Ruth Moody
June 12, 2024

No babies allowed in the House of Commons

Just a Mum making it work.

When Caitlin Moran wrote in The Sunday Times that we’re all maverick mothers, making it up as we go along, she was totally right.

And yet, somehow, being maverick isn’t acceptable when it comes to being a professional working woman. As a professional working mum, we’re supposed to have clearly defined boundaries and the ability to juggle endlessly and still have time for career ambition whilst staying on top of the laundry (honestly, does anyone actually ever manage to stay on top of the laundry?!).

No breasts in Parliament!

When Moran wrote about the now infamous Stella Creasy (if you aren’t aware, as an MP she brought her young, sleeping baby into the House of Commons), her decision to bring her child to work was frowned upon, criticised and questioned. And yet, in reality, wasn’t she just a Mum making it work?

It turns out that as an MP, she wasn’t entitled to maternity pay or have someone replace her in the House of Commons, and so, not wanting to let her constituents down, she strapped her peaceful baby to her chest and carried on doing her job. Now, there’s a whole other conversation here about a woman’s right to recover and have time off and what the potential mental impact of working so soon might have been.  And it’s also a brilliant example of maverick mothering. Someone making it work despite the system around her.

‘Bluey’, anyone?

During my coaching sessions I’ve heard all sorts of stories about how women make it work – one client apologetically balanced a baby on their knee, distracting them with a boiled egg, because she was keen to be part of the Board meeting. Another mum I know discovered her toddler had managed to download (and pay for) the entire series of ‘Bluey’ on her iPad while she was on a Teams meeting.

For my part, I know that my youngest will nap in the car on a Friday after Forest School, so I now plan to take my laptop and clear some emails. I quite enjoy that 60 minutes of peacefully sitting in the car, clearing some of the work that I often don’t get to do when I’m behind my desk. My partner brings me a cup of tea, and I have a really productive hour, albeit not a very comfortable one! I’m happy with that blurring of the boundaries because I’d prefer not to use my time in the evenings. Others may have a different point of view.

Even the neuroscience backs this up

In my coaching work, women often talk about keeping separation between work and home and not letting people see the impact of children. They carry a fear that other people will judge them as being less reliable, less ambitious, less available, less…well, just less. Yet, in reality, for most women who return to work, they are more.  More efficient, more focused, more reliable, and for some, more ambitious.  Even neuroscience backs this up with women’s brains developing new neural pathways that allow them to be more efficient and focused - See my previous blog.

Perhaps organisations need to trust their returning women?

So what if we’re going about it all wrong, and what we need to do is blur the boundaries, bring our children more into the picture and be radical about how we approach balancing both? There really isn’t a right way to go about it.  For some women, they may want clearly defined boundaries and set hours.  For other women, that might cause them more stress and pressure.  The freedom to do work when it fits in and not worry about separation could be revolutionary. And perhaps organisations need to trust their returning women to make it work and not ask them to have clearly defined boundaries.

Let’s bring the conversation out into the open

I speak to so many women about the fact that they return part-time but end up working full-time hours by working evenings and weekends.  Why not just pay them to be full-time and believe that they will make it work, albeit not necessarily in the conventional way?

Of course there are some things that you can’t bring a child along to, but trust them to know when and what those things are.  I’ve written a lot about the juggle of parenting and work and the mental burden carried by women.  Let’s bring the conversation out into the open so that women aren’t trying to do this in secret and can embrace the beautiful struggle of being a maverick mother.

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