Equal shares: 'I see it as an enormous privilege'

February 26, 1999

A career ain't the half of it

Henrik Jensen, 42, reader in maths. Vibeke Jensen, 35, medical physics researcher. Daughters: Rebecca, seven months, Barbara, seven years

When Barbara was eight months old, Henrik was offered a two-year position at Imperial College, London, and the family moved from Copenhagen to Britain. Vibeke got a research contract at the Royal Marsden Hospital and they settled in Sutton to be near her work.

HENRIK: "The intention always was to share childcare 50/50. In Denmark 85 per cent of babies have working mothers. For the first year and a half we imported au pairs from Denmark. We often left Barbara with the au pair from 9am until 6pm, which we would not do again. Then she went to the Royal Marsden cr che. It cost Pounds 88 a week, double what we were used to in Denmark. When she went to school we split taking her there, and she would go home with a friend in the afternoon.

"It did not hinder my research - on the contrary. Sometimes it is frustrating, but my overall feeling is that I benefit: looking at them, learning from them. I see it now as an enormous privilege.

"The way I solve the time problem is to get up at 4.45am and work until 7am. Of course since Rebecca was born, it has not been as easy to get up!

"We seldom sit down and negotiate. We try to split the cooking and the cleaning and halve the rest too, to the extent that I can. I cannot breastfeed, of course."

VIBEKE:"Ideally we would have relatives around and trained nursery care. An au pair is fine, but you do worry. We were used to sharing everything before the first child, so it was obvious that we would share that too. When I started at the Royal Marsden, people there felt I was being very irresponsible working full-time. Why did I want a child if I wanted to work? The day after the Jamie Bulger case, one man asked me if I realised the killers' mothers were working mothers like me.

"I was lucky with the cr che at Marsden. But it costs Pounds 400 a month and for some years I was a PhD student so most of my salary went directly to childcare. I was working 50 hours a week and taking home Pounds 250 a month. But I had a job I liked.

"When I am not at work I am always with the children, but once I am at work I could carry on for many more hours. When I am at home it is also difficult to drag myself away.

"Officially I do 37 and a half hours a week, 9am to 5.30pm.

"I have thought perhaps I am not a good mother but then I am saved by seeing downtrodden housewives. I know I go away from them every day, but then I have the pleasure of coming back."

Nancy Johnson, 48, principal lecturer in information technology.

Leslie Johnson, 50, professor in information management. Daughters: Helen, 18, Stephanie, 15

Nancy: "No, we did not take equal responsibility for childcare - but my partner would come to the rescue if I was stuck. There was one period when we reversed roles. When I got my first proper lecturing job, my partner was already promoted to reader and we decided that for the first year I should appear unencumbered by domestic childcare duties.

"My partner handled all emergencies by working at home or taking the baby or toddler to work and getting his secretary or students to fill in the gaps. This was very successful in that he got all the points for 'new dad' and I did not worry. But when I consider that I felt forced to hide my children when I worked in the Institute of Education, London, I now cringe. Then I changed jobs to be nearer home.

"Our major strategy was to live near work and use local childminders so that we did not commute and lose more hours in the day. When I gave up formal childcare (youngest aged five) we coped by using flexi-hours - I came home at 3.30pm and then, when under pressure, went back to work between 8.30pm and 11pm. We also had a cleaner who would double as emergency childminder.

"The main problem was half term. Half terms in autumn and February do not fit with university life. That was the bit that made me think seriously about part-time work.

"My partner's contribution was to insist that all my salary should be spent on making my life easier ... But equal responsibility - no."

Additional reporting Kate Worsley

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