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  • Maura Satta Flores

“I’m a mum, I’m a dad”: we must change how we talk about work-life balance

The Why Wait Agenda warmly welcomes Maura Satta Flores*, the very first guest of our “Speakers' Corner The new Italian government has just given birth (pun intended!) to the Ministry for Birth Rate, which should prompt us to reflect on the solutions that politicians have provided in recent years to resolve one of the most serious demographic crises Italy has ever faced, rather than splitting into factions for and against, and being the source of cheap social humour.

The data Eleonora Voltolina presents in her poignant TedX talk should make us shiver. Instead, there is deafening silence on the population catastrophe, which deviates into ideologisms, goes off topic in terms of rights, and hardly ever leads to answers.

And, as we all know, solutions always come from a complex interplay of policies, practises, diverse ways of working and living, and communication. And sure, the narrative surrounding parenthood has been penalized by its contradistinction to the sacred right to non-parenthood. It almost seems as if, in order to protect those who legitimately do not want to – or, unfortunately, have failed to – become parents, we have to silence those who are parents, and so ignore this aspect of their working and personal life. Which isn’t exactly a small point.

In fact, parents commit a large portion of their financial resources to their children, generally over the course of 26 years in Italy (a little less for the more fortunate). Resources that are otherwise available for education, recreation, and investment to those who do not have children.

The same is true for time: a parent’s life is interspersed by their children’s school, sports, and social commitments, all of which must be balanced with their own professional and personal obligations; social commitments are often a corollary.

Not to mention the mental resources - mummy-brain, for example - that are continually put to the test: one frequently ends up working at unexpected hours just to find some focus.

While these costs – money, time, and mental – are shared equally in some circumstances, we are conscious that equality in care responsibilities is a goal that many families have yet to achieve. Many steps have been taken, and many more will be taken, but speaking of it as if it were already a truth is inaccurate; so, these burdens, particularly time and mental pressures, fall nearly entirely on the shoulders of mothers.

It’s not exactly breaking news that having children is demanding, you might say! Unfortunately, this basic notion translates into a significant hardship for women who want to continue working but cannot rely on a fair sharing of responsibilities. As a result, in order to achieve prominent positions – in politics, professions, or business – mothers have almost always had to work harder, put in more effort, and have had to rely on fewer financial resources for their own training or professional development, and they can and should be proud of their own motherhood for this very reason.

What does this have to do with storytelling, or communication? It has everything to do with it: it is fundamental that we start declaring “I am a mum, I am a dad!” in our profiles, our workplace, our job interviews, and our politics.

I once created a brief personal biography of myself that began with “Mother of two” and followed with my professional accomplishments. I knew the subject would be tricky when I wrote it, but I wanted to emphasise that everything I had accomplished as a working woman had been achieved while caring for two children. It seemed like a fitting acknowledgement of my commitment.

That post was lambasted by women who felt it wasn’t particularly “feminist”, for reasons I’ll go through individually.

«Mentioning “mother” in public and professional descriptions distracts attention from a woman’s career milestones and achievements»: false. As previously said, I feel that a working mother develops greater skills (as shown in Riccarda Zezza’s “Maternity as a Master” project). Working and raising children at the same time can be considered a merit for both men and women, but especially for women because it is still them – us – who are in charge of the majority of the childcare.

«To use “mum/dad” in public and professional descriptions is offensive to those who were unable to have children»: this is a more complicated argument that touches on the concerns at the heart of The Why Wait Agenda. People who have had children generally feel blessed and grateful; in addition to recognizing those who have not had children by choice, there is usually a sense of empathy towards those who have not been able to become parents – due to delay, fate, or the difficulty of adopting in Italy.

Those who are not parents are obviously no less professional, competent, or skilled. However, this does not negate the reality that, in order to tell the story of each person’s uniqueness and diversity, it is also vital to discuss parenthood, when it exists. In order to develop a new, current, unfettered tale that can also serve as one of the solutions to the crisis of empty cots.

Another example: «Indicating “mum/dad” in one’s public and professional profile is wrong - because being a parent is democratic, it can happen to anybody, whereas merits at work have to be earned». Partially true: as we’ve seen, those who work hard and have children carry a heavier load. But, just as a woman in a prominent position can serve as an example and a symbol for our daughters, so can a mother who succeeds in becoming prime minister, head of the European Commission, or astronaut, while so many others throw in the towel (typically after the birth of their second child).

Actually, why shouldn’t our children be a part of our life stories? During lockdown, we smiled as we saw kids appearing on live video calls or behind earnest professors updating us on the pandemic, MEPs breastfeeding in the chamber so they wouldn’t miss an important vote, and children waving goodbye to Samantha Cristoforetti, their mother, who was leaving to captain the International Space Station.

Let us begin with a basic, easy habit: let us start declaring that we are also parents, mothers and fathers, if we are. Let us start by sharing our sacrifices and plans. Let us start by setting an example for those who believe they cannot succeed and let us remind others who want to have children but are unable to do so that there is a way. It's a steep climb, but there is a way. Let us not forget to share happy experiences about women getting a promotion while pregnant and employers who, rather than discriminating and bullying, turn out to be allies.

Because having children is a collective endeavour: and who can deny the collective dimension?

To combat the declining birth rate, let us start by discussing parenthood, so that as many individuals as possible can freely choose not to postpone making family plans. And then we start demanding policies, actions, and attitudes that support us.

*Maura Satta Flores, mother of two and a senior communications advisor, has previously worked as a manager for global corporations and as an advocate for social and charity causes. She is a social networker who has recently become a partner in a farm and natural wine producer. Image"The sweetest vote ever. An MEP cast her vote with her sweet newborn child into her arms" (2015) from the European Parliament's account on Flickr (thanks to Creative Commons).


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