Monday 24 November 2014

The picture that has done more for working mothers than endless debate

Published 20/07/2013 | 17:00

Samantha Power is hugged by her son Declan (5) after he sat through a hearing on her nomination for the role of US ambassador to the United Nations.

It was a heart-warming picture that went all around the world, doing more for the cause of working women than hours of debate and discussion on equality could ever do.

Irish-born Samantha Power had just finished her Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on her nomination as US ambassador to the United Nations when something special happened.

A lively, red-headed five-year-old – who had sat as good as gold through the hearings – bounded over to his mum. A glowing Ms Power seized the moment, cuddled her son, Declan, and proudly posed for the photographers.

There was huge significance in this picture, a significance that should not be lost. Ms Power (42), a very private woman who never allows the public limelight fall on her family, was making a very strong statement indeed.

She was telling the world that women can in fact combine a hectic career with motherhood. And judging by the huge grin on little Declan's face, and his mother's beaming smile, she was succeeding at both.

Samantha Power is a very bright, intelligent woman and politician. She has had a rapid rise in her career with every step being carefully thought out. People who know her say she is focused, determined and single-minded – and up to a few years ago motherhood and marriage did not seem to be on the agenda.

She married her future husband Cass Sunstein in 2008 when she was in her mid-thirties and gave birth to Declan a year later. A daughter Rian followed last year.

Ms Power was born in Castleknock, Dublin, to doctor parents who separated when she was a child. She emigrated to Pittsburgh aged nine with her mother, stepfather and brother and arrived in the US wearing a stars-and-stripes T-shirt.

She lost her Irish accent, won the acceptance of her childhood peers, excelled at sports and then earned a place at Yale. After graduating, she spent time as an intern in Washington and at 24 became a journalist covering the atrocities being committed by Serbian forces in Bosnia.

Ms Power stood out in a mainly male journalistic pack but earned their respect for her dogged reporting and dark sense of humour. After her stint as a war correspondent she studied at Harvard Law School, then taught there and published books. In 2005, her connections put her in touch with Barack Obama, then a promising freshman senator.

To the surprise of many who knew her, the fiercely independent Ms Power agreed to give up her public profile for a relatively low-level job in his senate office. When Mr Obama declared his White House ambitions, she followed him from Washington onto the campaign trail, advising on foreign policy.

Her career famously suffered a major setback when she blurted out in front of a reporter that Hillary Clinton was "a monster" and she was forced to resign from the campaign. But by the time Mr Obama entered the White House in January 2009, she had been sufficiently rehabilitated, and a staff job was waiting for her in his National Security Council.

If confirmed as UN ambassador, Ms Power will have a very busy life indeed. She will be at the forefront of dealing with America's response to the ongoing conflict in Syria, a hugely complex situation. She will also be dealing with rearing two very young children.

No doubt she will have lots of help along the way and there will be times when she will have to make that call to take a plane to fly to wherever she is needed as US ambassador to the UN or to stay at home because her son or daughter has an important event in school.

She will have the usual stresses that every working parent has to cope with.

But back to that happy picture taken in the US Senate, and her boisterous boy climbing over seats to hug his mother who was about to become one of the most powerful women in the United States.

Little Declan doesn't care what she does or what big job she holds. He simply loves his mother.

That photograph was no accident. Every working mother should look at it and say: I can do this too. In fact I am doing this too.

Irish Independent

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