Getting off sofa for a new full-time job

PUBLISHED: 10:47 05 September 2008 | UPDATED: 21:12 05 July 2010

WHEN Fiona Phillips announced that she was walking away from the GMTV sofa and her £500,000-a-year salary to spend more time with her family, men's eyebrows were raised.

WHEN Fiona Phillips announced that she was walking away from the GMTV sofa and her £500,000-a-year salary to spend more time with her family, men's eyebrows were raised.

Yeah right, smirks all round. She's not walking, she's been pushed.

But mothers knew exactly where the 47-year-old was coming from when said her sons, nine and six, needed her around more.

Combining - I won't use the irksome phrase “juggling” - a tough career with children, husband, a home and an elderly widowed father was getting the better of her, turning her into a bad-tempered monster.

Phillips has done more than resign. She's spoken for mothers everywhere who have learned from experience that children need their mums more as they get older, not less.

She's blown the myth that babies need mums at home until they go to school. It's the other way round but it's never said.

Children and teenagers need their mums, their attention, their advice and their focus more and more as each year passes.

The demands, activities, anxieties and emotions of school age children borne by the mother - or father if he's the main carer - mount up.

And it is exhausting.

It's the mother who has to fill in school forms, carry around the children's schedules in their heads, organise play dates, remember every shoe size, trouser length and teacher training days.

It's the mother's head full of “Why was he unhappy this morning?” or “Is he being bullied?” “Has she done her homework? “Does she need extra help at school?” as she tries to concentrate on meetings.

It's the mother who makes sure children get to football, netball, Brownies and Scouts. It's the mother who ensures the right clothes for the school disco are clean and ironed, the names of all her children's friend, their addresses and phone numbers and who's fallen out with who.

It's usually the mother who restocks the food cupboards, plans what's for dinner, who's coming to dinner, who's going to mend the shower and clean the windows. All on top of demanding jobs.

I've seen enough friends on their mobiles talking work in the car, with their sixth former's UCAS form in their handbags, on her way to the orthodontist with one child before picking another up from rugby and going home to cook supper before supervising homework and music practice.

But how many times do you hear: “Stay at home with the baby until they go to school?”

Babies are portable and adaptable. Their demands are simple - comfort, food, sleep, routine and stimulation. The most balanced, outgoing, sociable children I've met are those who went to nursery as babies and toddlers while both parents worked.

Talk to their mothers and they all say that was the easy part. Now the children are older they're finding more flexible work to give their children more time. And working through the school holidays. Nightmare.

Saying to an 11-year-old “Sorry, I can't take you to football practice this season because I have to work” is more damaging to a parent-child relationship than booking your baby into a nursery four days a week.

Telling a seven-year-old you'll hear them read “in a minute” - and never do - because the ironing is reaching the ceiling and no ones' eaten yet is tantamount to a crime.

Not all of us can afford to walk away from our jobs. Most of us don't want to. We love to work. It's what we were all made for. We just want to work more family friendly hours.

Some manage it like Phillips but most just walk around exhausted by guilt that the children are missing out because bills have to be paid.

Women can't have it all. Women don't want it all. We just want to be able to give enough of everything to please everyone. It's what a mother is for.

JADE GOODY'S cervical cancer went undetected despite having pre-cancerous cells at 16, 18 and frequent trips to hospital.

Her diagnosis at 27 has brought the disease - and how it can affect young women - bang into the public eye at a time when parents of 12 and 13-year-olds have to make a life-saving decision.

A campaign started this week offering every 12 and 13-year-old girl in Britain an HPV vaccine to help protect against cervical cancer, the second biggest cancer killer of women.

A vaccine to protect from cancer. If we'd heard about it years ago, we'd have been queuing up.

But, alarmingly, parents are reticent to allow their daughters to have the vaccine. Some are refusing all together.

If it were designed to offer protection from any other kind of cancer no parent would hesitate.

But because cervical cancer is linked to sex and the HPV virus is transmitted by sex, the idea of their 12 and 13-year-olds being sexually active makes them want to say no.

It's difficult for every parent to imagine their 12 and 13-year-olds needing protection from sexually transmitted diseases or having sex at all.

But it will happen one day and this vaccine could be their lifesaver.

These parents need to wake up and smell the coffee not push their heads deeper into the sand. One day, their daughters could be suffering just like Jade Goody because their parents refused to help protect them merely because they didn't like the idea.

Selfish or doing the right thing?

TIME was, when you retired from work, collected your pension and bus pass and looked forward to gardening and Sunday motoring.

Now it's turn 60, get divorced and start a new life. Record numbers of over 60s are spitting up from their partners when they realise they've got 20 or 30 long years to live out together.

While divorce among younger people drops as the dire state of the housing market and economy makes splitting too expensive, the mortgage-free over 60s are keeping divorce lawyers busy.

Sick of looking at the same old miserable faces over breakfast and listening to the same old, same old from partners they can no longer tolerate, pensioners are making a strike for independence rather than staying in unhappy marriages.

Children once dreaded their parents divorcing. Now, thanks to the economy, they're stuck in the middle of warring mum and dad in a house they can't sell having to cope with Granny running off to start a new solo life, taking up salsa dancing and pleasing herself and granddad turning up moping every day for his tea.

Changing times, eh?

As a junior reporter more than two decades ago, one of the weekly jobs was to type up reports of WI meetings.

I was intrigued that fully-grown women spent time to make entries for “the most amusing thing I can make with a wooden spoon” competition and equally baffling past times and contests. It felt like a parallel world frequented by the type of woman I'd never come across.

To this day I don't think I know a WI member. Not that anyone's ever owned up to being a member anyway.

But, quaint and pointless as many of their Jam and Jerusalem activities appeared to be in their weekly write ups, it felt wholesome, innocent and safe in an increasingly rotten world.

I shudder to think what the rank and file make of the new WI Lite branch that's opened in Hampshire.

The branch's first outing was to a live show of Puppetry of the Penis. Since then they've organised life drawing classes with a nude male model, burlesque dance lessons and are looking forward to a session with a sex therapist.

Let's hope they don't revive the “most amusing thing to make with a wooden spoon” competition. The mind boggles.

HOVIS are to relaunch a half-loaf for single people.

The way bread prices are going the half loaf will become the new family loaf made to stretch.

ACTS of true altruism and utter selflessness are few and far between.

Jane Ritchie would probably say probably say “stuff and nonsense” if her actions were described as either of the above.

But when spinster Miss Ritchie inherited £9m from a distant cousin she gave it all away.

She used it to built something she had been trying to create for much of her working life as manager of Durham's Business and Learning Partnership 15 years - a job-related learning centre for teenagers to gain an insight into careers and inspire them to make the most of their education.

All she kept for herself was enough for a new hat for a wedding and a stay in hotel.

“I've got everything I want…I'm the wrong shape for fancy clothes, I don't drink and I don't smoke and I don't take holidays because I'm to busy. I am very happy as I am.”

How often do we hear anyone say that today?

KITCHEN equipment of the 1970s is now becoming obsolete.

Chip pans, tea strainers, Tupperware, tea cosies and egg slicers have been pushed off the work surfaces by blenders, coffee machines, bread makers, fat-removing grilling machines and pasta makers and all things chrome and shiny.

The thing is, everything on the 1970s gadget list was well used and part of our everyday lives.

Most owners of today's “essentials” never use them, have no idea how to use them and have them gathering dust because they look good in their 'lifestyle' kitchens.

Bring back the tea cosy - it's use and ornament.

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