The mother of all dilemmas

27th October 1995 at 00:00
I finally realised that women's lib had well and truly arrived a few years ago when I heard two of the children I mind playing Mothers and Fathers.

"You will have to look after the baby," said Emily briskly to Sam, deserting their house under the kitchen table. "I am going to a meeting."

Lucky Emily. Her generation, brought up by working mothers, will no doubt sail through their combined careers and parenthood accepting equal status as their right, and without a twinge of guilt. Things were equally clear-cut for our parents; fathers went out to work and came home to hot dinners and slippers warming by the cat. Mothers demonstrated their love for their families by the whiteness of their wash and the richness of their gravy.

It is my generation, born just after the war, which has ended up feeling that a woman's place is in the wrong - we are selling our children short if we work and our sisters if we do not. We know we should be fighting for more women in top jobs and in Parliament, but we have not yet come to terms with the fact that for every high-flying woman, two or three more are probably being paid a pittance to look after her children and clean her house.

My compromise is to work at home. When asked at parties: "And what you do you do?", I tend to reply that I run my own small business - "education support services" which is code for "I mind teachers' children." It is a blissful way of life, hard work, but great fun and so rewarding. Of course it is difficult to persuade anyone, including myself, that it is a "proper job": and at the back of my mind there has always lurked the suspicion that, had my life taken a different turn, I have the necessary skills and energy to run a small business - or possibly a small country.

School governorship was designed for people like me - frustrated company directors or ex-dictators of banana republics. With no experience at all, we can start right at the top - making policies, managing budgets, hiring and firing staff. I can dress up in my smart clothes from the Scouts' jumble sale and go out and play with the grown-ups. Involvement with the county governors' association, training sessions with other local schools, PTA fund-raising events and parents' curriculum evenings mean I have eight evening meetings scheduled for the next two weeks, plus one full Saturday.

Unfortunately, my super woman complex means feeding the family before I leave and doing the ironing when I get home. They tell me I am doing too much; that I am over-stretched. They are probably right, but what they seem to be suggesting is that I cut down on my governor's responsibilities to concentrate on my real work: baking bread and scouring bathrooms.

I arrived at a meeting recently, rushed and dishevelled as usual in old jogging bottoms and a sweatshirt. "I am so sorry, I haven't had time to change out of my work clothes," I said to my businesswoman colleague, immaculate in high heels, smart suit and full make-up. "Neither have I," she said.

Joan Dalton is a governor in the Midlands

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