It’s not very often that you hear a woman thinking of giving up a part of a hugely successful, often hard-won career to take a step back to focus on things like self, sanity of family.
hich is probably why a news story noting that Claire Byrne has “considered” quitting her eponymous TV show has gathered such traction.
“I need to ask myself how I want to live my life,” Byrne said recently. “I’m not embarrassed to say it’s taking its toll on me. Of course I realise I’m in a really privileged position. I’m doing a job I love and I’m well paid for it, but I’m not being honest if I don’t say it’s exhausting or that I’m not seeing enough of my children.
It’s a particularly interesting one, the toss-up between a successful, busy multi-hyphenate career and a family life with small children. It’s the tug of war that never ceases to exist, and doesn’t seem to get easier.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a quandary that men face too. Gay Byrne famously noted that, amid his broadcasting career, he hadn’t spent nearly as much time with his family as he might have liked. But I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here by saying that it hits differently for women.
There are other considerations men simply don’t have to face — the magnetic pull of the domestic realm. The fact that ‘career’ and ‘ambition’ mean different things to men and women. The attempts at setting a ‘good example’ as a working mum, whatever that’s supposed to mean.
Recently, my own daughter is starting to understand the concept of work. “Mummy works very hard,” she will say, and a small part of me is proud that she sees that. Does she understand why I do it? For the money that will buy us the things we need? Because I have an identity beyond the role of ‘mum’? Does she heck.
I walk her to creche, and the second that her hand leaves mine and takes the hand of her lovely teacher, I feel a melancholic tug within myself. I tell my daughter that her equally lovely childminder will pick her up from creche, and her face falls a bit.
“Mummy needs to work, remember?” I say. But a two-year-old isn’t going to clap you on the back for holding down a full-time job. Suddenly, 5pm feels a long way away for both of us.
As I walk home, I can’t shrug off the idea that maybe these women know my daughter better than I do. They spend more time with her during the week, after all. They’re getting the best of her during her formative years.
Would I want to quit work to look after my daughter full-time? Financially, it’s not an option. But here’s the thing. Work is a bit of a sanity saver for me. It’s a huge part of the person I was, pre-motherhood. I don’t miss having to swap out Peppa Pig for a conversation with another adult during the day.
Writing and interviewing is my comfort zone. And when motherhood feels like an unending apprenticeship that you’re constantly coming up short on, it’s nice to feel like you’re good at something.
Crucially, it’s this time at work, where I get to centre, energise and be ‘myself’, that enables me to manage the other stuff — the tantrums, illnesses and sleep deprivation.
I don’t have the same career and ergo the same demands on my non-home life that Claire Byrne has. Yet I’ll probably never stop wondering if my daughter would feel as loved, cherished and cared for if I were a full-time mum.
But for better or worse, it’s something neither of us will ever fully know.
Another bitter pill to swallow for women
Something for everyone in the audience in this year’s Budget? Not if you’re a sexually active woman over 25, seemingly. And not if you’re a sexually active man at all.
As part of a €31m women’s health package in this year’s Budget, access to free contraception for those aged between 17 and 25 is being provided from next August.
Lovely and all as this might sound, this one Budget allocation has naturally prompted a couple of questions. Why is the ‘free contraception’ being offered the hormonal pill/implant? Isn’t contraception also meant to protect against STIs, as opposed to just conception?
Also, do women over 25 not have sex? And perhaps most importantly of all, why does it fall on to women, time and time again, to manage the contraception thing?
Health Minster Stephen Donnelly has addressed most of this, noting that condoms are freely available and unlike the pill, they don’t require a prescription or a doctor’s visit.
As for the age thing, Donnelly noted that young women are disproportionately impacted by the cost barriers to contraception.
Still, we know how this turns out. If women are left to take the lion’s share of responsibility for contraception, these same women are then left to take responsibility for whatever happens after that, good or bad.
Some things, alas, look destined to never change.
Sally Rooney’s not afraid of the online mob
Whether or not you agree with her politics, you have to hand it to Sally Rooney for standing up for something that she believes in.
This week, it was revealed that she declined to sell the translation rights of her latest book to an Israeli publisher because of her support for Palestinian people and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
With her every move launching a thousand think pieces, Rooney must have known she would be dragged online. Having the courage of one’s convictions in the face of the online mob is never easy, which makes this stand all the more powerful.