A couple of days ago, Cherie Blair made a speech to a group of high-flying international business women in favour of board room quotas in which she recommended that women should be self-sufficient workers rather than stay-at-home mums. It’s been widely reported and discussed. Here’s one take on it.
Yesterday evening, I was one of two people commenting on the old working mums v. stay at home mums question on Channel 5 News. The piece was triggered by Cherie Blair’s comments and the reaction to them. The other woman speaking was Charlotte Vere, founder of Women On. In a four-minute slot, feeling nervous (and with no media training!), I found that it was pretty impossible to say anything meaningful. Essentially, the boringly non-extreme view that I rather inarticulately tried to express is that women should be free to choose whether to work, to stay at home, or (and we’ve written about this in this blog post) do a mix of the two. Their choices shouldn’t be criticised, or, particularly, celebrated. Women are different from one another, and children are different from one another too.
I might get round to a longer blog post about my own views and experiences, but my 11 year-old daughter and I were taking about the broadcast (which she didn’t see: she was outside playing with friends) later last night. I was asked on the programme because I’d won Mumpreneur’s Inspirational Business Mum of the Year award, and she has entrepreneurial aspirations of her own. I asked her to write a blog post, but she said she’d rather I wrote down what she said in answer to questions. So here’s a transcription of what she said over breakfast this morning.
K: What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of having a mum who works full time?
C: I’d say that the advantages are that I am more reliant on myself and I have the more relaxed parent (dad) around more. And it means that the family has more money so that we can live where we live and we don’t have to worry too much about money. It gives me an image of hard work that shows that if you are hard-working you’ll do better than if you’re not.
The disadvantages are that sometimes when I was younger I did want to see you more. And now you seem happy where you are, but even though I was young, I could still tell that you weren’t as happy at work before as you are now. Other mums spent lots of time at school, but I didn’t ever really want that. A disadvantage of having a hard-working mum is that occasionally when you come back from work you are tired or in a bit of a temper.
K: Right now, you’re quite interested in the idea of setting up a business of your own when you are an adult. What are the advantages and disadvantages of having a mum who’s the boss of a business she’s started up?
C: The things make me want to go into business myself are watching The Apprentice; hearing things about really successful business people and companies like Bill Gates or Apple; and watching you make your own business. If you watch The Apprentice, it gives children who watch it the impression that you can start a business in about ten weeks and you’ll have £250,000 of investment. Since I’ve only really heard about Apple in the past two years, I used to think that it had become a success as soon as it was started up. What children don’t hear about is the struggles the business went through. I know now that Apple could have gone bust unless Bill Gates saved them with his investment.
The advantage and disadvantage of having a mum who’s a business person is seeing how hard it is to grow a business. It’s an advantage because it gives me an insight into how to start a business if that’s what I still want to do when I’m older. So for example I remember when you were trying to get the investment and you decided to choose people who you really trusted and who you knew well instead of other people you hadn’t worked with and didn’t know so well even though you could maybe have got more money. I see the way you have to negotiate with other businesses, like when you and another company are bidding for a book and negotiating with an agent, as well as seeing you choosing between companies when you were choosing who to sell rights to. So I see what it’s really like. The disadvantage is that after watching The Apprentice and hearing about really successful businesses, watching your business makes me sort of crash down to earth, because the reality is that it’s not fast, and it isn’t glamorous and you don’t get rich quick. But the bottom line is I’d rather be happy than have lots of money.
K: Cherie Blair said that she talks to young women who say they’d like to marry a rich man, rather than having a job or a career. What do you think about that?
C: I think that I’d rather be the one in a family to provide the bulk of the family earnings because it would make me feel secure knowing that if anything did happen to me and my partner, I’d still be able to support my kids and let them and myself live the life that we are used to knowing. If I had enough money, I’d probably have to get childcare, because I’d like to marry someone I am suited to and I wouldn’t be suited to somebody lazy: I would like to marry someone who worked too. I wouldn’t want to sit at home not working because I would get too bored and I wouldn’t want to marry someone who wanted to sit at home either. But I would also like to marry somebody who would share the responsibilities of bringing up children.
Recently, I was discussing marriage with one of my friends and she said that she’d like to marry someone rich and she hoped she loved him too. And it’s similar to what I said earlier when I said that I’d rather be happy than have lots of money: I’d rather love somebody even if they had no money than be with a person I didn’t love even if he was rich.
K: When you think about being a grown-up, what do you think your life might be like?
C: Right now, when I look at what I want my future to be, I think that I want to find a way to combine running my own business and successfully bringing up a child or children. I haven’t been completely brought up yet, but when I am older I think I will think that I have been brought up successfully, so that’s what makes me think that combining running a business and bringing up a family is possible.