The current Weekly Writing Challenge got me thinking about children in one of the most adult-oriented of all places – the workplace. Yes, I admit that I have brought each of my three children to work with me at various times, usually because of an unlucky confluence of sickness and pressing work deadlines. It certainly isn’t my first choice, but in my experience it has worked out fine for short periods of time. (Unless you count the unfortunate incident when my co-worker Peder accidentally got his finger chomped by my oldest son, who was teething. New baby teeth are razor sharp. Peder claims that he saw stars, just like in the cartoons.)
But whether or not to bring children to work is an issue that many working mothers have grappled with at one time or other. It is, in fact, the issue that has made European Parliament Member Licia Ronzulli so popular with moms like me. The photo above, taken in September 2010, of Ms. Ronzulli at work with her baby has made her a cause célèbre for working mothers around the world.
Although she doesn’t bring her daughter to the European Parliament regularly, there are other photos of Ms. Ronzulli and her daughter Vittoria. During a vote on the Eurozone debt crisis on February 15, 2012, reporters snapped several photos of Vittoria with her mom at the European Parliament.
I think that the reasons that these photos resonate so much with moms here in America is that they symbolize so perfectly the work-family balance that all of us working moms struggle with every day. Ms. Ronzulli’s employer, the European Parliament, has rules that allow women to take their baby with them to work. Unfortunately, this is just not an option for most working moms. So we share the photos on Facebook and hope for a day when working mothers have better support.
Support such as adequate parenting leave, for example, is important. But Ms. Ronzulli herself was entitled to a parenting leave, but chose to take only 1 month of it. She makes the point that it is about personal choice. In 2010, she told The Guardian “It’s a very personal choice. A woman should be free to choose to come back after 48 hours. But if she wants to stay at home for six months, or a year, we should create the conditions to make that possible,” she said.
I think that Ms. Ronzulli is right. I think that we should create the conditions to make it possible for a woman to choose the best thing for both her family and her career. Sometimes, that might mean bringing the kids to work with her. (And yes, I think this goes for dads as well.)
Photos of European Parliament Member Licia Ronzulli with her daughter keep popping up on my Facebook news feed and Pintrest. My friends are mostly moms, so I speculate that they had an emotional reaction when they first saw the photo of MEP Ronszulli with her baby. I know that I did. I cheered and teared up a little, almost simultaneously. Then I stopped and asked myself, “Why?”
The photo of Ms. Ronzulli at work with her baby is not a new – it was taken in September 2010. While this photo caused a splash in Europe in 2010, it took a while for it to catch on here. That’s about right – as a country, the US is generally well behind Europe in terms of policies that support mothers.
Although she doesn’t bring her daughter to the European Parliament regularly, there are other photos of Ms. Ronzulli and the now-toddler Vittoria. During a vote on the Eurozone debt crisis on February 15, 2012, reporters snapped several photos of Vittoria with her mom at the European Parliament.
The media coverage I have seen has focused on the cutesy (“awwwwwww”) or “hilarious” aspects of the photos. That’s too bad. I think the media missed the opportunity to talk about WHY American moms like me are cheering for Ms. Ronzulli.
Here are a few reasons:
1) Ms. Ronzulli’s employer, the European Parliament, has rules that allow women to take their baby with them to work. Most American women do not have that option.
2) The photos perfectly symbolize the work-family balance that all of us working moms struggle with every day. The fact that, according to media reports, the photo of Ms. Ronzulli with her infant was taken during a vote on proposals to improve women’s employment rights makes it all the more poignant.
3) Ms. Ronzulli is showing the world that childbirth does not automatically flip the offswitch on our female brains. Women continue to be productive employees even after they become mothers. The Daily Mail, which ran the February 2012 photo in an article titled “Does my vote count, mummy?”, describes the 36-year old Ronzulli as seeming “in complete control in spite of having her baby on her lap throughout.” Why is this such a surprise? I know that I, for one, have become better at multitasking and more efficient at doing my work since I had my first child.
4) In the 2010 photo, it appears that Ms. Ronzulli is choosing to keep her 7 week old infant with her as much as possible. In my experience, that’s important for babies who are still so little. Yet 6 weeks is the typical maternity leave in the U.S. That doesn’t mean that it is paid leave, however. The U.S. is also one of only a handful of countries with no national law mandating paid time off for new parents.
5) Ms. Ronzulli was entitled to a parenting leave, but chose to take only 1 month of it. She makes the point that it is about personal choice. In 2010, she told The Guardian “It’s a very personal choice. A woman should be free to choose to come back after 48 hours. But if she wants to stay at home for six months, or a year, we should create the conditions to make that possible,” she said. Amen, sister!
6) She looks GOOD! I know I never looked that good 7 weeks after labor and delivery, but many of my friends very quickly looked like their pre-baby selves again. I certainly didn’t look my best when I was the sleep-deprived parent of a toddler, but the world didn’t end. Moms like a little reminder now and then that a having a baby doesn’t slam the door on our ability to look and feel good. Sometimes it sure feels like that, but really it’s just a temporary setback.
7) Ms. Ronzulli probably didn’t have to nurse baby Vittoria sitting on a toilet in the ladies room. That’s something I had to do at some point or other with all three of my babies here in America.
So thank you, Licia Ronzulli, for giving us American moms something to cheer for today and a reminder of what we need to continue to work towards tomorrow!