“How the hell did you do it [with 2 young children]?”
“Because I could afford to have childcare at home.”
When I heard the above exchange on an old episode of Desert Island Discs, I thought five things in quick succession.
- How refreshing. Finally a high profile and accomplished woman who doesn’t pretend that they are all hands on with every aspect of childcare. Professor Lisa Jardin acknowledged in a very frank and matter of fact way that her career would not have been possible without live-in childcare. She categorically couldn’t have made it work if she’d had to take her children to childminders or day care as many working parents have to.
- A successful man with children wouldn’t have been asked this. I think Kirsty Young is a fantastic interviewer who gets amazing stories and reflections out of her interviewees, but I’ve listened to Desert Island Discs for a long time and I can’t remember many of the numerous successful male interviewees who happen to be fathers being asked ‘How have you juggled being a father with your illustrious career?’
- A successful man, if honest, and asked directly, would have answered the same thing. However, the live-in childcare usually takes the form of his wife (or equivalent), and society doesn’t see this as a reason for soul searching.
- A surprising number of successful women have a partner who earns significantly less than them and effectively fulfils the traditional ‘wife’ role when it comes to childcare. This has been my anecdotal experience is talking to many women in senior positions in education who don’t have a live-in nanny.
- I think I used to be/still kind of am one of the women mentioned in point 4 above, and I’m very aware of the support of my partner, which has enabled me to accept senior positions when we had children who were under one.
So it looks like to have children and be successful (by very particular measures), a live-in nanny helps. Sometimes that nanny is officially recognised and paid as such, sometimes it’s your spouse. Either way, they should be acknowledged and respected.