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Like Mother, Like Daughter?How Career Women Influence Their Daughters' Ambition$

Jill Armstrong

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9781447334088

Published to Policy Press Scholarship Online: May 2018

DOI: 10.1332/policypress/9781447334088.001.0001

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Well-mothered daughters?

Well-mothered daughters?

Chapter:
(p.27) Two Well-mothered daughters?
Source:
Like Mother, Like Daughter?
Author(s):

Jill Armstrong

Publisher:
Policy Press
DOI:10.1332/policypress/9781447334088.003.0002

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines how the daughters felt about having grown up with a mother mainly working full-time or close to full-time hours. In most cases the daughters felt well mothered. The daughters demonstrated this view by recalling far fewer events when they felt compromised by the trade-offs their mothers were making than did their mothers. Most revealing was the five key ways many of the daughters offered to explain how their mothers managed the compromises involved in combining work and family life. The chapter discusses five themes: being there for the events where parents (especially mothers) were expected to be, being able to predict their mother's routine, their mother being emotionally present when at home, being cared for at home after school and being taught to be independent.

Keywords:   daughters, working mothers, family life, routine, emotional presence, independence

Chapter themes

This chapter explores the way the daughters who participated in this research felt about their lived experience of being brought up by a mother with a career who worked relatively long hours outside the home. Lived experience is defined as self-reflexively ascribing meaning to experiences (Van Maanen, 1988). A key finding of this research is that almost all of the 31 daughters felt well mothered. This is their overall assessment and does not preclude occasionally feeling less positive about their mothers and their childhood experiences. This chapter explains what lies behind this finding. Only two daughters felt that having a mum who worked long hours had affected them badly, and one more was ambivalent in her feelings. This chapter starts by telling the story of mother and daughter pair Eve and Emily, who are an example of the dominant view that having a mother with a career has been a positive influence.

Eve is a mother of three and a doctor working full-time in a hospital. Her hours are often unpredictable but she also reports that she has had considerable autonomy, both now and during the time her children were young. She describes her branch of medicine as being more family-friendly than many. For a short period when all her daughters were young, she worked one day a week at home. Her daughter, Emily, has just graduated and is doing unpaid work internships while applying for a course that will lead to a vocational qualification. Emily says that, “we depend upon Mum for pretty much everything”, for both big things, like financial support, and smaller things, like being picked up from the station. She talks about her parents as a unit, and when asked to recall her childhood, she remembers her parents not being around much during the day and enjoying spending time with them when they were at home:

“I see Mum coming through the door with bags and keys in an evening-y sort of way … I suppose if you see your parents all the time but divide it by 10 and that’s the relationship (p.28) we had with them, which was fab, it was always fab when we saw them … Yeah, it’s worked out pretty well really.”

Emily comments that she has never really thought much about having a working mother. It was just how it was. And “how it was”, she says, has worked out fine for her and her sisters. Her clear memories of being together as a family came from weekends and holidays. This reflects the view of many of the daughters interviewed. Emily talks about it being impressive to have a mum with a career. It is quite clear from this remark, and others made in the joint interview, that she, in common with almost all the daughters in this study, does think it is better to work as well as being a mother. Emily reflects that she gets on very well with her mother. She talks about the easier transition she experienced in their relationship as she went through adolescence, in comparison with some of her friends. She attributes her ability to get on with things, and not expecting “to be pandered to”, to having a mother who did not “mollycoddle” her and treated her as an individual. When thinking about the times at home without her mother, Emily describes hanging out with her sisters and says that they are close and they tend to “deal with stuff” as a trio. She describes her mum as “a rock”, says she goes to her mother for solace and advice, and respects her mum’s straight-talking opinions – although they don’t always agree. When asked, she says that when she was at school her friends’ mums seemed to be around more but that her mum was part of the community of mothers and was there for school events. Emily does not say that this was particularly important to her, but this ‘being there’ for events at school when other mothers were attending was frequently emphasised as important in the daughter’s accounts. It seems much more critical to the daughters that their mothers were not absent from significant public events than it was to have their mothers present in a more everyday way.

Eve talks about “work being an absolute given, as much as knowing my own name, whereas being a mum is more extraordinary”. This sentiment catches a key theme for these mothers. Work is important to them because they find it satisfying, rewarding and necessary. Yet this does not mean that it is more important to them than the emotionally rewarding, extraordinary aspects of their life as a mother. Like many of the other mothers, Eve does not see work and family life as a choice between two poles. Rather, she negotiates the daily demands of both. Neither does she relate to the term ‘work-life balance’, because “life is so much lived at work as well.”

(p.29) Eve, in common with most of the mothers interviewed, raises many more feelings of ambivalence about compromises made between the time and emotional energy she needs to give to family and work, than does Emily. Eve tells me how hard she found it to leave her daughters when she went back to work after maternity leave – hard in an emotional way and hard in a physical way due to tiredness. Eve talks about an unsatisfactory experience with a nanny and being glad when the children could express any problems. On the other hand, she appreciates the good relationships her daughters had with other nannies and expresses her enjoyment of the family’s attachment to those who stayed for several years. Eve recounts incidents when she was late in picking up Emily because of “the equal and opposite duties” of obligations to patients to her family. Eve portrays this as the inability to be in two places at the same time, which symbolised to her daughters that, in that moment, her work was more important than they were. Eve reports that this temporal pressure diminished as her daughters got older, but was replaced by difficulties in “being there” at the infrequent moments at which teenage children decide that they need to talk to their mother. This view derives from conversations with her part-time colleagues about the importance they attached to being at home after school, when their children were in their early teens, to notice and pick up on any problems their children were experiencing. She regrets not knowing whether this would have been beneficial for her daughters. Eve says that all her daughters have volunteered that they are glad she works and think their relationship is better for it because she is not “on their case”. She also says that, “They’ll relate that they’ve had a conversation amongst themselves and say that they like the way they’ve been parented and will seek to do something similar … because I think we’ve come through with pretty good relationships on the whole and that seems pretty favourable.”

Eve also wonders if this view will hold when her daughter is interviewed. She feels that her daughters knew how much she enjoyed and needed her career and that they could have been sparing her when volunteering that they generally felt well mothered. I observe that this comment indicates some feelings of maternal guilt that is not reflected back in Emily’s interview. Eve is typical of mothers I describe as having a ‘pragmatic’ attitude, in feeling some regret about specific events and also occasionally reflecting on what kind of mother she has been in a way that demonstrates occasional feelings of guilt. However, she does not live her daily life as a worker and a mother with a generalised feeling of guilt or aspire to mothering in a different way.

(p.30) In common with others of her generation, she took three months maternity leave. Eve also says that she did not enjoy playing with her children when they were young, preferring to cede this role to her husband:

“I would have gone stark-raving mad actually; I wasn’t particularly good. I loved mothering, I loved having them but I wasn’t very good at playing with them. I liked to care for them and do laundry and bedtime and bathing and reading and I could colour always but [my husband] was better at Playmobil and Barbie dolls.”

Eve’s feeling is that she was much better as a mother after her daughters went to school. Many other mothers, too, express that they found being with very young children boring and this reinforced their decision to return to work. Many say that they feel they are better mothers because they work. Eve also reports that she divides her time between family and work and does little else. Emily confirms this view. This is typical of many of the mothers interviewed.

As previously mentioned, the key findings of this research triangulate the accounts of mothers and their daughters, and pays attention to their cumulative perspectives over time about how working in career roles is perceived to have affected their daughters.

The world in which the mothers’ generation worked

The social context in which decisions are made about working motherhood was distinctly different for the mothers’ generation in contrast to that of their daughters. The frame for decision-making for mothers starting work in the 1970s and 1980s, was most commonly a choice between working or being a stay–at-home mother. Their daughters, by contrast, are making choices in the different context of more mothers working than ever before. Looking at the proportion of women returning to work within one year of childbirth, 24% returned to work in 1979, 45% in 1988 and 67% by 1996 (Walker et al, 2001). Moreover, by 2011, the gap in employment rates between women with or without dependent children had narrowed to 0.8% in contrast to 5.8% in 1996 (ONS, 2011b).

Turning to mothers in full-time work, the proportion of women returning to full-time work within a year of having a baby was 5% in 1979 (Callender et al, 1997). By 2010, the proportion of mothers with dependent children in full-time work was 29% (ONS, 2011b). (p.31) (‘Full-time’ is defined as more than 30 hours per week. These figures do not break down the occupational level.) These startling changes have prompted researchers such as McRae to comment that women have ‘signaled a strong intention to remain in paid work with only minimal disruptions for childcare’ (McRae, 2003, p 321). McRae’s longitudinal study adds weight to her observations because she is able to evidence the behaviour of the same cohort of women over different points in time. McRae’s study is of particular relevance to this research, because her sample of almost 1,000 working mothers had their first child in 1988, and because she breaks down her findings by the class of the women’s own occupation. McRae’s sample breaks out those working continuously full-time or mostly full-time between 1988 (their first pregnancy) and 1999, and shows that 40% of these working mothers had occupations classified in their own right as Social Class 1 and 23% were classified as Social Class 2 (2003, p 324). This demonstrates a strong tendency among this generation of career women to combine motherhood with working full-time.

Work-life conflict and maternal guilt

Lyonette and Crompton coined the term ‘work-life conflict’ to depict the struggles people experience in their everyday lives in managing work and family life (Lyonette et al, 2007, p 283). They argued that mothers who are professional and managerial workers experience particularly high levels of work-life conflict because they work long hours, and tend to be in partnerships with men who also work long hours, and yet the women are more likely to take the major responsibility for childcare and domestic chores (Lyonette et al, 2007).

The alternative term ‘work-life balance’ is more commonly used. This terminology is controversial because it can be emotionally loaded and can imply a choice between two separate, equal and opposing pulls. Feminist academic Rottenberg (2014, p 147) argued that envisioning progressive middle-class motherhood as balancing has helped create a new gender norm in which women are expected to find satisfaction by combining their responsibilities for both work and the domestic sphere. This represents progress in the sense that women are no longer being asked to choose one sphere of their life over the other. However, Rottenberg pointed out that ‘balance’ is just as hard to achieve as the ‘having it all’ notion coined in the 1980s (Gurley-Brown, 1982) because women have still not been liberated from their primary responsibility for domestic life. In addition, the idea of needing to find the ideal balance between work and family life is oppressive to working women (p.32) because it prompts guilty feelings about not making the right choices. Language matters, and the idea of choosing to have an ‘unbalanced’ life may encourage women to feel self-critical.

Thomson et al also stated that the phrase ‘work-life balance’ is inadequate because it fails to convey the ‘practical, moral and interpersonal complexities involved’ (Thomson et al, 2011, p 175). The choices women make about fitting children around work are characterised by Thomson et al as an emotionally heightened topic that leads to reflexivity about identity, role and relationships with partners and other women. Thomson et al posit that ‘the juxtaposition of working and maternal identities can be productive of insights and reflexivity, yet it can also produce troubling feelings, defensive responses’ (2011, p 191). I suggest that this line of reasoning could be expanded to cover the ‘emotion management’ that Hochschild argued comes with the negotiations that take place within relationships, within workplaces and within the heads of women who report their feelings of guilt and stress (Hochschild, 1983, p 44). Hochschild’s interactionist theory of emotion posits that, as well as having biological functions, emotions are socially shaped and subject to manipulation. She described the ideological strategies used to manage uncomfortable, even distressing, emotions and applied this to the stresses involved in managing work, domestic roles and motherhood. Hochschild argued that women have reason to construct stories that protect themselves in social situations, such as managing ‘the second shift’ and the perceived judgement of other women (Hochschild and Machung, 1990). She called this process a ‘status shield’ (Hochschild, 1983, p 163).

Experiencing work-life conflict links to an element of continuity in ‘gendered subjectivity’ (Bjerrum Nielsen and Rudberg, 1994, p 92), that is, the resilient notion of maternal guilt felt about mothering well enough (Parker, 1995; Blair-Loy, 2003; Christopher, 2012). These authors argued that guilt emerges as the dominant response when mothers deviate from socially constructed ideas of motherhood norms, and the authors applied their arguments to North America and the UK, in particular. According to Seagram and Daniluk (2002) the notion of maternal guilt is so pervasive as to be considered a natural component of motherhood. How the generation of mothers in my research managed their feelings about working motherhood is an important theme that will be discussed in this chapter.

(p.33) Gender identity, motherhood and work

Scholarship on gender identity and how it intersects with motherhood and the workplace is also important to understanding these different generations of working women. Crompton (2006) argued that there is no inevitable correlation between female employment and the evaporation of traditional gender roles, because the ways in which childcare is negotiated can either dismantle or reinforce these roles. Many agree that, despite the sweeping changes in the patterns of women’s employment over the last 50 years, there still persists a deeply engrained association between femininity and responsibility for the domestic sphere, particularly children. It has long been contended that women’s sense of identity is interwoven with their relationships (Gilligan, 1982) and that the idea and experience of motherhood is particularly powerful because ‘the child is the source of the last remaining, irrevocable unchanging, primary relationship’ (Beck, 1992, p 118, his italics). Butler’s influential work Gender trouble (1990) explained this association by expressing gender as something we ‘do’, or perform, in keeping with long-established social norms and shaped by habits formed in childhood. Psychosocial academics Bjerrum Nielsen and Rudberg (1994), writing in a Scandinavian context, built upon the work of Butler (1990) and examined the process through which cultural discourse stimulates adjustment to self-identity. They focused on the profound changes in the traditional social definitions of gender roles that are associated with the rise of working women, many of whom are mothers. A key element of their theory is the acknowledgement that changing definitions of and conflicts within gender roles do not mean that gender identity ‘dissolves’ (Bjerrum Nielsen and Rudberg, 1994, p 8) or loses its psychological significance. They referred to the argument of psychoanalytic theory that ‘socialisation … works through its contradictions – at the same time as those contradictions make change feasible’ (1994, p 3, emphasis in original). They further argued that girls are both socially and personally motivated, and that each generation of women adjusts to new social roles in a way that influences the formation of their identity on both conscious and unconscious levels. In summary, gender and individuality are both aspects of ‘who we are’; our desires and expectations are both socially and personally motivated, and they are subject to change. This theory is described by Bjerrum Nielsen and Rudberg as ‘gendered subjectivity’ (p 92) and leads to their suggestion that the desire to be a mother is ‘quite unimpaired by the fact that so many women today are not at all content with being just a mother’ (p 8, emphasis in original). These theories are relevant (p.34) to the generation of mothers of my study because they, in most cases, departed from their mothers’ model of being stay-at-home mothers or working part-time hours around the school day.

Thinking about the impact of working upon identity, Bailey (1999) interviewed 30 pregnant women and theorised that women’s identities are refracted through the prism of their primary preoccupations as they move through the life course. She described the six key aspects of female identity as mothering identity, the self and the body, the working person, practices of the self, relational self, and experience of space and time. Little has been written, prior to my research, about the way highly skilled working women conceptualise their own identities. Laney et al (2014) interviewed 30 women holding faculty status in US colleges or universities and with at least one child under 18 at home. The women were aged 34–54 and 27 of them were married. Laney et al concluded that ‘motherhood emerged to expand the self personally, relationally, generationally and vocationally’ (Laney et al, 2014, p 1245). This sample of female academics are not necessarily representative of all professional women, but they do offer an interesting example of professional working women absorbing all their roles into their identities with different aspects coming to the fore, depending upon their specific circumstances at the time. This suggests that the work of Bailey is applicable to the career women who are discussed here. Himmelweit and Sigala (2004) bring together these ideas to define social identity in the context of work and motherhood as ‘what I feel like doing’ (in my roles as worker and mother) because of ‘the kind of person I am’.

This chapter turns now to investigate issues of identity and feelings about the effects of managing work and family life in the accounts of the mothers and daughters in this study.

Identities as mothers and workers

The mothers in my sample (shown in Figure 2.1) had on average 2.4 children. Indeed, many of those who were at high levels of seniority in their professions had 3 children or more. These women had more children than the average of the cohort of women born in the 1960s, that was under two children per completed family. (ONS, 2016b). (p.35)

Well-mothered daughters?

Figure 2.1: Distribution of the number of children per mother (n = 30)

Only two in this sample were examples of ‘careerists by necessity’ (Crompton and Harris 1998, p 138) who would rather not have worked when their children were pre junior school but felt compelled to, in one case due to the circumstances of her divorce and, in the other case, having a husband who was not earning enough for her not to work. Both these women expressed enjoyment of their careers after their children reached secondary school. All the other women were working in a satisfying career when their first child was born. The grandmothers’ generation tended to have taken a longer career break, sometimes of three years or more. Most of the mothers’ generation took short periods of maternity leave of, on average, three months. The maternity leave of this generation of mothers was contemporary with policy on statutory maternity leave initiated in 1973. Women were offered the right to return to the same job with the employer for whom they had worked for six months before becoming pregnant. It was not until the 2000s that longer periods of leave became more common. Interestingly, the short maternity leave taken by their mothers both fascinated and shocked most of their daughters. This is indicative of how much the ‘cultural scripts’ determining views on good motherhood change over time (Miller, 2005, p 11).

(p.36) In almost all cases the mothers resumed the career path they had started on prior to the arrival of the first child. This confirms the research of Thomson et al (2011) who argued that women’s relationship with work tends to dictate their approach to motherhood. What is noticeable about most of the mothers who participated in this research is that all felt work to be an important part of their identity that was combined with a strong sense of their identity as a mother. There was no sense of one role being more important to them than the other. Valerie, a senior marketing manager, expressed this vividly as the ‘twin pillars’ of her life. Many of the mothers, who were already committed to their careers, described being surprised by the intensity of feeling evoked by the birth of their children and the sense that their lives had changed profoundly, as illustrated by Imogen, a lawyer: “Before I had Isabelle my thoughts were rather practical about how … I would cope with the baby. Her first day in the world was an epiphany – one look at that little face and my life was changed forever with big love.”

On the other hand, most felt just as strongly that they did not want to be at home for most of the time. The most frequently expressed fear was of boredom, as illustrated in Eve’s account given at the start of this chapter, as well as by Christina, a lawyer: “To be honest I would have gone bonkers doing that. I would really have found it so boring. I couldn’t have done it, couldn’t. I would have felt sort of pointless.”

This view that their work and family lives were interconnected and not separate spheres also resulted in many mothers commenting that they applied their family-rearing skills to work and vice versa. As Eiona, a corporate Chief Executive Officer (CEO), said: “The mixture of settling boundaries and encouragement I do with my children is just the same as the way in which I manage my team.”

This research adds evidence from a broad sample of occupational groupings to Bailey’s (1999) and Laney et al’s (2014) research, in demonstrating that women working in higher skill roles conceptualise their identities in a way that does not set up motherhood and work as binary opposite parts of their identity that are in competition with each other. This adds nuance to what is implied by the phrase, ‘work-life conflict’ (Crompton et al, 2007, p 283) and to the findings of Thomson et al (2011, p 175) who state that middle-class mothers with careers experience the two as competing projects. However, for all these mothers who identified with and enjoyed work, it was also true that managing work and motherhood involved feelings of compromise. Xanthe, a director in the public sector, summed up the views of most of the mothers as follows:

(p.37) “I have always liked work … That doesn’t mean I haven’t made compromises because I have children because I have, but actually going to work wasn’t one of them.”

One measure of the mothers’ and grandmothers’ level of discomfort with the competing demands of work and home was evident in data from the online questionnaire filled in prior to the interviews. It asked them to rate with a number out of 10 how much they had enjoyed their work at different periods of their children’s lives. Sometimes, the nature of their job at the time accounted for these scores. More often, though, mothers reported that these scores reflected times of particular stress in managing both pillars of their lives. As shown in Figure 2.2 below, the times of greatest difficulty were prior to secondary school and the older the children got, the more likely the mothers were to give the highest scores to their enjoyment of work. The graph also shows that the mothers experienced a small peak in the enjoyment of their work when their children left home. This was expressed by many as a relief from having to factor their children into what they were doing day by day. These different scores given at different times correspond to Bimrose et al’s (2014) research on career transitions, which describes the contextual ways in which mothers make decisions about work in relation to their family circumstances. However, most of the career women interviewed here did not report that they changed their working hours. Explanations for this are that fewer opportunities existed in the 1980s and early 1990s to work less than full-time; it could also plausibly relate to the women’s identification with and enjoyment of work. (p.38)

Well-mothered daughters?

Figure 2.2: How much mothers enjoyed their work over time (n = 30)

All the mothers experienced challenges or major life changes along the way, and some of these challenges had been profound, such as serious illnesses in the family, the end of relationships and changes of sexual orientation. Procter and Padfield (1998) and Crompton and Harris (1998) attest to the effects of ‘fateful events’ that cause work-life biographies to change. In all cases, when faced with exceptional problems such as serious illness, these mothers reported that they put their children first without hesitation and, in the words of one lawyer, ‘sidelined’ work when necessary. It is impossible to fully isolate the effects of the ‘fateful events’ that change work-life biographies from more everyday challenges. Nevertheless, the mothers in the sample spent most of their time dealing with the challenges of everyday working life, and this will be the focus of this chapter.

These mothers with successful careers mostly enjoyed their work and they worked thoughtfully. By this I mean that day to day they considered and made trade-offs to arrive at solutions they felt comfortable enough with for their daughters. Where differences (p.39) between mothers were obvious was in how mothers felt cumulatively about the effects of the trade-offs they had made. This is characterised by Hochschild (1983, p 44) as ‘emotion management’. The next section discusses these differences.

Attitudes to managing motherhood and work

The attitudes of mothers to the everyday trade-offs they made were different and specific to their circumstances and also to their thoughts and feelings about motherhood. The word ‘attitude’ is used in this context to describe a relatively enduring organisation of feelings and behavioural tendencies. These attitudinal differences are important in understanding the views of their daughters about their upbringing. Martha, a CEO in the public sector, expressed elegantly how much of a mother’s sense of what is best for her child is a projection of her own values:

“In my NCT class there were six of us … all relatively professionally advancing our careers. When we talked beforehand they all planned to go back to work. When the babies arrived they all had a very different narrative. But none of us talked about it in terms of what we wanted. We all talked about it in terms of what’s good for our babies. So me: ‘Megan’s a very sociable baby so she’s going to need to be with other children,’ whereas my friend Anita would say, ‘Well, I don’t know, Matthew needs a little bit of extra care, so maybe a few days a week will be enough with a childminder.’ Jennifer said, ‘It’s quite clear that Amy won’t thrive if she’s not home with me.’ And isn’t it interesting that none of us had a clue about what our babies personalities were at that point [laughs] so I suspect there’s a lot of that rationalisation.”

The mothers’ reports revealed two dominant attitudes to managing their feelings about motherhood and work, which I label as ‘pragmatic’ and ‘idealistic’. I use adjectives (I behave like this) rather than nouns (I am like this) because the mothers displayed interwoven identities (Bailey, 1999; Laney et al, 2014). These different attitudes were evident not in their level of identification with work, but in the way they thought about mothering. What therefore follows is that differences in attitude are correlated with how much and how often the women felt maternal guilt that made them think they should be mothering in a different (p.40) way. There is no link between ‘pragmatic’ and ‘idealistic’ attitudes and the type of childcare used. For example, those with children in nursery for long hours were found among each type. Nor is there a clear link to working hours. The hours of both types had varied over the course of their careers and included mothers who had been able to flex their hours, who had worked four-day weeks at times or who had, at times, worked 50 plus hours.

Those who were ‘pragmatic’ in attitude shared the belief that they did not get everything right but their children had not suffered as a result of their career. Some, not all, felt guilt sometimes about specific incidents, as described by Xanthe, a director in the public sector:

“I sent poor Xenia off to school with quite a cough and cold and she said, ‘Miss Jones gave me her gloves because I was so coughy and coldy in the playground.’ And I thought, oh no. You shouldn’t have gone to school and I should just have stayed at home with you.”

My point is that ‘pragmatic’ mothers did not identify themselves as feeling generalised guilt about being working mothers. As Naomi, a lawyer, put it: “We’re all hyped up on this guilt thing but I’m not sure how many of us really feel guilty or should.” ‘Pragmatic’ mothers commented that they were not making a choice between their children and work and that their children were at the centre of their lives. There were difficulties but it was best “just to get on with it”. They felt that it was not helpful to see family and work in opposition to each other, because then gain in one area inevitably meant loss in the other. Martha, a CEO in the public sector, said: “I think it is important that young people in the workplace know that you don’t have to get it right and perfect all the time and understand it’s not a set of binary choices.” Orla, a senior manager in finance, explained: “There’s a difference between when you measure things relative to perfection or relative to the alternative. I think if you measure the children’s experience of growing up relative to perfection then I’m sure that leads to all sorts of regrets.”

Some, like Jan, a private sector managing director (MD), explained their position from the point of view of their daughter: “I don’t think I compartmentalise very much between home and life and work … I’ve never seen those two roles in any way in conflict … I feel I’ve always been a bit keener on hanging out with Jessica than she is with me.”

Several mothers with ‘pragmatic’ attitudes reported that they actively negotiated boundaries with their colleagues and employers to allow (p.41) a level of flexibility to meet the demands of their families. They had first done this early in their careers after they returned from maternity leave, which speaks to a high level of self-confidence. This behaviour at work is described by two of the mothers, both of whom had risen to the highest level in their professions:

“I have always been clear that I wouldn’t sacrifice my kids at the temple of my ambition, which is why I’ve been very clear with employers about what I will and will not do and that sometimes has been a deal-breaker … I’m a family person. That’s what comes with me.” (Rose, CEO in the public sector)

“I have known lots of women who have invented a dental appointment when they needed to go to the school play. I’ve always thought it was important to be upfront because it’s just as important as work to be at the school play.” (Eiona, CEO in the corporate sector)

In part, the attitude of ‘pragmatics’ seemed to derive from their attitude to life in general and, in part, was a response to the way they felt about having compressed time:

“I wouldn’t feel guilty about it because I think your children will get the benefit of whatever arrangement you made. As long as they’re loved and secure I don’t think it matters enormously personally … you just have to make the time and space to make it all work, even if that time is limited.” (Christina, lawyer)

“You don’t have time or headspace to rethink what you are doing. You just have to do it. It’s fairly relentless. But as long as it stayed relentless in a mostly good way then that’s all right.” (Bridget, doctor)

A few can also be described as ‘pragmatic’ because they rarely engaged in a debate with themselves about the way they combined motherhood with work. This was because they felt they had no option financially to make any significant changes. As teacher and grandmother Donna put it: “I had no choice. What’s the point in feeling guilty about it?”

Overall, those with a ‘pragmatic’ attitude felt that, as long as their children felt loved and secure, the trade-offs, that came when work (p.42) and family life were in competition for their time and attention, were not something to feel guilty or regretful about. Of course, there may be an element of post-hoc rationalisation in these views, given that most of these mothers were no longer in the moment of facing the emotional fall-out of day-to-day problems. However, this position in time was the same for all the mothers participating in this research. Looking backwards, many acknowledged that they had had their fair share of good luck and believed that any problems their children had were not related to their working. This was well expressed by Xanthe, mother of three and a director in the public sector:

“I’m in the happy position … of knowing that they are all pretty happy, balanced, independent people and if there are things in their make-up that are less comfortable it’s not because I worked. It’s for many more complex reasons that … I always knew there’d be a time when I’d look back and it would be alright because I knew I loved them enough and looking back now I think that’s true.”

I turn now to the mothers with an ‘idealistic’ attitude who tended to measure themselves against their ideal in terms of how they would like to behave as workers and mothers. Their language suggests they can be described as perfectionists, which is a quality often associated with women (Gilligan, 2011). They therefore often found themselves lacking and felt guilty. Valerie’s description of combining work with family exemplifies this ‘idealistic’ attitude:

Valerie:

  • “Feeling I was not doing anything properly. Lurching from crisis to crisis … never getting it right … almost never getting it right.”
  • Interviewer:

  • “What would right have been like?”
  • Valerie:

  • “Being the perfect employee and mother. But you’d need 48 hours in a day … time is one
  • constraint. A bigger constraint is energy and headspace. I have already mentioned my need to do things properly or not at all.”

    Those with an ‘idealistic’ attitude held in their heads an idea about the kind of mother and worker they wanted to be. A dominant idea they expressed was feeling that they were not doing either job well enough. Some used highly charged emotional language such as feeling they were ‘abandoning’ either their colleagues or child. Those with an (p.43) ‘idealistic’ attitude talked more often about feeling guilt. Some said this guilt came from within themselves, as reported by Cheryl, grandmother and head of an NHS body: “The only person judging me was myself, but that was enough.” Some felt sensitive to cultural judgement. For example, judgement from family members or from other mothers, not for working but for ‘working a lot’, especially when this entailed ‘abandoning’ their children to nursery. These women clearly felt that they were not adhering to the dominant cultural script about being a good worker (Williams, 2000) or a good mother (Parker, 1995; Miller, 2012). Both good workers and good mothers are assumed to be available to meet the demands of the workplace or children respectively, which causes obvious conflict.

    Situational difficulties also played a part in underpinning the feelings of the ‘idealistic’ mothers. Those who had experienced relationship difficulties, such as Una, an academic, spoke of ‘a generalised sense of guilt’ that derived from their emotional situation. Lone mothers were particularly self-critical because all the responsibility was on their shoulders. Of the mothers in this sample, 13 had been lone parents at some time, of whom five had been single for long periods during their daughters’ childhoods. Some of the lone mothers used particularly ad hoc childcare arrangements because of their relatively lower salaries, and they also reported guilt about some experiences with childcarers that they felt had put their children at risk, as exemplified by Una again:

    “She ran away from a friend who was supposed to be looking after her after school and went home … and climbed in through a broken pane of glass in the back door. She was about 10. The friend was a bit mad and didn’t let me know what had happened or check that she was ok.”

    A strong sense comes from the comments of those with an ‘idealistic’ attitude that they felt they had choices and that there could have been be a better way, if only they’d tried harder to find it. These observations build on the work of Rottenberg (2014) and Stone (2007) who point out the illusory nature of the idea of binary opposites to choose between. Their attitude also references Hochschild’s use of the phrase ‘cultural cover up’ (Hochschild and Machung, 1990, p 22) to describe the cultural oversimplification of the context in which women make their decisions about managing motherhood and work.

    Many have discussed the relationship between an ‘idealistic’ attitude to motherhood and maternal guilt (including Parker, 1995; Miller, 2012). An original contribution of this research is the identification (p.44) of mothers with a ‘pragmatic’ attitude to the way they felt they should mother while also working in a demanding career. Moreover, this research offers my definition of the terms ‘pragmatic’ and ‘idealistic’ to describe the different types of feelings and attitudes to mothering while also being committed to a career. These definitions derive from my opinion that the often used terms ‘Maximisers’ and ‘Satisficers’, coined by Crompton and Harris (1998), to describe the work-life strategies of female members of the banking and medical professions, did not fit the accounts I heard from the mothers in this sample. I also revisit economic theorist Simon’s (1956) original definitions of the terms ‘Maximisers’ and ‘Satisficers’. The differences are précised as follows, and demonstrate potential for confusion: ‘Maximisers’ are defined by Crompton and Harris as women who ‘seek to maximise goals in respect of employment and family’, whereas Simon’s definition is to ‘consider and review all possibilities comprehensively to strive to find the best option’. ‘Satisficer’ behaviour is defined by Crompton and Harris as ‘conscious scaling down of employment or family goals in order to achieve a satisfactory outcome’, whereas Simon’s definition is a ‘decision making strategy aiming at an adequate, reasonably satisfying result rather than the optimum outcome’ (Crompton and Harris, 1998, p 126; Simon, 1956, p 136). Psychologists (such as Schwartz et al, 2002) also note that ‘Satisficers’ tend to feel more positive than ‘Maximisers’. Crompton and Harris describe as ‘Maximisers’ those who are most highly agential in effectively making the most of their opportunities and achievements. I theorise that the ‘pragmatic’ mothers in this sample more closely demonstrate what economists call ‘Satisficing’, by aiming at an adequate, reasonably satisfying result rather than the optimum outcome. However, most do not feel they are scaling down their goals. ‘Pragmatic’ seems to be a more apposite term because they challenge the notion of binary choices, are among the most evidently self-confident among the sample and include most of those who had reached the highest levels in their careers. The ‘idealistic’ descriptor captures these mothers’ objective to make the best possible choices for themselves and their children. The word ‘idealistic’ has a negative aspect given that it describes what is often unachievable. This, however, seems apposite in the context of the notion of illusory choices expressed above.

    Whether their attitude to motherhood was more ‘pragmatic’ or more ‘idealistic’, most of the mothers tried to mitigate the effects on their children of their working. However, all also thought that because they had worked for long periods out of the home that it was inevitable that this had an effect upon their children. The next section therefore looks (p.45) at mothers’ perceptions of the effects on their children and compares the views of the mothers to those of their daughters.

    Was there talk about the effect of working?

    The start point for this section is how the mothers arrived at their opinions about the effects of their careers upon their daughters and vice versa. Commentators have theorised that it is not until the second peak in early adolescence that children let go of the safety of parental protection and start to perceive and interact with their parents as people (Blos, 1979; Steinberg, 1990). Some mothers and daughters, such as Eve and Emily who are quoted at length at the start of this chapter, did talk about their feelings about having a working mother. Often, these conversations took place when the daughters reached their late teens or university years and were starting to contrast their own experiences with those of their peers. In many instances no direct conversations had ever taken place about how the daughters felt until, prompted by participation in this research, a direct conversation took place in the joint interviews. The main explanations given for the absence of direct conversation are that the daughters simply did not express any interest, or that having or being a working mother was a normal, unremarkable part of life that both mother and daughter just got on with. Often the mothers had not initiated these conversations. In the case of those mothers with a ‘pragmatic’ attitude, this tended to be because working was ‘an irrevocable choice’ for financial reasons and/or because of the satisfaction they got from working. In the case of some of those mothers with an ‘idealistic’ attitude, feelings of guilt held them back from discussing what would be very hard for them to change. However, even though some had never had direct conversations, it was clear from their accounts that almost all in this sample had close relationships and that they often thought they knew what the other thought or felt, even when topics were not discussed.

    Mothers on the effect of working on their daughters

    Many mothers, particularly those with a ‘pragmatic’ attitude, emphasised the positive ways in which they felt their careers had positively affected their daughters. They pointed out that their daughters had benefited from many experiences because of their mothers’ salaries. Examples included entertainment and fun such as holidays and making a big event of birthdays and family occasions. As will be discussed in Chapter Four, many felt that it was important to be a role model for their (p.46) daughters of “a woman having a successful career”, as described by Jan, MD of a private sector company. Lawyer Faith said that, “because I was a working mother they identified that as being a possibility for them”, and academic and grandmother Stella added: “I think it’s good for children to know that women get their satisfaction from different places don’t they? From happy families … from children, but I think it’s good for them to know there’s satisfaction to be had outside of that environment as well.”

    When their daughters expressed interest, mothers involved them in their work. This had resulted in introductions and exposure to opportunities that Stella called “bigger and … interesting worlds”. Rose, a CEO in the public sector, echoed this point: “The kids have had exposure to some fantastic things and … people, an intellectually and culturally rich world. I think it’s been really good for them.”

    Many of the mothers also felt that work gave them satisfaction and a world outside the family, which they believed made them better mothers, as illustrated by lawyer Naomi: “I think intellectually you are more stimulating as a mother if you are working. I don’t think I worried so much to that navel-staring degree, so in that way I was a better mother.”

    On the other hand, all the mothers shared stories with me about the trade-offs involved in negotiating their way through the everyday challenges life presented. An overarching theme upon which all agreed was that managing home life and work life takes hard work, as illustrated by these comments: Anita, a teacher and grandmother, said, “Motherhood and work can be mixed successfully. It just takes a lot of hard work and effort.” Jan, MD of a private sector company, said, “I think people who are energetic and conscientious tend to be across all of their lives and I think I’m like that and a lot of the working women I know are as well.”

    The majority of the mothers (both ‘pragmatic’ and ‘idealistic’ in attitude) expressed concern that their long working hours outside the home had sometimes negatively affected their daughters. Many mothers reported worrying that their children thought that their tiredness or stress led to their doing less or focusing on their children less than they wanted to. An important theme was that work, especially trips away for work, got in the way of being on the spot when their daughter needed them for emotional support. This was more often thought to be an issue for the teen years than when their daughters were younger. Almost all of the mothers recounted a few specific examples from their daughter’s childhood and adolescence of complaints about them working or their daughter having reacted badly to separation when (p.47) younger. Usually only one or two instances had stuck in the mothers’ minds over the years, but they recalled these instances as having cut them deeply, as these stories attest:

    “I had been promoted to director and my working day was very long. I often arrived home just before bedtime. I would immediately ask the girls about their homework … or something they needed to do. I realised later that this ritual was seen by them as my emphasising the irrelevant in their lives … I had brought my office persona home with me and I was guilty of treating the girls as a project.” (Faith, lawyer)

    “When Emily was about five, I spent every day of a two-week holiday with them and came to the shocking realisation at the end of that time that I knew them better at the end of that two weeks … and that I hadn’t known them too well until that point.” (Eve, doctor)

    Another theme expressed, mainly by the mothers with an ‘idealistic’ attitude, was concern that their daughters had missed out by not having a parent at home after school. These worries were often the result of mothers comparing themselves with other mothers who participated in activities at the school during the day and were at home after school. This also reflects cultural scripts about what is expected of mothers (Doucet, 2006; Miller, 2012). The worries most often recounted concerned childcare arrangements going wrong, because this went to the heart of the mothers’ idea that there was a cost to their children of them not being at home. One of many specific examples given was from Wendy, MD of a STEM business:

    “We found a book behind the sofa and I asked … ‘Why is it here?’ and Willow said ‘Oh, that’s [the childminder’s]. I hid it because she would just read and she wouldn’t play with me, talk to me.’ And again that awful feeling of guilt that there you are thinking your child is happy and looked-after while you’re at work and finding out that’s not the case.”

    This confirms the findings of much research that mothers, more often than fathers, take the main responsibility for organising childcare to substitute for them when they are working (Gatrell, 2008; Thomson et al, 2011; Miller, 2012). It therefore follows that mothers shoulder the responsibilities when things go wrong.

    (p.48) How mothers mitigated the effect of working

    The mothers’ response to the problems they experienced, as opposed to their fears, was to act upon them as far as they were able or thought vital. Mothers had the opportunity to look for more flexible hours in only a few cases (switching, for example, to self-employment) which is unsurprising given that the right to request flexible working only came into force in 2003. One mother, who was ‘idealistic’ in attitude, decided to leave her job and take a career break for three years. This was an option affordable to her, which was not the case for many.

    All the mothers reported that they made every effort to attend school events such as parents’ nights and concerts because they thought that important. They did this partly because they were aware that mothers who worked less would be present and so their daughters would be likely to notice the absence of their mothers and feel let down in some way. Another example of this was, if possible with their working arrangements, trying to pick them up from the school gates once a week. Mothers also highlighted that they made the most out of compressed time by establishing stable routines and clear boundaries around family life. This included doing things together every day or at least every weekend as a family, including regular activities such as swimming and taking family trips at the weekend. Lawyer Zadie spelt out her strategy:

    “You do have to maintain a very fine balance … at weekends and holidays we did compensate for all that running around we were doing during the week and made sure that we did set aside time for the children.”

    An important finding was that many mothers, both ‘pragmatic’ and ‘idealistic’ in attitude, thought that the effect on their daughters of their working had been minimised. This is because the mothers felt they, in the words of senior marketing manager Valerie, “absorbed most of the compromises” themselves. The compromises most frequently mentioned were their relationships with their partners and friends and sleep:

    “I’ve missed out on friendship, definitely. All the friends I had were to do with the children, parents of their friends.” (Karen, teacher and grandmother)

    (p.49) “I think [we] definitely compromised on our relationship … I think we were too knackered to think about it. I think we were surviving … and we definitely compromised there without realising it.” (Rose, CEO, public sector)

    The lone mothers with one child believed they had compromised on having a family (meaning a relationship and other children) in order to devote enough attention to their daughters. Another compromise, mentioned by many mothers, was having missed out themselves on some of the everyday joy of having children, as described by Martha, a CEO in the public sector: “I sometimes look back and think, do I remember enough about when they were little? … maybe I was always thinking about doing the next thing and didn’t spend enough time in the moment.”

    Despite the specific incidents they recalled, most of these mothers looked back over all their experiences and thought that their daughters did not have a deep-seated problem with their mothers’ commitment to work. The main explanations they offered for this view were that having a working mother was a normal and accepted part of their daughters’ lives, and having tried to absorb the compromises themselves. Of course, this was not without cost to them. The key question is, how did their daughters feel?

    Daughters’ stories on the effect of working

    All of the daughters had good relationships with their mothers, although they varied in closeness. They epitomised Benjamin’s (1995) characterisation of the process of separation between mothers and daughters experiencing favourable conditions and positive emotional development as ‘renunciation’ rather than ‘repudiation’. Benjamin explained that renunciation combines recognition of the daughters’ individual difference with feelings of ‘identificatory’ love for their mothers (Benjamin, 1995, p 8).

    It is noteworthy that the daughters recounted far fewer negative incidents or concerns relating to having a mother who worked long hours, either in the pre-tasks that most completed prior to the interviews or in the interviews themselves. In most cases, the incidents they recalled were felt to be transitory, such as their mum being away when the cat was run over, missing their Mum after a trip to the dentist, or (most frequently mentioned) having to sit in their mothers’ place of work while they were off school with minor illnesses. The three exceptions will be discussed in Chapter Three. Of the others, (p.50) only Florence, the working daughter of a lawyer, said she had missed out “a bit”:

    “When I think of my childhood I don’t think of her being too much in it. Which I think she would be slightly gutted to hear … I probably did miss out on things just in terms of a bit of face-time and kind of knowing my mum when I was younger … maybe that feeling of being a mummy’s girl.”

    She went on to tell me she was a “massive daddy’s girl”, even though her father also worked full-time. Arguably, this indicates that Florence felt that her mother had more responsibility to be there than her father. This again illustrates the resilience of cultural scripts about motherhood. More typically, when asked open questions about any feelings about growing up with a working mother many said, just as their mothers predicted, that they had never given it much thought. This is exemplified by Chloe, an academic, who said: “I can’t remember wishing she was around more … I think your parents are quite incidental.” Many daughters thought that their absence of strong feelings was indicative of them having no significant problems with their mother’s working. Several explicitly reported that they had no feelings of having “missed out” or feeling “resentful”, or “neglected”, or “tension as a result of her working”. A few of the mothers with an ‘idealistic’ attitude had expressed their guilt to their daughters. Their daughters told them they had no need to feel guilty. For example, Diana, an undergraduate, said: “My mum’s thing about feeling guilty. I don’t think she needs to feel guilty. I certainly don’t feel damaged because my parents weren’t there.” Also Harriet, working in education, expressed her guilt about the ad hoc childcare arrangements her daughters experienced. Her daughter Hannah had a more sanguine view:

    “Lots of these things you only piece together when you are older. Like we used to have a lot of sleepovers with our friends, which I thought was amazing fun – it was! But I also realise now that my mum was basically sharing childcare with another friend who was also a single mum. At the time, I was 10, I just thought I had a brilliant social life.”

    The daughters talked less about problems and more about how their mothers managed their work and home lives in a way that meant their daughters did not feel compromised. Five key themes emerged:

    • (p.51) daughters knowing the routine of when their mothers would be there and how to contact her;

    • mothers being there for important events (when other mothers will be too);

    • daughters being cared for at home after school;

    • mothers being fully present when spending time with them at home (especially on weekdays);

    • daughters being encouraged to be independent.

    Knowing the routine:

    Knowing when their mother planned to be away, what time their mother would be home or that they were able to contact her at work helped the daughters feel secure. As recent graduate Gina explained: “We always ring her at work. She never says we can’t. She’s always available to us unless she is in a meeting.” The importance of knowing the routine was also described by Jessica, an undergraduate daughter of a company director:

    “Knowing her routine maybe as a child was very important. We had this woman who came every Wednesday when they were both working … Tuesday was the day when my dad came back early. I guess that helps. You know Mum is never there on a Wednesday so that’s fine.”

    Important events:

    It was highly desirable for all the daughters that their mums were there for what the daughters considered to be important events, such as sport or arts performances or parents’ nights. The daughters often commented that it was more noticeable and significant to them that their mothers were at their school events than their fathers, which also reflects deep-seated cultural constructs about motherhood. Even if a few occasions were missed, knowing that their mother had wanted to be there was often enough. These were the main things that contributed to the daughters feeling that they were important to their mothers, as illustrated by recent graduate Isabelle:

    “We had nannies and we missed her when she went away for work but … we were aware that she loved us. So I never felt like she wasn’t there even when she wasn’t.”

    There is a link between expectations of other mothers being present and not wanting to feel left out or for these occasions to feel like a public statement that their mothers had something better to do. The growth (p.52) in fathers’ involvement in school is also likely to shift the emphasis to a parent being present rather than it being vital that one’s mother is there.

    Being at home after school:

    There was only one significant difference between the accounts of daughters of mothers with ‘pragmatic’ or ‘idealistic’ attitudes, in terms of what made them feel fine about having mothers who worked longer hours. Several daughters of ‘idealistic’ mothers said that they did not want to replicate, with their own children, their experience of being cared for away from home after school. This view seems to have come from a mixture of their own memories and conversations with their mothers who did have concerns about their daughters’ after-school care. It did not matter to the daughters who cared for them at home – just that they were at home after school for most of the time.

    Being fully present:

    Most had vivid memories of family holidays and spending time with the family at weekends, regularly doing activities as a family such as going swimming, to the cinema or on walks. Many of the daughters said that they valued their mother being more than just physically present when she was home. They wanted her to be available, to be attentive and not obviously caught up in working while at home with them. Several had noticed that their mother limited the amount of work they did at home or worked when they were in bed or otherwise occupied. Academic Chloe raised the importance of being genuinely present and pointed out that, in contrast to her father:

    “My mum works long hours as well and I had a sense that her work was very important to her … [but] she was very good at switching off and having evenings and weekends and holidays.”

    This is challenging to achieve in the age of digital working. Also, in the context of comments about knowing the routine and being there for important events, it is likely that daughters would feel comfortable with having set times in the evening that mothers do not allow to be interrupted by work. Of course, the times children want their mothers to be available will vary by age.

    Being independent:

    Many of the daughters said that they were glad that they had learnt to be independent and self-reliant. They attributed this to having a working mother, observing that they were more independent and confident than their friends who were more (p.53) ‘mummied’. By this they meant that their mothers ran around after them and were very involved in their lives. Gina, a recent graduate described this theme:

    “This girl I travelled with she was really ‘mummied’ and was just crying all the time and skyped her mum every day … It wasn’t good for her, she just had no confidence at all, not even to get on a bus first.”

    Moreover, several had noticed since university that their friends felt emotionally responsible for mothers who had prioritised their children over work and were glad not to be in this position. This valuing of independence that correlates with having a mother who worked relatively long hours is confirmed by the work of Aughinbaugh and Gittleman (2004).

    My research shows that almost all of the daughters felt that their mothers’ work had not affected them negatively, which suggests that the mothers have been successful in absorbing the compromises themselves. Little directly comparable research exists that examines the perspectives of mothers and daughters and that also focuses on mothers with successful careers. However, some corroboration comes from the Timescapes qualitative longitudinal interviews with much younger (primary age) children that inquired about the impact of having working parents. They found that children did not feel ill affected, but also highlighted that many of the children said they disliked not being able to go home straight after school (Backett-Milburn et al, 2011). Thinking about research among older children, psychologist Apter (2001), in her book The myth of maturity, discussed the importance to young adults in their late teens and twenties of feeling that their mothers are attentive and supportive of them even as they also strive to separate themselves. She also commented that it is little acknowledged how much young adults remain emotionally invested in their parents.

    Conclusions

    There is limited literature on which to draw which looks at the effect on children over time of having a mother working comparatively long hours in a career role. This is because it is only since the 1970s that many women have been in SOC 1 and 2 careers, and because research from North America tends to compare stay-at-home mothers with full-time workers and the UK model is more commonly part-time work versus full-time work. An original contribution of my research (p.54) is to demonstrate that even though a significant proportion of the mothers, particularly those with an ‘idealistic’ attitude, expressed maternal guilt about trade-offs they had made over time between work and their families, their daughters rarely mirrored their mothers’ concerns. Moreover, mothers and daughters were in accord in terms of the benefits of having a working mother with a career.

    Almost all the mothers in this research really enjoyed working, but the stories they told made it clear that they did not identify more strongly with work than motherhood. Being a mother was central to their identities. All were thoughtful about the way they managed their careers and motherhood, meaning that they considered the implications of the day-to-day trade-offs they were making. These findings confirm the work of Garey (1999, p 75) who described working mothers as being in the process of constructing a ‘mutually supportive’ identity in which work and motherhood are interwoven. Garey (1995) also theorised that working mothers construct new definitions of good mothering that work around their work. Her theories are based on night-shift workers, and I perceive that a similar process is happening with the mothers with careers in my study: for example, the priority placed on being present for their children when they are at home and the frequently stated view that they are better mothers because they also have satisfying work. This also accords with Sutherland’s (2010) findings about middle-class white mothers in the US. My research identifies two main differences in attitude in the way mothers felt they should mother while also working in a demanding career. My original contribution is the identification of those taking a ‘pragmatic’ attitude. ‘Pragmatics’ challenge the notion of binary choices in the trade-offs they make between the demands of their work and families. They share a view that they did not get everything right, treat trade-offs as a fact of life and also feel that their children have not suffered as a result of their working. They feel the decisions they made on a daily basis were usually good enough. This is underpinned by their belief that their children feel loved and secure. Those with a ‘pragmatic’ attitude include some who had reached the highest levels in their careers, and this is probably related to the fact they did not often feel regretful or guilty about the way they managed their work and life. Another possible explanation for this is that many of those with ‘pragmatic’ feelings about motherhood had much more support from their partners. This will be debated further in Chapter Eight.

    I describe the other dominant attitude expressed in this generation of mothers as ‘idealistic’, to capture their focus on making the best possible choices for themselves and their children. They report feeling (p.55) maternal guilt more frequently because they have a clear image of the kind of mother and worker they want to be and feel that they have not lived up to their own expectations in either role. Therefore, they are more uncomfortable in their identities. While many of the ‘idealistic’ mothers express greater concerns than the ‘pragmatics’ that their work has sometimes negatively affected their daughters, and sometimes even expressed this view to their daughters, their overall view was that their daughters felt neutral about the effect of their mothers’ careers upon them because they had taken many of the compromises upon themselves.

    Most of the daughters expressed a more positive view than their mothers. They saw benefits in the role model their mothers presented and in the fruits of their experiences, contacts and salary. They also gave specific reasons why they had not felt disadvantaged by their mothers working, which cohered around five key themes.

    Finally, a key original finding is that the views expressed by the daughters’ generation shows that they did not need a constant maternal presence in order to feel well loved and well mothered. Almost all did not reject or feel ill affected by their mothers’ approach to managing a career. Gina, the recent graduate daughter of a director of a consultancy, summed up these themes well in describing her mother in reference to her own, anticipated, relational identity as mother, worker and partner:

    “She’s definitely a very involved mother. She always has been and in no way rejects that role. But I think she does take it on in conjunction with a career and I would want that. I wouldn’t want to feel like I’d compromised my role as mother … but it would be equally horrible to feel you’d compromised who I am or that the responsibility has been delegated to me, in terms of taking care of the family, more than it should be.”

    Three key points made in this chapter are:

    • The continuing lack of representation of women in the most senior positions at work cannot be accounted for by a backlash of daughters reacting against their upbringing by mothers who were also committed to a career, because almost all the daughters felt well mothered.

    • A link is shown between mothers who take a ‘pragmatic’ attitude to managing their feelings about motherhood and work and progressing to positions of influence in a career.

    • (p.56) The daughters’ view that they had not been ill affected is based on their mothers being there for the events where parents (especially mothers) were expected to be, daughters being able to predict their mother’s routine, their mother being emotionally present when at home, daughters being cared for at home after school when possible and being taught to be independent.

    The next chapter will consider the exceptions to these findings: the daughters who did feel critical of the hours their mothers gave to their work.