I wanted to write about home – not bricks and mortar or perfect drapes – but the meaning of home at a psychological, philosophical and practical level, because it touched so many chords in my own life. From the beginning, with my partner Olly, we took on two wrecks to do up as family homes and experienced the good, the bad and utterly chaotic stuff of parenting our two sons. And in due course, when Olly and I hit an emotional drought it was our home that saved our relationship.
I'm deeply interested in exploring how there can be heart in a home. The ways in which home can be a nurturing and supportive place offering us what the artist and writer John Berger talked of as "a refuge from the chaos of the outside world". A place we can provide a loving happy sanctuary for our young, and somewhere to hang our hats and be our authentic selves.
Yet the pressures of the past three decades have enticed us ever more into the chaos of the outside world of long working hours and juggernaut jobs, where ambition persuades us to give dawn to dusk in order to rise up the career ladder. There has been the fashion for socialising outside of home, and a celeb-dotty culture encouraging us to think that being constantly on display in public and demonstrating our worth to the outside world through our earnings and our status is what matters most.
Research shows the impact on children when parents are too absent, too emotionally exhausted to be "there" for them; added to this is the dilemma that has been a particular factor for working women who very often feel guilt and anxiety about their children in a way men do less often.
I experienced this conflict myself when trying to balance career and children, feeling as though I were living in a food processor and aware that I wasn’t being the kind of mother I wanted to be, as do so many women. But men play a key part in making home and family life work too, and there are plenty of men’s voices between the pages.
I’ve been an active feminist since the 1970s, vociferously committed to women’s rights and equality. So it came as a shock to find, as my book was published, that I was instantly dubbed a turncoat feminist who wanted to shoo all women with children back into the world of Mad Men. There was The Times lashing me for saying women with children should stay home. Hot on its heels came Grazia wanting me to argue my position against a woman columnist berating me for having had it all and now saying other women shouldn’t have the same opportunities to work. The Evening Standard without, it appeared, so much as looking at my book, had me tagged as a reactionary.
Help!! Had I written this in my sleep? I didn’t think I had said this. I don't think women should not work at all when they have children, any more than I think it about men. What I do believe is that children, in order to thrive in the home, need to feel wanted and well attached. They need the best we can give them in time and emotional attention. And, perhaps riskily, I'm prepared to consider the notion of biological destiny – that as women we are hugely privileged in being able to give birth, but that this may mean making a few more sacrifices of time – particularly straight after we have brought a baby who has lived with us for nine months into the world – than men.
Then came Woman’s Hour and I saw, with sinking gut, that my slot was billed as the feminist who has had a re-think about working mothers. But although questions about this certainly featured, I was given the opportunity to explain that I had drawn on clinical and professional research as well as personal stories, to write what I hoped was a nuanced and reflective look at home as what the philosopher Alain de Botton calls "the guardian of identity".
Of course there are ways in which home can be a hideous mockery of the idea of homeliness. But because I believe so strongly that it gives satisfaction and happiness, can protect and strengthen relationships with partners and children, I dwell most on this.
And I write as a feminist who believes women have a particular role in re-imagining home for the 21st century .
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