Working mum's dilemma

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 September, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 27 September, 1997, 12:00am

We have invented a good few myths to keep us going in these difficult fin de siecle days, when none of the old rules apply and we haven't quite worked out the new ones, and not the least of these is the myth of 'quality time'.

It is the expression absent parents use to describe their efforts to assuage their guilt for leaving the rearing of their offspring to others. I say parents, but of course in reality even at the end of the 20th century it is mainly absent mothers who need to assuage their guilt. Men are back in the office just hours after the birth after all (and sometimes during) and aren't expected to feel the same pangs.

This week's programme in the BBC series Modern Times (World 10am) is called Quality Time and follows the lives of three successful figures in the British fashion industry, Dominique, Janis and Caroline, who have children at home cared for by an army of nannies. The programme poses the prickly question: Can women have it all, and if they do, who pays the price? The answer, according to this programme, which is not recommended for women already harbouring twinges about combining career and motherhood, is everyone. Throwing money at the problem helps; Dominique has three nannies, one for each child, and a spare at weekends. But it doesn't really solve anything as a heart-breaking moment shows when her daughter is screaming for Mummy, the nanny is in tears and Dominique herself, hard-bitten woman of business that she is, escapes to weep in the garden.

It is clear she loves her children, but also that her work doesn't leave her enough time to mother them the way they would like. The nannies come everywhere, even on holiday. She at least has found someone she trusts to take care of the kids. Caroline has not been so lucky. She has had no less than 10 nannies in her time.

This is a British programme and the subtext, that the kids miss out if their mother isn't around much, may not resonant much with local women. Here in Hong Kong, even women who don't work hire other people to raise their children so they can enjoy leisure time on their own, and few if any of the ones I know harbour any guilt about that at all. Is that a good thing? Are we in advance of the West or behind them? Watching Modern Times obviously can't answer that question but it is pause for thought all the same.

Guilt and who should be feeling it is at the heart of tonight's movie, A Few Good Men (Pearl, 9.30pm). Tom Cruise is Lieutenant L G Daniel Kaffee, fresh out of Harvard and already earning a reputation as the kind of lawyer the military establishment likes, eager to plea bargain a case rather than ruffle too many feathers.

Unfortunately for the establishment, when he is asked to lead the defence team for two marines accused of over-exceeding themselves when they apparently kill a comrade instead of punishing him for a minor infraction, he also gets assigned an eager-beaver junior counsel, played by Demi Moore.

Moore's character is not inclined to let the marines get shafted for what is in fact a much bigger affair, and pretty much forces Kaffee to do his job properly by asking lots of embarrassing questions at an early hearing. Jack Nicholson plays a senior officer forced to testify, and his witness stand roaring is truly electric. Cruise and Moore give him a fair run for his money in the acting stakes.

Made against the very real cover-up of the Tailhook affair in 1991, when a naval convention in Las Vegas deteriorated in a series of assaults on female officers, and which the navy was very tardy in investigating, the movie was well timed.