The unexpected benefits of taking your toddler to work

Madeleine's daughter Scarlett

Some might consider taking their children to work a recipe for disaster, but the BBC's Madeleine Morris found there were unexpected benefits when her young daughter joined her on an overseas assignment.

I am not sure at which point I decided it would be a good idea to bring my two-year-old with me while I made two radio documentaries for the BBC, but I was clearly drunk. Or delirious. Or just crazy.

After all, there is a reason childcare exists and that is because it is impossible to achieve anything of much substance when you are in charge of a toddler.

But my friend Husain had suggested we pitch some documentaries about that very subject - childcare - and in search of the USP [unique selling point] that would win us the commission, I had had a brainwave.

"How about I bring Scarlett along? I can see how she reacts to the different ways of doing things. She will be an extra voice. Plus, it will be fun."

And so it was that a couple of months later I found myself checking in for a flight to Beijing, in one hand a bag for clothes and nappies, in the other my radio equipment, a rucksack full of toys on my back and a large baby strapped to my front. Not so much a reporter as a packhorse.

Madeleine Morris with daughter Scarlett

But we were doing fine, Scarlett and I. We made it on to the flight. She had a nap. I even had the chance to do some background reading for the story.

I was actually feeling a little proud of myself - until our stopover in Singapore airport.

We were killing time in duty free. Scarlett was strapped to my chest in her baby carrier, her face next to mine, when I saw it turn purple then white.

I could only watch, as if in slow motion, as the aeroplane meal from the first leg came up all over me. And her. And a good portion of the airport floor.

Suddenly I was less supermum, more super-soaked, and with another 10 hours of travel to go. I am pretty sure John Simpson never began an assignment like this.

Of course, there are plenty more tales of bodily fluid woe, like the one where I found myself holding Scarlett over a bathtub in Fiji, while my interviewee hosed her down after an unfortunate exploding nappy incident. How is that for changing the reporter/guest dynamic in an instant?

But gross-out stories are par for the course when small people are involved, so let me tell you about the good stuff instead.

About how babies bring out the best in people. The man in Fiji who gave us a free lift in his taxi when we were late to an interview. Or the Chinese immigration official who waved us through when she saw an exhausted mum and a sick baby, even though my journalist's visa would normally have resulted in a few questions.

Find out more

Madeleine Morris with daughter Scarlett
  • With more women going back to work after having children, childcare has become one of the most vexed issues for new parents
  • With her two-year-old daughter in tow, Madeleine Morris visited Fiji and China to discover two vastly different approaches to caring for children
  • The two-part documentary, Who's Left Holding The Baby? is broadcast on BBC World Service on Tuesday 29 October and Tuesday 5 November

As reporters we typically try to give as little of ourselves away as possible.

But with Scarlett along I had laid out my own deepest vulnerability for all to see, and I think that in this case it helped.

Parents generously shared their own guilt, their sadness and their relief at having to leave their children with others when they went back to work. Perhaps it was because they saw that I, too, understood that emotional turmoil.

Our sojourns in Fiji and China were without doubt the most inefficient work trips I have ever undertaken.

Instead of scheduling five interviews in a day I could manage just two, with nap time, playtime and mealtimes taking precedence.

But being forced to slow down also helped me to look closer, think longer and listen harder, simply because I had time to.

There were moments when I felt terribly guilty for taking Scarlett out of her happy daily routine to help me get a better story.

For the 12 hours of her food poisoning, when I had no choice but to continue our journey through multiple airports, planes and taxis, I felt like the worst mother in the world. Maybe some of you think I am.

Lemba, who Madeleine interviewed, with Scarlett and her own children Interviewees with children of their own warmed to Scarlett - and she to them

But then I wonder, how many other two-year-olds from suburban Melbourne will ever have the chance to run around barefoot in a Fijian village?

Or sit on a grass mat eating home-made roti with a gaggle of other kids who look and sound nothing like her?

Or have a ringside seat while four-year-old Chinese children dressed in army fatigues march and beat drums as they sing their patriotic songs? Very few, I would say.

She will not remember it, but I hope the record of our journey in the form of those radio programmes will become part of Scarlett's own personal story.

And as she grows up, she will think: I did all those things when I was just two. What must I be capable of now?

From Our Own Correspondent: Listen online or download the podcast.

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