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I started writing a comment on the highly thought-provoking guest post by Anna-Lena Dubé Fuller, ‘Women in the Media – Not’ and Motherhood v Careers, but it began to balloon, veer, swoop, and all sorts of other alarming things, so I decided to make it a post all of its own.

The discussion in the comments on Anna-Lena’s post is riveting and wide-ranging, as debates about parenthood and paid work tend to be. To tell the truth, I have a habit of shying away from such debates, because the emotions they evoke in me are fairly raw.

The Job of Being a Parent But what the hell, she said defiantly!

Here’s my experience:

I have a permanent, public-sector job, from which I’m currently on my second career break. I’ve done the work/parenting balance various ways since my two children arrived. At first, I went back to work full-time, then cut to four days, then took a one-year break. When I went back after that, it was half time, and when my second baby was born I took the career break I’m on now.

(Where is the father? I confess we fit a modern stereotype: he’s a committed feminist, an engaged parent, who earns considerably more than I do, in a career that doesn’t accommodate the kind of chopping and changing that I’ve undertaken – and even if it did, he wouldn’t be too enthusiastic about the idea. And at the same time, he is uncomfortable at being the sole earner in our household. Hooray.)

So, yes, obviously I’m enormously “lucky” to be in a position to do all this – the “family friendly” options available to me are a privilege denied thousands of other parents.

(The quotation marks around “lucky” and “family friendly”? We’ll come back to those.)

When I was working full-time in 2005, with my baby in a crèche, the economics of it angered me: the only reason why the crèche was “affordable” to us was that the women (yes, of course they were all women) who cared for our child were paid far less than my partner and I were. Their work, which was so utterly crucial to our family’s wellbeing, was apparently of considerably less “value” to society than ours.

To me, this is outrageously messed up. Yet in our current system, in the absence of free childcare from relatives, it’s usually the only way in which parents can sustainably work for pay – and as we know, a second or third set of childcare fees puts it out of reach for many.

(At my job, incidentally, I edit scholarly journals and monographs. I believe passionately in the effective dissemination of peer-reviewed research. But I don’t believe it’s intrinsically more valuable than providing a loving foundation for the development of a whole new person.)

Many children are happy in group care – and more are happy enough that it’s a good solution for the family.

Ours wasn’t.

I took my first career break largely for personal reasons: I had ignored my physical and mental needs to the extent that I was close to a breakdown, and in fact it was the HR manager at work who first suggested that I apply for time off. But within weeks, it became clear what a beneficial change it was for my child, too. I’ll never forget the transformation, in fact – from timid anxiety to … well, a much less heartbreaking native caution.

Lesson One: insofar as possible, parent the child you’ve got. One size does not fit all, and the size that seems a good fit for the parents may be overwhelming to the child.

Lesson Two: if the current setup isn’t functioning, it’s OK to try something else. (I wish I’d learned this one about six months earlier than I did.)

On career break, my anger became more raw. Suddenly, I was seen as “not working” – despite, from my perspective, working harder than I ever had in my life. The same caring tasks that the women in the crèche had done for low pay, I was doing for no pay and (it seemed) largely invisibly. The drop in status was as much of a shock to the system as the disappearance of my income.

We may note that I’m a dyed-in-the-wool-privileged-middle-class daughter of two (full-time) academics: nothing in my life had prepared me for the notion that my chosen contribution to society might be seen as anything less than completely worthy and valuable. Call me naive! It was an awakening.

Even my parents didn’t seem to get that I was doing “real” work by caring for my child. And actually, even I didn’t get it at first. My mother has worked full-time all my life, as did hers, and as I settled into the so-called “stay-at-home” routine I was shocked and ashamed to find myself revising my unarticulated opinion of my aunts, who had left their jobs when they had children. Oh my actual god, said I to myself, all these years, they were working, and I never knew!

Ah, but is it really work, Ted?

Some people – including feminist friends whose opinions I hold in high regard – disagree with me that caring for one’s own children is “work”. In my experience, though, that’s exactly what it is. I’m talking about things like changing nappies, preparing and serving food, managing hygiene, mediating conflicts, administering first aid, handling emotional squalls, providing a safe (and age-appropriate) environment to explore, introducing and enforcing behavioural conventions, maintaining a social circle, and so on. As far as I’m concerned, these activities are work. They might often be enjoyable, or feel vocational, but plenty of paid work fits those criteria.

I mean, if they’re not work, what are they?

LEISURE?

I don’t think so.

The fact remains, of course, that caring work, especially if done for no pay by parents or close relatives, is largely invisible. The reasons for this are complex, but chief among them is a widespread preoccupation in our culture with tangible, preferably measurable outputs. At the end of a day with my children – and I imagine the same is true of caring for a sick or elderly relative – all I really have to show for my work is their own inscrutable selves, one day older.

And yet Studies Show (no, seriously, they do) that the quality of care, particularly for younger children, matters enormously. Not to be sentimental about it, children thrive on love, and on the practical manifestations of love that a committed carer provides. Children who aren’t given a loving foundation are at risk of developing affects and behaviours that are harmful to themselves or others.

(NOTE, incidentally, that I am BY NO MEANS suggesting that this care need come exclusively from a parent – never mind a mother. Any loving adults with whom the child feels safe and happy can potentially provide it. Furthermore, children do best when their caring adults feel good about their choices. So you can put that straw man away, please.)

That’s all very cerebral. Where’s the anger?

Partly, it’s in the disconnect between society’s description of me as a “non-working mother”, on the one hand, and on the other hand, my experience of working enormously hard all day (and all of the night, too – neither of my children was “a sleeper” … though the elder one figured it out eventually, and I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before the younger one does).

Paid carers generally get to do things like, oh, arriving at work and, concomitantly, going home again, after all. Many of them even get unaccompanied loo breaks – which in my recent life have been for considerable periods a halcyon dream.

So, to summarise, if you do a job that allows breaks every day, weekends, sick pay, holiday pay – and, in fact, pay in the first place – you’re “working”. BUT if you perform exactly the same tasks, without any of the breaks or the pay and with a 24/7 on-call clause, you’re “not working”. Run that one by me again?

Partly, it’s in the resonant unease I feel at the phrase “stay-at-home mother” – as though I’ve completely withdrawn from some notionally bounded space called “the world” into a mysterious sphere called “the home”, from which I rarely emerge. See also: feminist discourse of the last two centuries.

Partly, it’s in the fact that my paid work is totally incompatible with my unpaid work: I have to make an either/or choice, and even though my employer is “flexible”, relatively speaking, that choice feels very constrained. (Here, by the way, is why calling myself “lucky” to have such a “family-friendly” employer isn’t exactly straightforward for me.)

This is about the traditional workplace, which conceives of a “worker” as being free to devote uninterrupted chunks of daily time to the employer. You can’t do that while actively caring for a young child. The problem is often articulated as the assumption that a “worker” has a “wife” – in other words, is supported by somebody doing care and maintenance work in “the home”.

Partly, it’s in the idea that by choosing to care for my own children, rather than pay someone else a meagre sum to do so while I go and sell my labour to a third-party, I am in some sense no longer “contributing”. My work isn’t reflected in the gross national product at the moment, ergo it’s “less valuable” than when I was earning a salary. Bizarrely, this would be true no matter what I might have been doing to earn that salary.

Partly, it’s in the way our current structure for rewarding work completely precludes the possibility of anyone ever paying me for the (difficult, valuable) work I’m doing at the moment. The “product” of my caring work, if you like, will be my adult children. (This is of course a collaborative project between me, their father, and several other adults in their lives, but currently, I’m putting in the greatest number of hours.) If we do a “good” job, the children are more likely – though not guaranteed – to grow up to be happy, functional, thoughtful members of society. What’s that worth? Classically, nothing, because nobody is prepared to pay for it.

Hello, rage.

I think we need to do two things

First, we reframe the concept of “work”, so that it encompasses more than just labour sold for money.

Some of my starting points:

  • Anything I could reasonably pay someone else to do is work. (Yes, this unsettles some categories, such as “hobbies”; I’m OK with that.)
  • Work can be joyful or arduous, or anything in between, and this bears no relation to pay.
  • Everybody deserves opportunities to perform joyful work, and to be fairly compensated for some or all of the work that they do.
  • The cultural bias against unpaid work is strong: we need to pay attention to where we unintentionally fail to see such work and thereby denigrate those who do it.

Second, we restructure the traditional workplace to get rid of the notion that a worker needs a wife.

To do this, we might adapt my favourite approach to the “problem” of maternity leave – change the default so that every worker is treated as though they were pregnant – and treat every worker as though they had caring responsibilities.

(Actually, when I put it like that, wouldn’t it be fabulous to live in a society where that were true? Where the burden of caring for those who needed it was in fact shared by everybody who could contribute? Let’s do that, shall we.)

What this might look like, I’m not sure. On-site care facilities in all companies? Across-the-board reduction and flexibility in working hours? A move away from the traditional obsession with working at a specific time and place? Massively increased carers’ allowances? Mandatory burden-sharing agreements between the employers of co-parents? Bring Your Child to Work Day, every day? Certified Work-Life-Balance Counsellors helping to design an individual solution for each family?

I don’t know. It’s a huge question. Perhaps, in our lifetime, we won’t get there from here. But I’d like to think that we could try.

Meanwhile, while waiting for the revolution, ahahaha, and in parallel with my caring work, I’m pursuing various creative and entrepreneurial projects (fiction writing, textile art, blogging), which may or may not bear fruit before I return to my job next spring. I have all kinds of complex feelings about work, pay, value, and so forth, and I don’t imagine they’ll get much simpler as time goes on.

Note on language: You may have noticed that I didn’t state either my children’s assigned genders or my marital status in this piece. This was deliberate. They’re not relevant to what I’m saying here.

Right then. Off we go.

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According to the UN Global Report on Women in Tourism the tourism sector, one of the most significant generators of wealth and employment globally, is also credited with providing valuable income-generation and career opportunities for women. In contrast with other sectors women are almost twice as likely hold positions as employers in tourism and the leadership possibilities span the whole spectrum of roles from hotel proprietors right up to government ministers; women hold one in five tourism ministries worldwide, more than in any other branch of government. However, despite this relatively high representation it should be pointed out in this context that 20% is still appalling and that our own Leo Varadkar is quite clearly a man.

The issue is that, despite this high level of involvement in tourism, the women working in this sector are all too often “concentrated in low-skill, low-paid and precarious jobs,” and typically earn “10% to 15% less than their male counterparts.” The jobs that women are most likely to perform tend to include cooking, cleaning and hospitality, states the report. While the UN focused specifically on the developing world, a quick glance at this key industry here in Ireland is disheartening. Fáilte Ireland Authority members and holders of key positions are overwhelmingly male as are the boards and senior management of both major airlines.

I’m not offering any specific criticisms of the way tourism is organised and represented in Ireland. To date we have done very well in attracting and satisfying our overseas visitors. I simply feel saddened yet again that here is another  important and potentially very dynamic sector that is skewed at the upper levels in favour of men. In the future tourism represents a mechanism of attracting overseas cash into the country, enhancing our natural resources to the benefit of visitors and residents alike and, perhaps most importantly of all, improving our tarnished reputation globally. I would like to see a few more women at the helm determining and implementing policy rather than simply serving up the full Irish breakfast.

Anyone any ideas or opinions as to why this is the case?

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Sometimes I get incensed as I stare at the tattered remains of my brilliant career, clutching weakly at the frayed fringes of what I like to think I once had or might have been, before I moved far away from home to be with a man simply because I loved him. Would he have done the same? Well, he didn’t, which perhaps says enough.

Anyway.

I like to think I helped him with his destiny, but some days I feel I put my own destiny in a box in a cupboard then moved continents and forget it was there. It’s easy enough to do when you’re a woman in love, when there are children, when your salary is a pittance compared to his, but still, perhaps I left part of myself behind somewhere.

Or did I?
Do any of us have a destiny or do we just get lucky? Or unlucky?

My brilliant career such as it was — half-witted, half-hearted, half-baked, half-arsed, two-thirds fantasy even – seemed to die, but then so had so many careers before. I was a nurse briefly but loathed the polyester uniform and the broad, flat-footed lecturers with their pep-talks about avoiding intern doctors and their advances.  

I was a waitress and a barmaid, a bank clerk and a check-out girl, and I can do the twirly wrist thing that makes a fabulous peak on softserve ice-cream, thanks to my tenure in a dairy parlour called Milky Lane.

I was a journalist for many years, still am, I hope, and I had a great gig on a daily paper in South Africa, but, like I said, love got in the way. Or that’s my excuse. Maybe I got tired. Maybe I got lazy.

I’ve written three books, although I suppose they’re nothing more than manuscripts really, blinking computer files that no publisher wanted, yet still they taunt me every day on my hard drive.

And once, for a moment in time, I was even a poet…

I was 19 and working near Johannesburg at what was then Beecham, the Aquafresh people, and I was the bored receptionist living on a diet of Smarties, magazines and desperate snatched conversations with people who walked through my little prison, where I sat shut away from the company on the wrong side of the glass security doors. In my sunless brick box, passing sales reps felt like serendipity, their cheap Golfs were chariots to a better place. Anyway, no doubt tiring of me yawning at the visitors, the personnel department agreed to give me extra work, and so I was charged with sending the photocopied rejection letters to the countless, faceless people who applied for non-existent jobs in our factory. Remember Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, where poor Charlie’s dad spends his days screwing the lids on toothpaste tubes? It’s bizarre to think how many people were queuing up to take his place. And we had a machine for screwing the lids on anyway.

So I’d address the standard rejection, scrawl a signature, lick the envelope shut, stick a stamp on it and crush someone else’s dreams, hundreds and hundreds of them each day. But one morning a grubby letter arrived with no return address, hand-printed on a torn sheet of paper, with just a plea to meet the writer at the factory gate, to give him work please, to give him a job.

The man was called Marais Qulu, of No Known Address, County Homeless. I showed it to the HR person, begged him to try to find the man.

“Jennie,” he said, “Do you know how many people queue outside the factory gates every day?”
The question was rhetorical.

I wrote a poem about it, or rather a terrible attempt at one, but still 21 years later I remember it by heart and, soaking in my cesspit of self-pity of late, it came back to me like a slap from my younger self.

Thousands queue for 200 jobs offered in Durban, South Africa. (Picture: Reuters)

It’s called “The Aims of a Job”:

Here I sit
fat as shit,
got a job
Grinning a bit.
Mister Marais Qulu
(he’s a Zulu)
has no job,
like you and I do:
“There is nothing food.
I am write this letter to you
with the aims of a job.

The writing is just as terrible as I recall, I don’t know if he was Zulu at all, but in the current world climate (lashing rain, with more expected) it’s just as apt. And as Japan is shaken and washed away, as people lose their homes, offices, possessions, security, children, their very lives just because the world doesn’t play fair, as they scramble for food, for fresh water, for warmth, I know how lucky I am that I can afford to stare out of the window, that I have the full tummy and the spare time to lament my battered dreams. A room of one’s own? My God, I have several.

Marais Qulu: in hope, I googled his name. No results were found.

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Sociologist Dr. Catherine Hakim of the London School of Economics has, not for the first time, attracted considerable controversy in response to the publication last week of her most recent paper, “Feminist Myths & Magic Medicine”. Hakim has previously published provocatively titled works such as her 1996 paper “Mummy, I want to be a Housewife” and last year’s controversial article in the European Sociological Review entitled “Erotic Capital”. This latter contends that women should prize assets such as looks, charm and sexuality and that this “beauty premium” can have as big an impact on your career as your educational qualifications or background.

In “Feminist Myths & Magic Medicine” she argues that the battle for equality is effectively over, that “most of the theories and ideas built up around gender equality in the past few decades are wrong” and that women still aspire to “marry up”, that is to marry men who are richer and more intelligent than they are (though they were not asked I suspect that men would be quite keen on the idea of marrying money too; a situation that would undermine the argument somewhat).  A number of outraged women have accused Hakim of “depowering women” and taking us back to the days of Jane Austen. Feminist campaigning and advocacy group The Fawcett Society accuse her of “threatening the progress made in women’s lives”.

However, the reaction to Hakim’s most recent pronouncements has been far from universally negative. Some women argue that there is merit in what she says. The reality, they contend, is that family life requires a couple to operate as a partnership and that rearing children requires one party to spend more time at home. The greater the earning potential of the male partner, the less pressure the family unit is under to juggle childcare and seek a second household income.

Hakim’s own approach is to advocate preference theory, supporting a woman’s right to choose whether to remain in the workplace or the home and using the fact that the vast majority of main earners are men to support her theory that women, when given the choice, opt to remain at home. However, in her comprehensive critique of Dr. Hakim’s theories in the most recent edition of the Sunday Times, Kate Spicer quotes University of Cambridge Centre for Gender Studies’ director Jude Brown as saying: “Hakim belongs to the school of thought that interprets certain inequalities as reflections of the choices that individuals make. The thinking here is that these choices are related to people’s preferences. But for there to be a real choice there need to be different options, instead of just herding people into stereotypical roles. For most families seeking to balance child care and work, there is no real choice”.

This is the crux of the matter in my opinion. I firmly believe that we are addressing the wrong issue entirely. Instead of looking at how we should or shouldn’t force the square peg that is the modern, well-educated mother into the round hole that is the modern, inflexible, often dysfunctional workplace should we not be asking how we can incorporate more flexibility into the workplace thus allowing society to benefit from the skill sets of women who can do more that feed a baby and fill a dishwasher?

As a rather disorganised mother of two young children I cannot envisage taking on the stress involved in juggling the kind of full-time, high-powered career that I enjoyed before my little ones arrived. Yet as a well qualified, experienced and highly motivated individual I simply cannot draw sufficient fulfillment from adopting the role of homemaker alone. For a women in my situation (and there are many of us) the options for combining a flexible career with the role as primary child carer (the housework can frankly go to hell or be sub-contracted as far as I’m concerned) are very limited. What organisation wants to hear that you are only willing to work term-time? Yet my children are in school and for thirty weeks of the year I can devote five hours per day to productive, revenue generating and ultimately fulfilling activities. That’s 750 productive hours per annum, not one of which will be spent nursing a hangover, moodily dreaming about a turbulent love life or worrying what I’ll wear at the week-end as may have been the case for my younger, single self (I’m admitting nothing). Employers take note – mothers are brilliant and efficient multi-taskers who make the most of the precious hours available.

In the recently published How Woman Mean Business (a follow-up to Why Woman Mean Business, co-authored with Alison Maitland in 2009), Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, CEO of gender consultancy 20-First, clearly and comprehensively documents how corporations can best implement strategies to achieve gender balance and attract the best and brightest members of both halves of the talent pool. She believes that enlightened companies are moving away from the old ineffective mindset and adopting radical and viable new strategies.

At 20-First gender balance is treated as a business issue not a woman’s issue and blockages are removed. This approach is considered radical and attracts clients that are, “open to new solutions and willing and committed to work with them”, having recognised that their organisation is flawed. They realise that gender balancing brings the best mix of management styles to the fore and has a positive impact on the bottom line. As for the rest, “traditional, resistant companies go elsewhere and continue to do all the wrong things.” The “wrong things” include talking about glass ceilings and setting up internal all-female support groups, thus treating women as the problem and convincing them that in order to succeed they must learn to behave more like men.

Ensuring that women remain and thrive in an organisation requires a shift away from the old notion of linear career progression. That’s why women are often attracted to entrepreneurship as it offers greater control. However, access to capital can be problematic. Wittenberg-Cox believes that, “it’s all about shifting the mindset. Creative solutions such as job sharing will work if the company is well disposed to trying them”. Many men welcome changes intended to redress the gender imbalance as this represents an opportunity to improve working life for everyone. So, is the traditional workplace dysfunctional? Wittenberg-Cox contests this assertion, saying that it is simply “outdated. [The system] worked perfectly well in its time when a man went to work every day and had a wife at home to look after him but that time is gone.”

The crux of the issue is this: women should not be expected to make unrealistic sacrifices and take on unrealistic stress; Children should not effectively spend their little lives becoming potentially institutionalised in various crèches and after-school facilities from early morning to late at night (and I do realise that this may be a personal bias and that many children seem to thrive in childcare); and men should not lose the happy, dynamic and successful woman they married to have her replaced by a Stepford style automaton who starts hitting the vino earlier and earlier each day.

What should happen is that society should reorganise itself to allow for more flexibility, thus facilitating the needs of all. Perhaps a mum could take five years out to get her children to school-going age without losing out on status and promotional opportunities as Gwyneth Williams, recently appointed controller of BBC Radio 4, did. Perhaps an Irish dad could take three months off when a new baby arrives as his Norwegian counterpart can. Perhaps junior can spend a happy morning in school knowing that he will be collected by a calm, fulfilled, contented mum not one burnt out by juggling unrealistic demands or worn down by domestic chores that hold little interest for her. Is that Utopia? Perhaps it is and I’d sure like to live there.

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It's a budget Jim, but not as we know it

On Monday the Greeks once again rioted in protest at the IMF/EU austerity measures imposed on their country. Today, a solitary man in a crane fires tennis balls over the gates of Leinster House in protest at the chainsaw budget about to be visited upon us (in an hour or so). Both the Greeks and the Portuguese have called one day general strikes whilst our trade union leadership baulks at the idea of a one day national stoppage. Looking on, the IMF and the Europeans must wonder while the Irish hate the cost-cutting programme they are forced to endure for the next four years, they are going to lie down and take it on the retrospective rebel chin. We can roar and rant and yelp all we like about the 1916 heroes, but when Fianna Fáil hand out the gimp suits almost a hundred years later, we fling them on and happily await instructions for the metal rings, belts, buckles and laces, to fasten securely.

There’s a horrible fatalism in the air, a sense of resignation that we are going to have to go through all this pain. There's nothing quite like being IrishIt’s like the British political masochism of the 1980s when Margaret Thatcher promised harsh medicine to cure the sick man of Europe, i.e. the UK. This appealed to something deep inside the British psyche which has been shaped by comely matrons, smacked bottoms, nurse-knows-best, this-will-hurt-me-more-than-you mentality. Perhaps it’s why so many in the UK embraced or put up with Thatcherism. Are we Irish, despite our pro-European leanings, more like the British than we like to imagine?

June Caldwell is a writer, who after 13 years of journalism, is finally writing a novel. She has a MA in Creative Writing and was winner of ‘Best Blog Post’ award at the 2011 Irish Blog Awards. You can read this post on her own blog here:

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When the Guardian wanted to feature a feminist reaction to the proposed IMF 5 percentage point tax reduction for women returning to work they turned to the Antiroom – where else? I was thrilled and honoured to write this rather provocative piece broadly in favour of this radical proposal. Please do leave a comment on the Guardian Comment is Free site. You don’t even have to agree with me, just don’t call me “idiotic” please!

Also, the Antiroom gets a mention and a link in my profile.

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Like many people in Ireland on Monday, I spent the day in a state of near-paralysis. I had the radio permanently tuned to news and current affairs programmes. It was almost impossible to tear myself away from Twitter. Because I follow a lot of people in the Irish media and journalism, the tweets were pouring onto my screen so fast I could hardly keep up.

No way out? (Photo: Associated News US)

There was endless media analysis of what our European bailout/loan/whatever will mean, how much we will finally borrow, links to the apocalyptic headlines Ireland is making around the world. Irish bank shares were down, Portuguese bond yields were up. Political upheaval followed financial upheaval. Rumours of a big announcement from Government junior partners, the Green Party. Later in the day, more rumours – this time of an announcement from the Taoiseach at 7pm. My children waited in vain for their dinner as I sat in front of the TV to hear what he had to say.

I don’t understand economics or high finance, so what did I learn from mainlining all this news? That this teetering Government needs to hang on grimly, long enough to get the budget passed on 7th December. This is because the budget is already a done deal, the €6 billion in cuts is already agreed with the IMF. If the budget fails, the deal is off. But the deal is essential to keep our banks afloat. Despite the billions upon billions that we have already thrown into their gaping maws, Irish banks, like heroin addicts, need another fix. This time, a fix of another €30 billion or so. Banks normally borrow money at 1% interest rates. But nobody is willing to lend to our banks anymore, so we are borrowing it at 5% on their behalf. We’ll be paying this back, along with the countless other billions we are borrowing, for generations.

That’s my no doubt simplistic understanding of the situation today. My reaction to all this is; what have I done to my children?

It was all so different ten years ago when I returned to Ireland with my husband and first child, after 14 years away. The grim and depressed country I had emigrated from in the 80s was a distant memory. Ireland had changed; it was vibrant, young and optimistic. Things were on the up.

I had been very happy with life in London, but felt a strong urge to return to Ireland once we started a family. I had to work hard to persuade my non-Irish husband to move here, and our first few years were completely tied up with work. He set up a new dental surgery in the north inner city and worked hard to build it up from nothing. He gave me a crash course in dental nursing and dental reception and I did both jobs until we could afford to start employing people.

Working long hours and having a young family meant we were largely off the social scene and we both found it difficult to adjust. But we had a loving family here, and that made all the upheaval worthwhile.

Things settled down and the surgery established itself. After the first few years we stopped leasing the surgery building and took out a huge loan to buy it. We worried about taking on so much debt, but the economy was booming and the future looked bright.

At the same time, I wondered why my children’s schools were so run down. Why did I find myself helping out at so many school fundraisers? Why do Irish parents, almost alone in Europe, have to pay for school books? It was a shock having to pay so much for GP appointments, even for children. Having a long-term medical condition which I knew would eventually require surgery, I guiltily purchased private medical insurance so that I could skip the public queues when the time came. As a middle class person in Ireland, it’s just accepted that that’s what you do. But with all the money swilling around, why were public health and education services not being radically reformed? Given the state we are in now, there is little hope that this will ever happen.

The events of the last two years have been disastrous for Ireland but we have been lucky compared to so many others. We have had to make cutbacks at the surgery, following large cuts to publicly funded dentistry in recent budgets. No doubt there are more to come, but we are hopeful that we can put our heads down, work hard and get through.

But what of my two young children? The country in which I actively chose to bring them up is a sorry mess, an international laughing-stock. I am worried for their future and dread the day when they may be forced to take the same journey I took back in the 80s. And if they do, I will bitterly regret my decision to move back here.

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