was sure I’d give up work for good after child number two. She just didn’t understand my need to work.
‘Cut back on holidays,’ she’d say. ‘Neil earns enough. You can manage.’
She was probably right. We could have managed on one salary if we’d gone without holidays abroad, nice clothes and meals out. But working isn’t just about money.
Having my children ten years later than Mum meant I was used to my comfortable lifestyle and loved my work.
Fiona had found an au pair to care for her son when she went back to work but her mother was so horrified at the idea that she travelled from Leeds to London every week to care for her grandchildren
I get a buzz from interviewing, writing and editing. I’ve spent years building my career and would feel deeply resentful at having to give it up just because I’ve had children.
Ironically, it was Mum who had encouraged me to be a career woman. As I keep telling her, what was the point in her cajoling me to go to university and climb the career ladder just to throw it all away at 35
It’s not as if I could take a 15-year break and walk back into the same career at the age of 50.
And yet, deep down, I know Mum is right. I know the upbringing she gave me was the best type. Nothing can replace that feeling of knowing someone is always there for you.
My children do need me, and I’m guilt-ridden that I’m not always there to hear them read, to help them with their homework and to pick up the pieces when they’ve fallen out with a friend.
I had a fantastic childhood and I’m not sure I would have achieved all I have without that stable upbringing.
In an ideal world, I would love to be the mother my Mum was. I want to give my children the feelings of warmth and security and the same unshakeable confidence that I have. But asking me to give up my career is too big a price.
Mother and daughter: Fiona feels that she had a wonderful upbringing thanks to her mother
The children are lucky in that they have two sets of amazing grand-parents who give them huge amounts of love, time and support.
Neil is a brilliant dad who fills in when I can’t be there and the rest of the time we patch it together with after-school clubs and friends.
The stay-at-home mum is hugely undervalued in society, but until she is given better status and a salary for doing one of the most important jobs, I, for one, will not be giving up my day job.
Marlene Wright, 72, lives in Leeds with her husband Michael, 73, a retired sales manager. She says:
When Fiona phoned to say she’d taken on a Romanian au pair to look after her baby son — my first grandchild — while she went back to work, I was appalled.
Though I bit my lip on the phone, privately I cried and fretted endlessly. I do not believe a teenage au pair, however committed and conscientious, can ever care for a child as well as a mother would.
I’d go further. I believe, controversial as it is to make such an admission, that mothers should stay at home with their newborn infants and that the Government should give them a financial incentive to do so.
But my daughter was adamant. She intended to return to work when her son Gregory was a year old. I started to form a plan. I could see only one solution: I would look after Gregory myself. It was the very least I could do.
Problem solved: Fiona's mother, Marlene, felt moving in with her daughter to look after her grandchildren was the best solution
I put the idea to my husband and he agreed that I should go. We felt it was the best solution in the circumstances.
Quite simply, we know no one can love and cherish a child as much as a mother. And if their mother is determined to go back to work, then Grandma is a pretty good substitute.
But how I wished this wasn’t necessary, that we could revert to the days when I raised Fiona and her brother Daniel, who’s now 40.
Back then, working mums were a rare exception rather than the norm. Indeed, in the Sixties, among my circle of friends, none of the mothers worked.
I was obliged to give up my job as a legal secretary as soon as I had my first baby. I do not think it was a bad thing because raising the next generation is the most important job of all.
And when I was a young mum we were much less acquisitive and materialistic than so many are today. We lived comfortably and within our means in the three-bedroom semi on the outskirts of Leeds that remains our home to this day.
Our pleasures were modest, but happy ones, with day trips to Scarborough, Whitby and the Yorkshire Dales or Ilkley Moor and summer holidays in France.
Controversial: Marlene believes that mothers should stay at home with their newborn infants and that the Government should given them a financial incentive to do so
As a full-time mother, I was in my element. I believe my children grew into confident, self-assured and successful adults in no small part because I always had time for them.
When Fiona was bullied at school, I was there to offer her the emotional support that gave her the strength and courage to overcome her tormentors.
When Daniel had a lung infection that kept him off school for three months, we baked cakes together.
Each day I shopped for groceries; every evening we sat round the table for a home-cooked family meal. No one went off to their room to eat in isolation in front of a computer: such activities fracture families and create strangers of parents and their children.
My two progressed seamlessly from school to university. Daniel — who doesn’t have any children — is an accountant with a City bank, and Fiona is a writer.
I’m immensely proud of them, of course; of their resourcefulness and their achievements. And I hope, in some part, I have done the same for my grandchildren during the formative years of their lives.
I remember the beam of recognition Gregory gave me when I first arrived, then the gentle daily routine we evolved. There were songs to sing and the alphabet to learn.
Gregory called me Mama — a corruption of Grandma — and it still delights me when he uses this pet name.
Different times: When Marlene was bringing up her children, working mothers were a rare exception rather than the norm
I heard his first words, I took him for walks in the park. We watched the falling leaves and the play of sunshine on the pond. With these timeless, unassuming activities, we passed each day.
I gave my grandson his bottles, helped to wean him on to solid food and was there at bedtime for his bath and story. Those few years were hectic, but utterly rewarding. I would not have missed a moment.
I do believe Fiona lost out. Though she managed to work a lot from home, she was not always there to share the everyday moments with her son.
When Gregory’s baby sister Isobel arrived, I stayed to look after her, too, until Fiona felt she was old enough to go to nursery school.
Gregory is nine now and Isobel seven, and I feel we have a special bond because we shared years of singular closeness — though, of course, they have a wonderful relationship with their mum, too.
For many years, after Daniel and Fiona were grown up, I worked as a local magistrate and often sat in the juvenile court.
It pained me to see how children who did not have the benefit of conscientious parenting — whose feckless mothers did not care where or what they were doing — could swiftly turn into delinquents.
These were, of course, the extremes. But all young children need their mothers and the all-consuming, unconditional love they give them. The bond is inalienable.
In my view, that is why a mother’s place is with them: in the home.