What age is deemed too old for a woman to return to work after a career break?

Apparently it is forty. So I have been reliably and rather bluntly informed this week by a head hunter.

Actually, the way he phrased it (“can I ask you a delicate question”) made him (note, ‘him’) come across as conspiratorially in my camp. He backed this up with declarations of his honesty and desire to minimise my disappointment in rejection.

My response followed a vague timeline of emotions.

The initial response was a typically British manner of apologetic embarrassment. I am terribly sorry to be wasting your precious time when you could be speaking to a more worthy (younger) candidate; do please forgive my imposition.

This was probably concurrent with the second (or joint first) sense of shock. It had never crossed my mind that I might be deemed technically over the hill when I am hell-bent on still viewing myself as in my thirties.

Which leads to my third reaction of defensiveness. Not wanting to labour the technicality but I am technically speaking still clinging on to the vestiges of my thirties, albeit by a few fingernails.

Calming the rising flush (not menopausal before you ask), I responded in a deliberately controlled tone, that surely a woman in her forties is no less employable than one in the 25-35 age bracket (his specified optimum hire-ability age range); posing the question, is it really better to hire someone likely to embark on a career break or someone returning from a career break? Neither of whom deserve to be discriminated against for heeding the call of nature to reproduce.

Mr Headhunter, not enjoying the direction of conversation, proceeded to chivy along the call to a close. I offered him my contact details (again) in the hope of being considered for any future roles that arise, which he was polite enough not to decline. Whether or not he even jotted them down I don’t know. Hastily wishing me luck in my future ventures (a true indicator that I shall not hear from him any time soon with any job offerings) he hung up.

With the passing of adequate hours to stew over the accusation and implication that a five or so year career hiatus, combined with being on the precipice of my Big Four-Oh, renders me ultimately redundant and unemployable, now gives rise to a sense of injustice. A twelve year career reduced to scrap fodder.

Would a man having taken a similar break be deemed equally unfit? I can’t answer that.

Despite the ongoing talk of encouraging women back into the workplace, the evidence is glaring that there is a long way to go. Mindsets need to evolve and embrace not just the notion of mothers reintegrating into careers they spent hard years building, but also the reality.

It is no new news that women are breaking glass ceilings left, right and centre, as the business pages tirelessly and tantalisingly remind us. And certainly there is nothing new about women engendering the next generation. But if depicted in my six year old’s Venn Diagram, I wonder how big the overlap set would be? And if we added a third hypothetical circle, ‘women who take a career break to raise a family’ to the diagram as a subset of ‘women who have children’, how would that affect the overlap? (Note Diagram is for purely hypothetical illustrative purposes and is not based on scale nor statistics).

Answers on a postcard.

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Twiddling Thumbs

It’s been exactly one week since I remembered what silence sounds like. A week to the day the 2 year old officially started pre-school and the 4 year old was upgraded from pre-school to the fully fledged version. Albeit the silence is just for a precious 3 hours 3 times a week, I now appreciate that it is more than golden – it is priceless! The tapping of the keyboard actually resonates round the room – I never knew that. Thoughts can run without interruption and toilet trips can finally be taken alone.
But at the same time, their voices echo continually in my subconscious and in the stillness of their rooms resound the patter of their little feet. I think of the 4 year old, brave and bubbly (and often defiant). The 2 year old, full of love and laughter (and more often than not, selfish and possessive). And how incomprehensibly and comprehensively I miss them…
Then too soon, my brief respite is over and they are home, shrieking, arguing, wrestling, playing. Silence has taken cover away from the line of fire in a war zone. But I don’t mind too much because I know it will be back soon and there will come a day when it comes back and never leaves, when the children are grown up and gone. And I don’t want that day to ever come.
But for now it begs the question: aside from the groundhog day style drudgery of washing up, laundry, tidying, cooking and gym sessions to ward off mid-life spare tyre-dom, how best to fill that time?

The Good, The Bad and The Short

In a bid to squeeze in some warm Waltons-family type of weekend activity, I booked tickets for us all to see Snow White (the panto) at the local theatre. Pantomimes have never been my viewing of choice. Even when within the target age group, the garish getups and cross dressing characters made me cringe rather than laugh. German mum of one thought that a pantomime was a silent theatre show (a ‘mime’) – if only. The idea of the quintessentially English panto is so diametrically opposed to the restrained, stiff upper lip English reserve that it’s almost like the  Mr Hyde alter ego.
Actually, despite the very amateurish performance and the man a few seats along from us with VERY dubious personal hygiene issues, oh, and the fact there was no chocolate icecream available in the interval, it was, dare I admit it, most enjoyable.
Tinkerbell is now an aspiring dancer (preferably more Black Swan standard). Mr A is now experienced in dealing with the wrath of fellow audience members seated in the row in front when Golden Boy gleefully grabs handfuls of their hair (useful for our impending holiday flight). And I (just about) managed to explain (a) why it’s okay to be a dwarf and (b) why the Queen (Snow White’s mummy) wanted to kill her daughter without engendering any paranoia in my own two year old.
Two and a half hours later, Golden Boy was officially getting restless and Mr A was late for a conference call (yes, on Sunday evening – boo hiss – sorry!) so our Waltons–esque family outing was officially over.
Today, after I confiscated her new 10 colours-in-one Hello Kitty pen as punishment for defacing my favourite White Company duvet cover, Tinkerbell now believes I am the ‘mean Queen’ personified.

(Thirty) Seven Year Itch

My parents have been married for 37 years. It has recently become apparent to my father that his itch has now reached such insurmountable levels that it can no longer go unscratched. Who better to provide said scratching than someone only a handful of years my senior with no child bearing scars, stretch-marks or indeed any familial duties that make so many of us only a shadow of our former fun selves.
My mother is distraught; my father dismissive of the depth of his betrayal; my siblings and I are wedged firmly in the unenviable position of choosing a side.
Apparently we are to view our situation as fortunate – we could have faced the prospect of single parent syndrome while we were still dependents. Instead, we all now have our very own set of dependents. The family unit is knitted together to tightly yet so precariously – like a precious winter woollie: one snag could potentially unravel its entire existence.
But every hurdle is a life-lesson. As I one-knit, one-purl through my own relationship, I am ever more vigilant about its tenacity.