Lifestyle

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Meet the working mums who gave it all up for their kids

Forget Mrs Sarkozy's anti-feminist rant, says Geraldine Lynagh, women don't need an excuse to choose family over career

She's never exactly been a recluse, so you'd have to wonder if Carla Bruni Sarkozy's recent interview in Paris Vogue was designed to be deliberately provocative.

If it was attention she was after, she got her wish. Thousands took to Twitter to berate the former French First Lady for appearing to dismiss feminism.

"There are pioneers who opened the breach", she told Vogue. "I'm not at all an active feminist. On the contrary, I'm a bourgeois. I love family life, I love doing the same thing every day."

It's worrying that the 44-year-old doesn't seem to grasp that so many women out there are fighting for things like job security, parity of pay, even freedom from the threat of domestic violence and rape.

But it's also striking that the mother of two seems to be offering this belief as an excuse, however misguided, for staying at home with her kids.

Why is an excuse necessary at all?

Louise Mensch, the former British MP, could ask that. She resigned from politics to spend more time with her family in New York. But it was almost as if her explanation wasn't good enough and she found it scrutinised in the media. Even her husband joined in, suggesting she was more fearful of a battering in the next election than concerned about the welfare of her kids.

Two years ago, while pregnant with her second child, Fine Gael TD Olwyn Enright announced she wouldn't be seeking re-election. She had to deny until she was blue in the face that she was really leaving because she could no longer support Enda Kenny as leader.

It's never been fashionable to choose children over a career and maybe that's why society finds it hard to accept. Many women say they feel a failure for staying at home, even though they believe that bringing up a family is the most important job in the world. "The eternal sense of guilt is quite prevalent for all women," says psychologist Allison Keating from the bWell Clinic in Dublin.

"Women who work might feel guilty that they're not at home and women who are at home feel they're just giving out to the children all the time and spending no quality time with them either."

But there may be another element at play here. Research has found children may be a useful excuse for a change at an age when women are rethinking their careers.

That was certainly the case for Victoria White when she decided to leave her job as arts editor of the Irish Times to raise her four children. "The reality is, I gave up because I was bored at my job," says Victoria.

"Like a lot of women, I had no interest in career progression. I was looking for career fulfilment."

Victoria, author of Mother Ireland: Why Ireland Hates Motherhood, has no regrets. She believes society fails to appreciate the immense desire women have for rearing children, but she sees attitudes changing.

"Women are more educated, more liberated and more capable of making their own decisions," she says. "They've been in the workplace.

'If they have young children, they know work is a doddle compared to that what they're doing in the home.

"Younger women are making their own decisions freely," she continues. "I think the whole thing has really changed in the last 10 years."

Seeking a change might be no bad thing. "For some women, a job is a job. It's not actually a career," says Allison Keating. "Giving it up and pursuing other things might be a very healthy and rewarding part of your life. When you do have children, your priorities change."

So what happens when you choose to pursue other things?

We asked two women why they made that decision, and how it worked out.

Irish Independent

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