My opinion, for what it’s worth, about whether or not you work when you have children, (if you are in the luxurious position of being able to choose), comes from my belief that everyone needs, and everyone is entitled to, some sort of intellectual life.
When I say intellectual life, I mean something that is outside of the daily grind of getting up, feeding yourself and others, fulfilling the basic requirements of your existence.
For some, their working life and their intellectual life are the same thing. But for most, their job contributes to the general grind. It’s got nothing to do with class or with how much you get paid. I have seen well-paid City workers and lawyers cry with frustration at how their brains are atrophying in their jobs.
If you are the primary carer of pre-school children, the amount of grind in your life is probably higher than most. You have a responsibility to yourself and to your family to seek out some sort of intellectual life otherwise you will go potty and make your whole family miserable – but it doesn’t necessarily need to be paid employment. It just needs to be an interest, a fizz, a whimsy that you get a kick out of, which has nothing to do with laundry or playdates or nappies. Television, alas, doesn’t really count.
My mother never worked. She is a painter and sculptor but only ever did it as a hobby to entertain herself in moments of freedom. She never took it seriously, although she is talented. I remember the day the kiln she had had built in our garden, years before, was dismantled and taken away and feeling incredibly sad. It was a sort of admission of defeat. Every new thing my mother made, or drew, brought me so much joy, but she always claimed, with four children, she never had the time to give it her all....