The Ultimate Juggling Act

Cutting sharply into a loaf of bread, housewife Angelina Jolie concentrates on making six rounds of sandwiches.

No longer an international movie star or UN ambassador, the Oscar-winning housewife and mother-of-six flinches as Brad slams the door and heads for his limo.

This scene might be as fictional as a Pitt/Jolie blockbuster, but to many modern mothers, Angelina's announcement in March 2009 that she was putting Brad's career before her own, was no less far-fetched.

During an intimate interview, the 33-year-old explained that she ranked fourth on her list of priorities. Far behind her children (Maddox, Pax, Zahara, Shiloh, Knox and Vivienne), partner Brad Pitt and world peace.

Considering that just two weeks ago she was the only woman to make the top 10 list of the world's most bankable movie stars, this all seems rather ironic. Has wearing Pitt-tinted glasses blurred her professional vision?

As author Marion McGilvary knows, putting your husband's career first might sound romantic, but the results can be painful.

Her husband walked out of their 25-year marriage six months ago.

"Looking back, I think 'Why did I willingly relegate myself to second place?'" she says.

McGilvary, who has just had her first novel published, raised the couple's four children while her husband pursued an academic career. She now resents giving him professional carte blanche.

"When he told me he was leaving, I was angry. I couldn't help thinking about all those sports days I attended alone and the holidays when he suddenly announced he had to go off. Was that all for nothing?"

But while resenting the sacrifices she made for a man who is now "disillusioned by his career", she adds that, unlike Angelina, she did it for practical reasons.

"He had a career and I had a job. So I was made to feel that my work was an indulgence. But now I'm the one working in an office for $30 an hour."

Of course, Jolie has already achieved a huge amount of professional success. But, as relationship counsellor Denise Knowles explains, problems can still occur if either one of a couple has differing expectations.

"You need to work out what you're both hoping to achieve in the long term, as well as what's practical in the short term. That will hopefully prevent any resentment in the future over lost opportunities."

Househusband Sam Holden doesn't believe that any woman should have to choose. When his wife Sally became ill, the management consultant quit his job and took over responsibility for Peter, three, and Daisy, one. Yet his newfound love of parenting has not convinced him that complete domestic servitude is healthy.

"It's very sweet of Angelina to say those things, but in her heart she knows she's lying," he grins.

The author of Growing Pains Of A Hapless Househusband says that he knows no self-respecting, intelligent woman who would genuinely allow their dreams to take second place.

"The second your child is born you realise that there is someone you would die for. But in terms of your everyday outlook, it's a terrible error to place your husband's or your children's happiness above your own."

Sarah Ivens, editorial director of the US version of OK! magazine, agrees that modern relationships are based on balance rather than sacrifice.

Familiar with the Jolie/Pitt relationship, the editor of this glossy magazine was surprised to hear the gorgeous actress tying herself down.

"I think that was probably just her mood at the time. It's very clear to me that Angelina and Brad maintain a very good work/life balance. They work really hard to keep together as a family, even when they're flying round the world for films."

According to Ivens, every generation has to find a new way to juggle their personal and professional needs.

"I think there does seem to be a bit of return to these old-fashioned values. I know a lot of my friends, who've done the career girl thing, and are now taking a step back. If you're a professional woman doing a really intense mad job, like being the editor of magazine in New York, something's got to give."

But Ivens adds that it's not just women who are learning to compromise.

"I know lots of men who are not going for that promotion or travelling on business because they're putting their kids and their relationship first."

Stay-at-home mum Charlotte Moerman agrees that it's no longer a question of all or nothing. Raising three sons under five, while her husband travels the world on business, she is happy to accept her role - for now.

"I'm a product of a woman of the '60s who embraced empowerment. She wanted two children but also wanted to further herself. It's hard for my mum's generation to understand that it's actually my choice to stay at home. That I want to stop for a while and raise my kids."

Having written a book, Instructions Not Included, Moerman demonstrates that putting your husband first doesn't mean tying yourself to the sink.While she admits that she and her husband Bram occasionally come to blows over the domestic workload - especially when he's been sunning himself on a work conference in Tanzania, and she's been scrubbing burnt pans - she feels that he treats her as an equal partner.

"He doesn't want to crush my talent. He's been very encouraging of my book and cooks meals for me in the evening when I'm trying to write."

She adds that fulfilling your own needs can help keep your relationship alive.

"My advice for Angelina? Make time for you and Brad! Since I left work there's certainly a change in mine and Bram's relationship. We used to discuss office politics and deadlines and now it's all nappies. So you need to carve out grown-up time for one another."

:: Instructions Not Included by Charlotte Moerman is published in hardback by Random House, RRP$39.95.

:: The Lost Wife's Tale by Marion McGilvary is published in paperback by Penguin, priced $32.95.

:: A Modern Girl's Guide to the Perfect Single Life by Sarah Ivens is published in paperback by Hachette, RRP$24.99.

:: Growing Pains of a Hapless Househusband by Sam Holden is published in paperback by Arrow, RRP$35.00.

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