I need to stop trying to reconcile my need to be both a perfect Fifties housewife and a thrusting dynamic career woman

10th March 2006 at 00:00
So I am back at work. It is 8.30am and staff briefing. I am crouched under a table, on the phone, having a furious argument with my husband. He has decided to give our toddler a rusk for his breakfast.

Doesn't he know that rusks are reserved for the mid-morning snack? The baby has fallen asleep on his playmat. Doesn't he realise that morning sleep is exclusively reserved for after nine so that by the time the baby's awake the other one's asleep and you can give him his second feed in peace and still have time to load the dishwasher?

I can already tell that the entire routine is ruined for the day, we won't be able to put them down tonight, and by tomorrow I'll be even more exhausted than I am today. In fact, I am now convinced that tomorrow I'm going to get a migraine. My husband tells me that he has it all under control, and he is only calling because I asked him to tell me if my latest book on coping with toddlers had arrived in the post, and why don't I get back to my staff briefing. I tell him that he has ruined my day, ruined our children's day, ruined my career, and probably my life.

Let's just say that I'm finding it slightly difficult to be married to a stay-at-home dad.

When we first considered how we could cope with the practicalities of my return to work, we decided that at 18 months and five months, our children were too young for full-time childcare. I am at home for one day a week, we have a childminder for two days, and my husband, who works freelance, stays at home for the remaining two days. It was a decision that surprised a lot of our friends and family. My husband is better paid than me, and some may consider his job to be more prestigious. It is harder for us financially, and some have argued that both our careers will now be set back. Others imply that my husband is somehow wasting his talent by staying at home with our sons. I suppose the subtext is that being at home with your own children is to write off your life, and that if any talent is going to be wasted, it should be the mother's. When it comes to childcare, the old stereotypes are still very much in circulation.

What I didn't realise is that I would find it hard as well. It's been hard to relinquish control to my husband, and to accept that just because he does things differently it doesn't necessarily mean it's wrong. Their routine on "dad days" now consists of pyjamas until lunchtime, joint baths, conspicuous consumption of jam sandwiches and lollies, and a daily rewatching of Liverpool's win against AC Milan. Educationally or nutritionally fulfilling it ain't. But if they all seem happy, I wonder if I have any right to complain. I just have to fight the sneaking feeling that dad days might be more fun than mum days, because mum insists on vegetables and won't let them watch WWE Smackdown.

After nearly two years at home, perhaps I've become too set in my own routine, and its time to let other people help me out a bit. "Do you want to stay at home or not?" asked my exasperated husband last week after I'd picked a row with him about the direction he chose to walk round the park.

If I'm going to give my job the attention it deserves, I've got to let him get on with it and stop sticking my nose in. I need to stop trying to reconcile my need to be both a perfect Fifties housewife and a thrusting dynamic career woman. After all, many perfectly well adjusted people were brought up on a diet of processed carbohydrates, unsuitable exposure to adult TV, and two parents who aren't talking. I hope.

Gemma Warren is head of inclusion at a London secondary school. Email: gemmablaker@hotmail.com

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