When Peggy Orenstein interviewed women about their life choices in 2000 for her book Flux, she came to the conclusion that the women she surveyed who decided to leave the workforce when they had their children "[a]lmost universally . . . were married to men who worked long hours, earning far more money than they ever could. That allowed them the luxury of 'choosing' to quit their jobs, but it also created a situation in which they felt they had to. The demands of their husbands' jobs, which they felt were inviolable, left them solely responsible for childcare and household management. Layering those tasks over full-time work quickly became overwhelming."
As far as my situation was concerned, Orenstein had it exactly right. Bill worked long hours and earned a lot more money than I could. Someone had to run the household. I did feel that the demands of his job were inviolable, but his job wasn't a burden to our lifestyle; to me it was an exciting reminder of the world I had decided to leave for the time being.
The home I was creating for our family had many similarities to the one I had grown up in. I was born and raised in London into a world where women of my background didn't attend college. Instead?even in the 1980s?they got married. The year I went to King's College London only a handful of the other girls who were leaving my convent boarding school were doing the same thing. Today, thirty years later, almost every girl who leaves the same school goes on to a place at a decent college.
I was brought up to be more now than then. My American mother, who had gone to college in New York, had met my English father while they were both working journalists in Paris. I was a dual national, and my mother never stopped telling me that I was only "half English," just as much an American as a Brit. She was trying to give me a sense of my options, but as a young child who only wanted to fit in, I hated the reminders. Anyway, she was as keen to fit in as I was. On having her children (three in all), she did as the other London mothers she knew did and stayed home in her large white house with her family, a live-in au pair, and a nanny. But this was not the world she was used to, and she was never comfortable in it. Once we were at school, she left my father and returned to journalism. She had previously been a successful feature writer for the New York Herald- Tribune. Now she went back to the same career at the same paper, though in her second incarnation she was a freelancer, fitting in her pieces around her family. She still got quality assignments, though. I remember her trying to explain to us in the late 1960s why interviewing the Beatles was exciting.
Unlike my mother, I had never thought I would stop working when I had children. My career had been so consuming and such a part of my identity I didn't think I could exist without it. Well, that's not entirely true. I knew I could exist without it; I just didn't know who I would be.