Men belong in debate on working mothers having it all
IT IS with considerable trepidation that I tread ever so carefully into the debate that continues to rage on this page and elsewhere about whether working mothers can or should “have it all”.
In the July edition of Atlantic magazine, Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote an extended piece on why she resigned her high-level post as director of policy planning at the US state department to spend more time with her family.
Since Slaughter’s piece was published, hundreds and thousands of words have been written and spoken in response to it. Very few of them have come from male voices. I don’t dare to claim to speak for all males but I feel there are some points worth making in the debate from the perspective of our gender.
First, the central difficulty in Slaughter’s situation was geographic dislocation. She was not making a choice as to whether she worked or not: she had to choose between one high-profile job and another. Taking up an appointment in Hillary Clinton’s state department required a move from New Jersey to Washington DC.
Because her children were still at high school, she and her husband chose not to relocate them from their home in Princeton, New Jersey.
This meant she did not see them all week and had long commutes by air each weekend.
It was difficulties with trying to play an equal parenting role long-distance that prompted her to leave Washington and return home to resume her former – and demanding – role as a professor at Princeton University. It meant she was at home at night more often than not and while she still has to travel occasionally she can now work it around or compensate for it within her family schedule.
This week, many British writers, again almost all female, took positions on both sides of the career-versus-mothering argument, in light of the decision by the leading Conservative backbench MP Louise Mensch to resign from Westminster. She has three young children and told prime minister David Cameron in her resignation letter that “despite my best efforts I was unable to make the balancing act work for my family”.
However, her decision was, like Slaughter’s, forced by geographical considerations. She has, like all her Westminster colleagues outside London, had to juggle the demands of parliament with time spent in and commuting to her constituency. Her situation is further complicated by the fact that her husband, who manages the rock group Metallica, is in the United States a lot. It was their desire to be together as a family more often that prompted her to leave Westminster and move, with her three children from her first marriage, to New York to join her husband.
Similar issues arose for the former Fine Gael TD Olwyn Enright, who gave up her Dáil seat before the 2011 election. She is the mother of a young family and is married to the Donegal deputy Joe McHugh. It is hardly surprising that it became impossible for them to continue to meet the demands of both being Dáil deputies in our highly competitive electoral system and having to be in Dublin, Offaly and Donegal most weeks.