A colleague once advised me that, if I wanted to succeed, I mustn’t be a visible parent at work. By that, my colleague meant: don’t use your children as a reason for not doing something, and don’t talk about them too much. The advice wasn’t motivated by malice; it was meant to help me appreciate that women can all too easily be reduced to “just a mommy” in professional settings.
Any mother knows there’s no such thing as “just a mammy”, but it’s a role that nevertheless remains underappreciated and undervalued; as women have rightfully taken their places in the workforce, they’ve typically remained responsible for all the traditional home-life duties. Having to hide that at work, in case an employer thinks their personal responsibilities might compromise their professional capacity, is just one more burden.
So I was especially delighted to see Violet-Anne Wynne, the Independent TD, bring her baby daughter, Collins Montaine, into the Dáil chamber yesterday. She was visible as a mother and as a politician, doing her job and caring for her child, as multitasking women do.
Wynne’s visibility as a mother fulfilling her professional and personal commitments is especially important as we look to increasing the number of women in politics. Too often women have felt their needs and the needs of children have not been priorities. Too often it’s been pointed out that a more balanced representation would help rectify this. To see a public representative remind women that we can be seen to exist as both mothers and professionals is hugely important.
This is life now. We work and we parent. We shouldn’t pretend otherwise. There are times when we need to do both at the same time. Covid and remote working allowed the mask to slip for a while — seeing a child pop up on someone’s computer screen during an important meeting was accepted and even enjoyed. These were the times we lived in. These were the circumstances we had to deal with. And we coped because this was real life.
The return to the office, or to the Dáil chamber, has not changed real-life commitments, or challenges, for women in particular. We’re still trying to manage the near-impossible juggle and still trying to keep some of the balls hidden. A baby in the chamber won’t stop her mum from doing her job. All we need now for is a man to be brave enough to do the same.