A Baby’s Place

Originally posted on Vie de Cirque on February 22, 2012

As a working mother — aren’t we all? Ok, let me try this again… As a mother who happens to work outside the home in exchange for a paycheque albeit not nearly as hard as I work inside the home for no pay and a lot more stress… I feel like I owe the universe a post on the baby-in-the House-of-Commons kerfuffle. Then my friend Andrea from Cardus sent me this link and asked if I would be interested in sharing my opinion on the topic… Well, since you asked!

The issue has been handled in the media as one of mothers in the workplace, and rightfully so, although there is the narrower issue of whether babies belong in the House of Commons. I am not only an employed mother, I am incidentally employed by the House of Commons. For more on my somewhat-less-than-glamourous political career, you can read this post (in French): Je travaille pour un député à la Chambre des communes.

Do babies belong in the House of Commons? Frankly, I don’t see why not. For all the hand-wringing about proper decorum I must ask two questions: “What decorum?” and “Is a baby the worst offense to proper House decorum than, say, Pat Martin? If you yearn for proper House decorum, why not start with Question Period and questioners who don’t ask real questions? (a Liberal specialty: “Is the Minister lying or simply too stupid to see what’s going on?” You expect the Minister to answer that?) or with members of government reading from prepared statements instead of answering genuine questions about policy or governance? You must see the House as it really is, with people coming and going, thumbing their berries, writing greeting cards, excusing themselves to the lobby for a quick bite or a meeting with staff. The House is a happenin’ place. Throw-in a baby during a vote, it would have been a regular day at the office if it hadn’t been for MPs taking pictures and causing a commotion.

To the question do babies belong in the House of Commons my answer is “Why not?” I agree with the Globe’s editorial:

Mr. Scheer’s ruling is a clear demonstration that, even in the most august settings, mothers must always be able to bring their babies to work with them when emergencies arise. It is not a legal precedent, but it is certainly a moral one.

Which leads us to the wider issue of women in the workplace and whether or not giving them leeway to manage their family obligations while working is indeed a moral precedent. Naomi Lakritz from the Calgary Herald certainly thinks it is not:

Ladies, the world isn’t going to hand itself to you on a silver platter. It may offer you some things and may make some concessions to your status as mothers, but you’ve got to rise to meet the world halfway. You’ve got to do the rest. And you’ve got to understand and respect the idea that there are some places where babies simply don’t belong.

According to Lakritz (read the entire piece here), by asking for accommodations working mothers are acting like whiny wusses. This is a widespread view among some women. A few years ago I wrote a post for ProWomanProLife where I lamented the absence of creative thinking when it came to accommodating working mothers. A reader wrote back something along the lines of “I never thought of you as whiny and high maintenance…” Others believe that women “want it all on Thursday”: for everything there is a season and you can have it all but not on the same day. And let’s not forget the childless — by choice or otherwise — who wonder why, for the same pay, they have to pick-up the slack from their procreative peers. And all the other mothers who were not given any breaks and wonder — almost jealously — why others should get one.

All this to me is almost irrelevant. As are the reasons why women work, whether they are seeking parity with men, self-fulfillment or a paycheque. Do we have a societal obligation to make it easier for women, as Naomi Lakritz suggests? I don’t know. But what I do know is that if we don’t owe anything to Sana Hassaini, we owe the world to her son Skander-Jack. We fail children when we look at women in the workplace in isolation. We should be encouraging parents to develop strong bonds with their infants. And in our government-supported healthcare system, we should be pulling all the stops to make sure that infants are breastfed and spend the least amount of time in institutionalized daycare. (If you think I’m making too much out of the common cold go ask any healthcare provider at the Children Hospital of Eastern Ontario how their month of February has been so far.) And maybe your point is that mothers of young infants — and possibly mothers writ large — shouldn’t be working. But I would answer that this horse has left the barn some time ago. And while you are chasing it, may I ask what you suggest we do about the children?

Skander-Jack’s place is with his mother, regardless of where his mother thinks her place is. I’m glad that Skander-Jack was with his mom in the House rather than a nanny in Verchere-Les Patriotes. What are we supposed to tell him, all 3-month-old cutie? Suck it up, it’s not our problem that your mom wanted to change the world during your formative years? I work for a MP and I can guarantee you that his mom will miss plenty of his most important milestones over the next 4 years. Why don’t we let him have this one?

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