Sometimes when I read an article I know that it’s something I need to address. Laura Stone’s Globe and Mail article on Karina Gould becoming Canada’s first cabinet member to give birth is one of those articles.
First, I’d like to acknowledge Ms. Gould’s commitment to serving her country as a Member of Parliament and also as the Minister for Democratic Institutions. There is no doubt in my mind that she puts in long hours. Unfortunately, what I think was supposed to be an article that presents Ms. Gould as a precedent setting successful young woman has ended up painting her as yet another Liberal who really has no concept of what it means to be an average Canadian; she comes off as elitist, uninformed and naïve.
The article begins with Ms. Gould’s realization that she will need 4 of everything for her baby. “That means she’ll need to outfit both of her homes – in her riding of Burlington, Ont., and in Ottawa where she keeps an apartment, as well as her ministerial and Parliament Hill offices.” For the average Canadian who has furnished a nursery, the cost of setting up four can seem so absurd that it’s not even worth discussing. What Ms. Gould is planning to do is simply beyond the financial capability of most Canadian households. Perhaps she considers this to be a viable solution in part because her income is almost four times that of the average Canadian household. I do not know but comments such as these sure makes it sound like she, unlike many average Canadians, has money to burn. Why the article starts with this baffles me.
As a woman in my fifties, it would be easy to dismiss Ms. Gould’s ramblings of “having it all” as those of a young woman who is in for a big surprise: a woman who has yet to experience the exhausting first years that follow the birth of one’s children. I too was once one of those women, so I seldom comment when I read something like this. However, since Ms. Gould went on to liken her situation to that of being a single mom, there was little I could do but shake my head in disbelief and boot up my laptop. I was both appalled and outraged.
Two thoughts went through my mind. The fist was is she really so out of touch with the realities of what it means to be a single mom in Canada that she thinks what she is doing is somehow comparable to their situation? This is simply just wrong and not only because she does have a husband, albeit he stays in the riding during the week, but, surely, she must know that the average household income for a female lone parent family is less than a quarter of what she alone makes in a year. And even if this hasn’t entered her mind, how can she fail to acknowledge that most single moms will never have the support staff that would make it possible to even consider living the life that she does. Sorry, Ms. Gould, you owe these women an apology.
The second thought was that have we, as the women who raised this generation, failed our daughters? We raised them to believe in themselves, to demand equal opportunities and to be as ambitious as they want to be. Did we somewhere along the line forget to also teach them that motherhood, though wonderful, can be exhausting and demanding beyond one’s imagination, especially in the early years; that sometimes in order to maintain the integrity of one’s family and the health of it’s member’s pre-children work habits must be re-configured? …And that if this happens then it will be all right. Maybe we did forget. If we did, I want to say that this does not mean one cannot have a good life. The reality is simply that in assuming the responsibility of raising another human being one must also realize there will be compromises. There is no such thing as having it all. There is always a trade-off.
After reading this article I felt especially sorry for the women who would read it and think less of themselves and their capabilities because for many new moms managing to take out the garbage in those early weeks is a huge accomplishment. To these women I say, “Do not make Ms. Gould your role model. Do not think what she is proposing is the norm and easily achieved.”
To Ms. Gould I say, “Do not feel bad if you do not give birth to a healthy quiet child that almost immediately sleeps through the night. And please do not consider it a personal failure if your child is colicky and cries for hours straight or only power naps for 15-20 minutes at a time rather than for hours on end. Please just realize that “not having it all” is indicative of a larger social reality women have been dealing with for decades.
This brings me to my last point. , What I find truly unfortunate about stories such as these is that they perpetuate the lie that if we only believe hard enough we can have it all, even when, the fathers of our children are not present in their everyday lives 5 out of 7 days a week. Surely, by now we should be building a better system.