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The woman who struck a chord when she asked: 'What are we doing to our children?'


Donna Hartnett

Donna Hartnett

Donna Hartnett

Regardless of genre, the best writing is that which flows straight from the heart, unimpeded by thought processes which may edit it for the sake of political correctness or out of fear of offending one's tribe.

Such heartfelt writing has a clarity about it that cannot be consciously created.

Donna Hartnett, from Co Cork, wrote a letter which appeared in this newspaper yesterday and it was a stunning example of the integrity and authenticity of writing that comes straight from the heart.

Essentially, her letter spoke of her family's exhaustion trying to "keep up with tax after tax".

But what made it so powerful was her description of the toll it was taking on her young children. Simply and unsentimentally she wrote: "The legacy of Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen has resulted in our two children being raised in a childcare centre like hens."

In the same vein, she further wrote: "My two very young children are out of their homes every day for longer hours than the average industrial worker - as we work to meet another tax on our income."

There was a sharp truth to these words that left me breathless.

In my brain a voice shouted: "She's right, you know, she's right. What are we doing to our children?" Now this is not an easy argument to make, as I know full well that there are thousands of parents who, as they read this column, will get angry.

Parents who also have young children that are cared for in creches - are they now expected to feel guilty as well as exhausted?

I was that parent too. I had two children under two and they were both in day care.

Like Donna, I often woke them far too early and rushed them through breakfast and into their clothes so I could drop them off at creche for the day, where they usually spent most of that day in one room.

Even back then there was a little voice in my head that wondered about the wisdom of this.

But I shushed that voice because I didn't have either the time or the headspace to work it out. The creche was a good one - it cost a fortune - so myself and himself were doing our best.

Donna however, goes on to assert that she has had enough. She says, bravely but simply: "I will do whatever it takes to give my children back their childhood - they will be at home, collected from school by me, and enjoy the security of a home life that should be an option afforded to every child."

Is this so radical?

Have we women forgotten how to think for ourselves? I am convinced that Donna is not alone in wishing to be with her children.

Women are not a homogenous group. Many of us certainly wish to pursue a career while our children are small and of course we should be facilitated to do that. Many others, however, feel very compromised by leaving our small children in daycare facilities for long hours while we participate in the world of work.

Judging by the traction Donna's letter got on social media yesterday, her words have struck a chord with a great many people, and not just parents.

I have often said that until our society values (and yes that means payment) the work of caring, women will never achieve real equality.

I wonder how many parents would choose to take a number of years out of their career to be at home caring for their children if they could afford to. The old cliche is true - they are young only once and only for a relatively short period of time.

I wasn't as smart as Donna. It took the collision of a number of events in my personal life to make me decide to take a year out of work to be at home. That was in 2002 and we realised we could afford to live on one salary if we were careful. It was the start of 10 years I spent at home with my children. I have always known that I was very lucky and privileged to do that.

But Donna is right - isn't this an option all our children should have, if we really do cherish them equally?

Yesterday, I attended the opening of The National Women's Council of Ireland's new offices. The council was founded in the same year that the marriage ban was lifted in Ireland. In the interim, women have achieved much in the way of equality but there is still much to do.

A woman's (or parent's) right to be at home to care for their children is something that is not yet even on the radar. Could a brave but angry mother's letter finally start to change that?

Irish Independent