If you missed it on Wednesday night, a rather incendiary debate kicked off on Brendan O Connor’s new current affairs show “Cutting Edge”. In response to a rather thought provoking piece from writer Louise O Neill, which spoke about how being a woman did not necessarily mean you wanted kids, Niamh Horan added her two cents. The piece from O Neill had put forward the idea that women who choose not to exercise their womb are thought of as selfish. In response to this, Horan, who is of the same age bracket, commented that in her opinion it is the parents who have their children but leave them in childcare, creches, while they head out to work, who are the selfish ones. It is, she said, the children who are suffering for their mother’s need to “have it all”.
As a mother who has gone between working in the office and being a SAHM, I was glad to see that this was quickly rebutted by the other working mother at the table, Alison O Connor. Niamh Horan, who has no children as of yet, went on to mention mothers who “ride the system” by having their children back to back and making their money from maternity leave, before coming back for a little while and then heading off on a career break. To be honest, it sounded like a great holiday. The reality of maternity leave is quite different – 6 months of what can only be described at times as an intense bootcamp where the little rare joys in life consist of baby smiles and solo peeing. It’s not exactly a lucrative model for scamming money from the taxpayer. Unless you’re in a role where your company has a maternity leave policy, you are left with the state maternity benefit, which is â‚¬230 per week, taxable, which can be quite a substantial paycut. (Before tax, a worker on minimum wage in Ireland currently earns â‚¬366 a week). These are taken from your credits which have been paid in your tax over the previous years, it’s definitely not some free for all in the Social Welfare office. In saying that mothers who choose to have their children close together are somehow conspiring against the Irish taxpayer to fund their mini-commune creation, Horan’s missing the point of Louise O Neill’s piece entirely. It should be the woman’s choice to have as many children as she wants, or can have, and not considered selfish for that choice.
My child currently attends a creche three days a week, even while I’m off work. His creche is a fantastic community for him, with very caring workers. His social skills have come on in absolute leaps and bounds since starting there. He has little friends that we hear all about, whomÂ I’ve silently watched him playing with before collecting him in the evening, his own little world that is separate to me. His language skills have gone way up, not to mention the dance moves. I’ve noticed him turning into a little charmer, developing new habits, seeing new things that I know hanging out with me on a daily basis would not have shown him yet. These are things that he may not have seen until he hit “big school”, if sheltered from these interactions.
He’s at home with me all day and night four days a week. We sing and dance, we play, I try to keep up with the tiny roadrunner. I get tired. He gets tired. We get cranky. I snap, accidentally, when he doesn’t do what I ask, or when he deliberately does something I’ve told him not to do. It ends in tears sometimes. Mine and his. I never saw myself as a SAHM. This wasn’t a reality I was prepared for, and honestly I wasn’t expecting it to be as hard as it can be. Don’t get me wrong, it’s rewarding and I know I’m privileged to get to see into his little world so much, but there are some days where I wonder how far I could run away before I was found again. Those are the days where I think about the creche, and how him being there those few days is good for both of us. It’s a break. It’s a necessary break, for both of us, from each other, to break up the week. I get to do things without risk of a tantrum meaning we need to leave shops before we get what we need. He gets to have fun with kids his own age, do lots of fun artwork without someone fretting over him about if or when he’ll put paint all over the white walls of the rental apartment. For the most part (we’ve had a few slip-ups) he runs in in the mornings, and is happy to see me in the evening but has a smile on his face. That’s not what I call suffering. It’s giving me some semblance of sanity back from the pit it fell into during the second episode of Paw Patrol. It means he comes home to a happy, relaxed mother, instead of one so het up and stressed that can’t be fun Mammy. It’s not in my programming. I look at others who manage the stay at home mum job with a spring in their step, and I wish that was me, but it isn’t, that’s just the reality of it. Besides, if we ever plan on buying a home of our own in this country, it seems that a return to the workforce is a necessary move – getting a mortgage on one income to cover a nice home for the three of us just isn’t a reality at the moment. This way E is adjusted to spending his time in childcare for those days where we’re in work and it will go far smoother.
Horan’s whitewashing of children being in childcare while their mother works as suffering is offensive not just to working parents (mothers AND fathers) but also to the very experienced childcare workers who spend their days caring for those kids. These people care as an extra parent, they feed healthy tasty dinners to fussy toddlers, they defuse tantrums over sharing toys, they teach about the world around them and make everything better after a fall or a tiff. They’re incredibly skilled, have the patience of saints, and are sincerely undervalued by our government for the amount that they do to allow the economy to keep growing (that’s another rant in itself). The idea that the time spent with them be described as “suffering” is just wrong, and soÂ disrespectful to those who have studied and worked hard to get into these roles.
I’m aware that it seems to be in Horan’s style to come out with these inflammatory comments, she’s had past form when talking about women’s rugby, in most recent history. However, it is possibly good for her to remember that old saying, “If You Can’t Say Anything Nice, Don’t Say Anything At All”. This wasn’t constructive criticism, or a well researched piece. It was a personal opinion which looked negatively on the actions of thousands of women in this country, who go out to work and dare to have a family if they wish at the same time. Never mind those like me who aren’t even in the office when we’re dropping the children off at creche. I’m aware that these shows are meant to start conversations and perhaps in that regard HoranÂ has been successful, but going on the twitter feed following the show, she certainly hasn’t gained any new friends from her comments which lacked understanding and compassion. Motherhood is filled with guilt – guilt over spending too little time with them, too much time with them, not getting them involved in activities, too many activities, breastfeeding, bottle feeding, it’s all just a quest to get away from the guilt for five minutes. This isn’t the kind of attitude we need to have as a country towards women.
We’re out of the dark ages. Let’s hear those stories instead.
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