For me, Christmas has always been a time, hallowed by tradition, for gathering in all the family and hunkering down for days in front of a log fire, playing silly games, debating world affairs and eating endless turkey. Apart from occasional dissent about the tastefully decorated Christmas tree (too corporate – where’s the tinsel?) I am the undisputed chief executive where Christmas is concerned.
This year will be different. Our son and his wife are in Boston, US, awaiting the birth of our second grand-daughter, due around Christmas. Having just returned home from a work project visiting schools in the Caribbean, I am now heading back across the Atlantic to give what help I can in Boston. Meanwhile, my husband is donning the oven gloves and organising the customary Christmas at home for the rest of our four-generation family.
The kaleidoscope of work and family life shifts, and new patterns emerge. Angela Holder at the 60th anniversary alumnae dinner summed up the defining characteristic of her contemporaries: adaptability – the capacity to change course, to make the best of altered circumstances, to seize the passing opportunity. It also helps to recognise that work and family are two sides of life that cannot be completely separated. I have long been inspired by a tutor’s advice to a student in the College’s first decade, quoted in New Hall Lives: ‘ An educated woman should use her educated brain in every aspect of her life…’
I have spent half my career climbing the institutional ladder, half as an independent consultant. Many alumnae reach the top in a chosen career, but a large number take side steps, or start their own business, often from home, using their ‘educated brains’ with entrepreneurial flair. Solutions to combining work and family are infinitely varied. Certainly, many of us know the challenge of trying to project single-minded professionalism, while children clamour for attention in the background. That is the reality of life.
Working in primary education, I know that behind happy and resilient children are parents who make time for them, whatever else they have to juggle, though this can be done in many different ways. I worked and commuted when my own children were small, but I equally admire those who take a career break. I recently met an alumna who is looking to set up a business organising returner internships. This set me thinking about how child-rearing itself should be more recognised as honing personal and organisational skills that add value in the workplace.
I visited the College just once in the first twenty years after I left – for a family day. I remember marvelling at what this event said about the College: recognition that children are woven into the working lives of a majority of alumnae, and that raising them is an excellent use of an educated brain.
So, having travelled cross the world this Christmas to be present at the start of a new life, I wish for her the gift of adaptability in finding her own, probably unexpected, way through life.
And I shall, of course, be phoning home just to check they put the turkey in on time…