Sunday 21 January 2018

Dr Ciara Kelly: Working mothers don't 'ride the system'

Dr Ciara Kelly. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Dr Ciara Kelly. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Working mothers often work long days with big commutes, and come home exhausted in the evening

Ciara Kelly

I've been thinking quite a bit lately about working mothers and the amount of stress they're under.

In my mind, it's always been self-evident that most young working mums are working because in Irish society currently, it's generally the case that two incomes are required if a couple are trying to get on the elusive and slippery property ladder.

Read More: Working mum hits back: 'Until you’ve walked in my well-worn shoes, you can’t possibly judge my life or the choices that I’ve had to make'

Far from these young women having it all, they are, in fact, doing it all. Often commuting big distances, working long days and coming home exhausted with a knot of guilt in their chests as they collect their child from the creche and head home to cook something  and attempt to get to grips with the 80 pc of domestic duties that fall to the woman in a couple where both partners work.

I've met many of these women in my years as a GP, who come into me stressed out, shattered, often a bit depressed and generally wondering how their life changed from the heady days of their 20s to the dazed headache of their 30s. Sometimes the only comfort I can offer is to point out that this is a phase of life. That things will get better. That children get bigger, stop waking four times a night and will go to school. That the house will become more affordable. That yes, it's really tough that starting a family often coincides with starting a home and a career, but that that's just the way it is, and weathering what feels like the perfect storm is tough but it won't last forever. I really feel for these women because I know how they struggle on a daily basis.

So perhaps you can imagine my shock and dismay when I was watching Brendan O' Connor's excellent new TV show, The Cutting Edge, when I heard working mums, who use creches, described as 'selfish and wanting to have it all' by one of the panellists, Niamh Horan. It is as far from the reality I have seen as it's possible to be. What was even more disheartening was that the panellist was an educated young woman who clearly has no concept of what happens to most of her peers when they start a family. Although perhaps she doesn't see young women, living humdrum lives in suburbia, struggling on two moderate incomes to pay the mortgage, on their negative equity town house as peers at all.

What was even odder was her follow up comment that we all know women who 'ride the system'. I expected the predictable old chestnut about women who get pregnant to get a council house. But instead she explained she was describing women who took a couple of maternity leaves back to back. And had the temerity to then look for a career break. It seems that women who take time off work, to look after their children, are actually every bit as bad as women who stick them in the creche.

In fact, the theme appeared to be that women who did anything other than choose between work and having children, were selfish, scheming bints. The fact that many women have no choice in this regard was never mentioned.

All a bit depressing to be honest, especially as we are about 50 years down the line from when the notion of women liberation was first touted. And what was particularly noticeable was that this young female panellist appeared completely unaware that parents as opposed to mothers have a responsibility towards their children.

A bit of a brouhaha erupted on twitter afterwards with many mothers clearly feeling aggrieved by this caricaturing of their lives. What interested me more was the clatter of young pretty women leaping in to defend the panellist's views and distance themselves from this aul feminism nonsense. The sad subtext 'Please fancy me - I promise I won't be any trouble, lads' was hard to ignore. The sisterhood is a broad church indeed.


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