Do you recall Gaby Hinsliff as political editor of the Observer? Her thoughtful well researched features always caught my eye and I've enjoyed some articles from her blog, Used to be Somebody. Now, she has taken her experiences of life as a working mum, her experiences of finding different ways to work, and turned them in to a thoughtful and in depth book. I love the title. At home I often say that I need a wife too, someone who doesn't mind focussing on the household admin and domestic chores.
I wouldn't read this if you're looking for a quick fix to the trials of working parenthood: perhaps there isn't one. Do read it if you want your ways of thinking to be challenged, to discover interesting research on family dynamics, plus to get some fascinating insights into how Hinsliff has come up with a work/life balance that suits her.
With today's culture, work demands can be pretty hard going, whether you just work as a means to an end, or you are ambitious and want to successfully climb up the corporate ladder - but what if happens when, as a woman, you marry and want kids? You can't carry on working a 60 hour week, even if it's your heart's desire - priorities change and babies are just as demanding as bosses/spouses. Something's got to give, but what? Why can't we have it all? Does a mother's career really have to suffer, or will traditional family values just be a thing of the past? Does that even matter to you? Let's not forget your other half - the husband/partner - everyone, it would seem, needs a piece of you - but do you have enough to go around?
This is the sort of dilemma Gaby Hinsliff (and thousands of women) have to face - as guilt ridden parents wanting to make everyone happy, including themselves-- the basis for `Half a Wife: The Working Family's Guide for Getting a Life Back'. Gaby explains how we can get what we need, whilst thinking outside the traditional home/work/family balance set up by negotiating the hours we want more effectively, and dealing with the inevitable resistance to using our working time differently. She shares how to plan careers more intelligently from the outset, without sacrificing future pay rises - especially around the ages children head off to college/work themselves.
Further on into the book, Gaby looks into what both employers and governments can do to create a genuine market for flexible jobs, which work to everyone's advantage and how it is possible to turn your back on the rat race of corporate life and raise healthy, happy kids AND keep your career on the right track.
In practice, however, this is very much dictated by the government, the current economic state of Britain and how flexible your employer is - but it's not impossible to get what you want, when you know how. The author, Gaby Hinsliff is very good at sharing her personal experiences of how she took the plunge and side-stepped the ideal career track and took a less conventional path, which incidentally, seems to apply to all `breadwinners' these days, rather than just our biologically `male' counterparts. Yes, this book shows that there is life (and work) after marriage and kids and that it IS possible to `have it all' with a little bit of knowledge and the right attitude. An interesting, realistic self-help book, with an engaging autobiographical twist. It's not a quick fix to similar dilemmas, but it does raise some interesting issues to have a good old debate over. Whateer your personal opinion is, this book will definitely give you plenty to think about.
I titled my review "you will be liable to re-think everything", though let me be clear that I do not mean this in a bad way.
Gaby Hinsliff's books is extremely thought-provoking, and whether you're a working-for-pay mum or a working-really-hard-at-home-without-pay mum, I think the book will probably have you re-assessing why you do what you do, how you do what you do, and whether or not you should change what you do.
More than that, though, it's a refreshing book especially in terms of having the father re-think his role, too. Hinsliff has done a good job at looking where the law is skewed against dads wanting to have more time with their children, as well as where families can fall into the frustrating situation of one partner (usually mum) staying home and dad just working all the harder away from home, with subtle messages that can cause division and resentment.
I happen to be a stay-at-home-mum partly because going to work just wasn't going to cover my childcare bills, and though I have some of the wistfulness about "something more" that Hinsliff captures so well in this exploration of modern family life, I have reassessed in light of her book and still come to the conclusion that my time with the children is incredibly precious and, in the grand scheme of things, short-lived.
Never the less, I am extremely grateful that Hinsliff's book has overturned a great many rocks for me, and has allowed me to examine what's underneath them.
Finally, I think this book would be excellent reading for a) husbands (as it explains that sometimes inexpressible friction that women often feel when shouldering the childcare and house management burden as well as their paid employment), b) teenagers and young people (so they can be -- perhaps -- a bit better prepared for the "real world"), and c) politicians, especially Government ministers (so they can be ... ahem ... a bit better prepared for the "real world").
This isn't the book that the cover suggests. First and foremost, it's not a 'guide'. It's an extended and well-researched study into the work/life balance of the modern British family in current society, but if like me you're part of a new family and looking for advice about how to strike the right balance between family and personal finance and career, you might not find as much in here as the cover blurb suggests.
The first half of the book gathers together, in a very readable way, lots of recent information and personal accounts of how the modern family operates- how common one-parent families are, the positives and negatives of being a working Dad or a working Mum, the way in which employers currently look at new parents, how people struggle with not having enough hours in the day, and more. It's thought-provoking to a new parent like myself, and admirably candid- despite being described as "uplifting" on the back cover, it doesn't pull any punches with some of the less optimistic statistics that are out there.
The second half of the book wanders off-course. Hinsliff is the ex-political editor of the Observer and it shows in two negative ways here.
Firstly, she is assuredly a 'high-flyer' compared to most of the people that might read this book, and what may be intended as advice to the reader begins to come across as indulgent autobiographical reminiscing. If your wage is in the higher tax bracket and you can afford a nanny, maybe you'll disagree, but I didn't find any real 'working class' (or even 'lower middle-class') advice here, and instead of feeling solidarity, I ended up feeling resentful of how Hinsliff's previous success allowed her the luxury of being able to change her career and relocate on a whim. Similarly many of the people she speaks to are white collar executives at management level, not 'normal' staff. If you find finances and career more of a struggle than she does, then you end up feeling jealous of Hinsliff and many of her interviewees, not helped by them.
Secondly the only real advice chapter in the book is the last (and longest) chapter at the end- and it's not advice for people, it's advice for the Government. Hinsliff either is or was part of a government task force to encourage flexible working, and this chapter seems like one of their reports paraphrased. Hinsliff stands on her political (and even party-political) soapbox and tells us how the Government should do things differently. All well and good, and putting aside how some of her manifesto clearly comes from some sort of dreamland, and also the short shelf life it inevitably has (clearly written in late 2011 and out-of-date within months), is it really part of a "Working Family's Guide"? No it's not. It's a massive chunk of politics and it feels like it's in the wrong book.
I've told my partner to read this book, as it will definitely be a conversation starter and some food-for-thought between us. However I've suggested she stops at page 143, because after that it becomes a bit of a waste of time.
on 16 February 2012
As a new parent, I was enticed by the cover of this book. I was hoping to find some ideas that might be helpful when my partner returns to work but this wasn't really the case.
The book is well-written and an interesting read. There are lots of good ideas but these are more aimed at companies and the government, not the average family.
Overall, this was interesting but offered no real solutions.
on 20 July 2014
Whilst the book was help at all with regard to what i purchased it for ... help for a sister-in-law who was struggling with exactly the problem of how to have a life and a job when she went back to work it was interesting and well-written.
It's more a politic polemic and a good one than any kind of self-help book.
I wouldn't recommend it to any woman who is short of sleep, inspiration and desperately hanging on to their sense of humour and needs help fast.
But I would suggest to anyone who thinks that it's long past time we changed the system and has the luxury of time to think about it!
on 23 January 2012
Like a skilled travel writer can make you see somewhere you've visited with fresh eyes - Gaby does this but with family life and makes you see there might be different and better ways to enjoy the parenthood and work journey.
I can't recommend this book enough. It made me look a fresh at our chaotic family life and question many assumptions we'd made about our careers and work/life balance, I'm sure an experience most parents who read this will share.
Incredibly readable, I spent most my time nodding in agreement.
Excellent and clear policy calls about how families can be helped - but Gaby's style is so gentle, if your not a policy wonk don't be put off!
I keep quoting statistics and the ideas in the book to everyone I know (my favourite is : men who do more house work apparently have more sex!)
Gaby Hinsliff used to be political editor of the Observer. She had a busy, demanding but hugely rewarding career. She was successful and influential. Then she became a mother, and life changed. This book is about how her life changed, but is also a call to arms for urgent change in how we view families and work in Britain today.
If you have children, then you already know the tough choices you need to make. When should the mother (it is still, nearly always the mother who takes the year off) go back to work? Should she go full time or part time? What do we do with the children be given? How can we pay for it all? And what does it all mean for the father? he has gone from partner to sole breadwinner. What does it mean for him? How do you handle housework, relationships, childcare and parenting.
I am in this precise position. There is no right answer, only a least worst. But this is an issue that needs addressing. Couples having children can now both have careers before they become parents, in a way that was simply not open to most women a generation or two ago. House prices mean that both parents need to work. And for most of us, dropping out of corporate life to start our own businesses is easier said than done.
Hinsliff considers all of these questions, and looks at research and good practice from around the world to try to find some answers. She offers arguments and a powerful case for change. Action is needed by parents - we need to reevaluate our views on work and the expectations we have - by employers - who need to become more flexible in their expectations and practices, and also by government - who need to make it easier for parents to find affordable childcare that works, and to get the right balance between work and the most important role any of us will play - raising the next generation.
This is powerful and persuasive. It should be required reading for politicians and parents everywhere.
The battle in modern working life is that of reconciliation. How do you be all things to all people? On one hand, Britains problems are the cause of the feckless poor who don't want to work. And also, at the same time, it's the fault of the absent parents who, after a hard day at work in the most challenging working environment of the past 80 years, and working all hours to keep their jobs and roofs over their heads whilst their colleagues are being cut, cut, cut, in the name of austerity. Leave work on time to put your kids to bath, and you're the first for the chop because you don't show any commitment to the corporate cause. Stay late and you're the absent parent that is the cause of Broken Britain.
And let us not even mention the benefits trap : with a lack of regulated child care costs, a working parent is seeing half their money go direct to someone else to raise their children,
These are the battles the modern family quietly, desperately fights : every second at work is one taken from the children, and the equasion to be all things to all people all the time also excludes perhaps the most important element of the whole thing. Parents often feel that they exist to serve in modern slavery, with all space for their own personality pushed to the side of their lives, existing solely as parent units. It is this world that this book so elegantly captures, with examples both drawn from memory and fact, but also from the millions across the country, this quiet, exhausted war of duty.
But also, not only Half A Wife, but Half A Husband, where the partnership becomes two people toiling in the tyranny of housework - mother, brother, sister, lover - all things at work. Written clearly, concisely, and in a way that follows the natural order of issues logically, this book illuminates. To be frank, it is practically essential reading for any manager or HR department in the UK (and further beyond) : the telling point is that for every late-night supermarket, every garage and convienience store, every restaurant and helpdesk, there is a quiet and apposite effect - a child somewhere, without their mother or father, and a harried parent, or stepfather, or a grandparent, staying up late at night, putting someone else's child to bed.
And that, ladies and gentleman, is the rub of the book, and eloquently, exhaustively explained again, and again, and again, in this work : every employer should read it, and every Prime Minister should have every word imprinted into his mind - that being Half A Wife or Half A Husband is sometimes too much for even the most dedicated of parents in the modern world.
Gaby Hinsliff has managed to pull off an enviable escape from a working life that became unworkable with a small child and kept her hand in the game with a book that was bound to find a sympathetic audience with the armies of women facing the same dilemma and that provided an ample entre to reflective "I don't know how she does it" journalism.
I'm not sure it merits being called a guide but it's certainly reassurance that the thousands of us typing away in the middle of the night to avoid losing the short hours with our children are not alone. Alas not everyone will have been a successful national journalist before they had to make their choices and it's also an important pointer to what you need to do BEFORE having children if you are to have any chance of rebuilding your post child career.
It's a book that husbands/partners and employers should be encouraged to read - please at least the HR department - as it's astonishing how fast memory fades of how difficult the early years of child rearing and working are. Alas it's not the answer but alucid argumment that the workforce and families are both weakened by the failure to find one.